Noe Baba is an Irish professional footballer who currently plays for KFC Uerdingen based in the Uerdingen district of the city of Krefeld (located between Duisberg and Düsseldorf). Noe came to Germany in January 2019 to play for Lupo-Martini in the Regionalliga Nord before joining Fortuna Köln in August 2019. He spent two years at Fortuna before joining KFC Uerdingen. A versatile player, Noe plays primarily as a defensive midfielder but can also feature as a full-back.
Noe and his family came to Ireland from Yaoundé, Cameroon, and they settled in Castlebar. Noe starred for the local football team Castlebar Celtics and became one of Ireland’s stand-out young footballers. As a teenager, Noe moved from Castlebar to Fulham and spent a few years playing in England and Ireland for clubs such as Birmingham, Macclesfield, and Waterford. He played for the Ireland national team at underage levels, up to u21, and even captained them at u17.
A friend of the Celts and a passionate Mayo GAA fan, we sat down with Noe for a chat in December 2021.
Here is a complete recording of our discussion.
Hey Noe, could you tell us a bit about yourself?
Yeah, my name is Noe Baba, 25 years old. Living in Germany, playing football at the moment. Cameroonian and Irish.
Brilliant. So you said there that you grew up in Cameroon tell you were about 10, and then you moved to Ireland. Moved to Castlebar (Mayo) of all places. So what was that experience like? What was the… that must have been a massive enormous culture shock?
Yeah. Yeah, the difference is that when you’re a kid, you can adapt quickly, but for me, the difference was just a little bit of the language part. You know, because when you move to a new place as a kid, you tend to make friends quickly. Especially with the schools, you’re going to school, and then you start making friends. But for me, the culture shock was more about not only the weather but also the language part because in Cameroon I used to mainly speak French, you know.
What is your first language at the moment – English or French?
At the moment, at home, I speak French.
Were there any other culture shocks besides the weather and the language?
As a kid, you don’t notice a lot. You know you don’t notice it. As a kid, you come in, and you tend to adopt. You go to school, and you come back home. It’s not like, you know, as an adult, then you get to see a lot more, but as a kid mostly, you adapt a little bit quicker than most other people you know.
Did you always want to be a professional footballer?
That one is tough because I’ve always played football, but saying that… My dream kind of got bigger as I got older, you know, as you know. When I was a kid, I just used to play for fun. I used to play for fun when I joined the school in St. Pats. It was just playing for fun and then all of a sudden, I kind of developed a love for the game, and I was always, always playing football. I loved the game. I wanted to be a professional, but at that age, I didn’t have a bigger picture that much until I came to Ireland, and I started playing more regularly. You know that was when everything kind of just got bigger, and everything kind of got a little bit more serious for me.
You played for Castlebar Celtics, and then you moved on and went to Manchester United and Celtic with trialist. How was that experience as a teenager
Yeah. It was good. It was good, you know, when you grow up, you get to play all around Ireland, and then you get to go on trial to some of these big clubs. You get to see the experience, you get to see the different levels in which they train, and you get to kind of just measure yourself against these other young talents out there. It was a good experience for me to go and see all those clubs.
Who is the best player you’ve ever shared a pitch with?
That’s tough. It’s hard to pick because I’ve seen some players out there that I’ve played with and have gone on to have, like to play for some top, top clubs, you know, and pick one out of all of them… It’s difficult because, like I’m 25, all of them are still in the prime of their careers, you know. So, a lot of things are going to happen between now and the end of their careers. But there’s been a lot of top, top players that I’ve I’ve shared… To name one out of all of them… It wouldn’t be fair…
And then you moved to England properly when you were 16 to Fulham? How was that then moving from Castlebar to Fulham?
That was a bigger level shock for me than from Cameroon to Ireland. You know that one is like you’re moving in from a small town where basically the family is very close, and everything is so close to moving into London where the city is bigger. Culture is entirely different; the lifestyle is different. Life moves a lot faster than it does at Castlebar.
I moved there to play football, and then there are different demands on you… Moving away from your family as well… everything was different, and it was just a lot to take in. It was a lot of changes for me, and it was an experience that I’m glad I had at that time because it teaches you a lot to be to go through those sorts of things and then you have to grow up really quickly.
I have had some friends who went over to England around 15/16, and they said the same thing? That is just it’s so big. It’s such a difference.
It’s a big difference.
And I think I have this right that you captained Ireland at the under-17 level. How was that for you?
For me, it was one of those things that I keep really close to my heart. You know it is one of the proudest things I’ve ever had to do and will ever do in my career. So it was for me, an experience that really stays really close to me, like at home; I still have most of the pictures, you know, so I really enjoyed that time when I was able to captain the national team for that season. I think it was two seasons back to back, so yeah, that was great for me. It was great.
How did you end up moving to Germany? You went to Lupo Martini (Wolfsburg); how did that come around?
After I finished the season, I played half a season with Waterford FC, in Ireland, in the League of Ireland; I played half a season there. So after that finished off, it was kind of just taking a chance. You know, I had a couple of contacts over here, and I spoke to a few people. It just was just something different that I wanted to try out. You know I wanted to try something different. I’ve been in England, I played there, I’ve been in Ireland and played half a season, and I kind of felt like maybe it was like a chance that I wanted to take at that stage of my career. So I had an opportunity to come out here and see what it was like and maybe that it could be a different part of my career.
And are there any other young Irish players out in Germany that you have come across?
That came over like I did? I do not know many, but there are a few Irish lads that I’ve actually come across over my time here, you know. But they’re younger. You’re talking about some of the Bundesliga second teams; they tend to have some young Irish talents. There are some good players there.
Yeah. And then so how would you compare the experience of playing, say in England, Ireland, Germany? What’s the biggest difference on-the-pitch between the countries?
The speed of the game, you know. In England, the speed of the game is throughout the whole pitch. Yeah, but here, the speed game tends to pick up the more you move up the pitch, you know. The game is kinda like… Here the change of tempo in the game happens as you move up the pitch. But in England, you tend to find that the tempo is similar throughout the game from back to front. However, here the build-up play happens, and then you have that tempo change. That’s something that I had to adapt to in a way. That everything is not having to go go go all the time. Sometimes you have to readjust, and then at the right time, you have to be more aggressive and be more attacking and play faster.
Then you went to Fortuna Köln and lived in Cologne. So how have you found living in Germany? How have you found that experience?
Yeah… the culture is different. The culture is completely different. You know people over here, they live a completely different lifestyle than most people you would find in England or Ireland, you know. The first thing that struck me was just the way the structures, you know the system over here is a little bit different from the structure we have in the UK or in Ireland.
Then, the other thing that hit me was I didn’t know it took me like six months to realise that the shops aren’t open here on Sundays! That was a little bit of chaos, a big change for me because I didn’t cop on to that really quickly. I struggled for my first six months when I came here; I really struggled with that because Sundays, I’d just head out thinking maybe there might be one or two shops open. But yeah, Sundays, everything is closed.
So, and that was one of those things I had to kind of adapt to. But once I was able to adapt to a few things, I have to say it’s been good, it’s been good like.
So were you in Cologne during the lockdowns?
I was from the start. Yeah, I was.
Yeah, that must have been difficult. Were you new in Cologne, or had you been there a while at that stage?
I had been there for almost six or seven months at that stage. I’d been there for nearly 6 or 7 months because it was towards the end of my first year there. Then the lockdown happened, and it was about March 2020; it was a difficult experience. You know it was difficult…
You go from having so much movement and energy because I think Cologne is just one of those places where there’s a lot of movement and that’s really nice. There are nice things to see, places to go and you can go to a load of cafes and great places to eat, and then all of a sudden that is completely taken away from you. You end up just having to go into shops and just get the necessities. You know, just get what you need and then that movement and energy have stopped…
Like I was lucky because where I was, there was a park right next door, and, at least, we could go there and walk through the park. I could go out and just get a little bit of fresh air from the park.
Yeah, that’s important. That lockdown was a rough experience.
It was tough, it was tough.
Have you learned much German since you’ve arrived?
I have, I have learned a bit. At the start, it was very difficult because I was just trying to settle in and adapt, you know. But once I moved to Cologne, everything was a lot better, and I was really lucky because some of the boys that I’ve played with there have always been people that kind of spoke English in the team, you know. There have always been people who spoke English, so there’s always been one or two there that could understand me.
On the other side, I feel a lot better because my understanding of German on the field has improved. That has helped me to adapt quickly. So, I can understand people better now on the field, which is more important for me, because during the games that’s what you need, like. At the exact same time, my standard of German has improved a lot. It’s improved a lot.
Yeah, I saw an interview with KFC Uerdingen and yourself on YouTube, and you seemed to understand everything that the interviewer was saying… So that’s brilliant.
That’s the thing, I tend to understand a lot more than I can speak. So for me speaking, I have to just go very slowly, but understanding people now I feel like I’m starting to really get it a lot more than I used to before.
Yeah, like I guess for us as well, like people from Ireland to come over here. We are all in the same boat, trying to learn the language. It takes a while.
I remember, I think it was towards the end of last season, there was an evening at the Irish bar in Cologne. We went there for an evening, which was quite nice. That was nice.
Was it a Jameson’s, or which one did you go to?
Yeah, it was Jameson’s. We went there for an evening. Yeah, it just brings back so many memories. You know, when you grow up in Ireland and then you get to be in an environment where there are mainly Irish people. It just… You feel for that evening… It felt like I was in Dublin, you know? Yeah, you do get that feeling. The music is different. Everything… That environment, the language, and everything were just… it just felt like… I really enjoyed the evening when I was there. It was great because you just felt the Irish spirit there. It was nice.
When was the last time you were back in Cameroon?
I haven’t been back… I haven’t been back for a while. I’ve not been back for a while… And it is just one of those things that I don’t know yet, but I’ve… The older I’ve grown like, you get that feeling that I want to go and visit now. I want to go and do it again. I want to go and see what it’s like. I know that it’s changed over the years, but I want to go back and see it.
You’ve told us you’re a Mayo GAA fan. Did you play much GAA when you were in Mayo, in Castlebar?
Yeah. Yeah, I had a lot of friends who played GAA, so you can’t skip it. You know it’s just one of those things that you can’t skip when you have that many friends. They used to be involved with different clubs, so in school, I did play a little bit. Growing up, because I was so busy with football, that’s why I didn’t get the chance to kind of get fully into it. But I couldn’t escape because all my friends used to play.
Did you play for a club?
No, I did not play for a club. It was just in school or sometimes just out with friends or something like that. Sometimes, I used to go to some of my friends‘ training sessions. But never really played for a GAA club.
Yeah, I guess, when the football takes over, that’s it really.
Yeah, that’s it, yeah.
Who’s your favourite Mayo player?
This is a tough one, ‚cause I have many friends who have played for Mayo. I have a lot of friends, some people I used to play football with and some people I grew up with that have played for Mayo. I’ve been watching Matthew Ruane. Matthew Ruane, I have been watching him a lot this season, and he’s been very, very good. But there’s a lot of boys there, such as Stephen Coen, Diarmuid O’Connor…. he’s huge… Aidan O’Shea is still there… there’s Patrick… Patrick Durcan – he’s still there. There are many of these boys that I grew up with that are on that team, so it won’t be fair for me to pick one out of all of them.
But then, too, I tend to give them my support every time there’s a game. They stayed there, some of them are huge, big, big like some really outstanding players, you know. I like to watch them play.
How do you watch the games? Do you watch the games while you’re here or not?
You can catch the games online sometimes.
OK, cool so you don’t go into the Irish bar. You don’t go into Jameson’s or down to another Irish pub to watch it?
Sometimes, I’d get the invite to watch the games when I was in Cologne. I got invitations a few times from the Cologne Celts to come there, but it was always the time when we had games, you know. Sometimes, I’d talk to someone back home and they would send me a link where I’d be able to watch the game. With most games now when you’d be able to find the link online to be able to watch it.
Have you ever played any hurling?
I did in primary school. Yeah, I did play hurling in primary school a little bit. You know when you go to that stage of OK, there’s another sport that some of the boys were playing. Some of the Saint Gerald’s boys used to come in and we used to do hurling classes together. You know we used to do hurling classes, Gaelic classes and rugby classes… And yeah I did. I did try it out a little bit when I was in primary school, but I got scared of the hurley.
Yeah, I got scared of the hurley and the sliotar as well. Every time I got hit with that ball, it was difficult… I feel… I love watching hurling because the boys playing that game are such brave men. It’s the spirit of the game that is crazy. I love watching it – I really love watching it – but my time playing hurling – it wasn’t long. It wasn’t long.
We’ve a lot of German players! Actually, the German players who come and play, many of them come back for hurling. It’s so cool…
To play hurling? It’s a tough sport and can be a bit dangerous, and you either love it or you’re not into it. But once you love it like I’ve seen some… Corey is one of my friends; I’ve seen that he loves the game. You know he loves the game and once you have that love for the game, it’s kind of difficult to take it out of somebody. So for me, it’s because I played football and I’ve had injury scares. I can’t risk the injuries… But the game itself I love watching it. But I’ve seen from people. Once you get into it, you just keep playing.
Yeah, it can be addictive when you got started in it. So my final question is, will we see you play for the Cologne Celtics?
That’s a good question. I don’t know. For that, I can’t say no and I can’t say yes, but I don’t know. I don’t know, you know that depends on what I’m doing. It would have to be one of the summers if I’m trying to do something different and then, why not, but we’ll have to wait and see.
OK, no worries. Yeah. Yeah, brilliant. I hope with this corona stuff we can finally organise a proper summer with events and all that kind of thing.
Yeah, I think it was last… I think you used to travel to Austria, (Munich) and other places and play some games against other clubs. I used to get messages when I was in Cologne. I used to get a lot of links and messages from you regarding your timetable and the different things you used to do. One time I was actually on a train when I ran into one of the boys on his way to training.
Yeah, you ran into Frank!
Yeah, I ran into him on the way to training so. Hopefully, fingers crossed everything goes well with the rules and regulations and then hopefully then you can get back to playing regularly.
Great stuff. Thanks, Noe!