Pacific FC head coach Pa Modou Kah remembers the police traffic stop in Belgium like it was yesterday. He was pulled over for simply being a Black man driving a fancy car in a nice area of town. Instead of being recognized as a pro soccer player heading home, he was simply a potential drug dealer in the eyes of the policeman.
“He [policeman] had his perception of me,” said Kah.
“In Holland, it was monkey sounds directed at me by fans during a game in which I was playing,” recalled the Pacific FC skipper.
“The racism in Europe is more mental and emotional. But you know it’s there. In America, it is systemic since slavery and policing developed by being affected by that. But sport should see no colour.”
But it does, of course.
Kah has lived it.
Even in Major League Soccer.
“If I was five minutes late coming home in Cincinnati, my wife would be worried,” said Kah.
“It’s been 400 years. Should we accept that level of fear? No. But we should not be looking to blame. We should be looking to educate. It’s about education and understanding each other,” he said.
“We need to make the change. In order to that, we need to be the change. Everybody needs to be open with one another that this [racism] is happening. That’s when change happens.”
Kah was born in The Gambia. It was among the epicentres of the slave trade before slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1807. It is now a Commonwealth nation that gained its independence in 1965. Kah moved with his family to Norway at age eight. A native English speaker, he not only had to learn a new language but a whole new culture.
“Norway is a great, very open country and society,” said Kah.
“But you still do feel those things. My dad told me we are immigrants to Norway and we have to give 200 per cent. We can’t give just 100 per cent. We need to work harder.”
Kah was assistant coach last season of FC Cincinnati of MLS before taking on his first pro head coaching position with Pacific FC of the Canadian Premier League. He replaced former Danish international Michael Silberbauer, who became the first head coach to be let go in CPL history, following PFC’s 2019 inaugural season record of 5-8-5 in the fall portion and 3-5-2 in the spring. Kah is currently preparing the PFC players in small groups in Langford for an abbreviated single-site, 2020 CPL pandemic season sans fans expected to take place from July through September at either Westhills Stadium or Charlottetown, P.E.I.
Kah was capped 10 times as a player for Norway.
“I am a proud Black man and a proud Norwegian,” he said.
Kah made more than 400 appearances as a player in the top pro leagues of Norway, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. and Canada, the latter with Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps of MLS.
He said he is honoured to be the first person of Gambian ancestry to be head coach of a pro soccer team outside The Gambia.
“I was the first Norwegian player to play pro football on three continents and I am extremely proud of that, as well,” he said.
Kah met his wife Dewy while playing in the Netherlands and the couple have two young daughters. Five-year-old Nahla Aja and one-year-old Zahra Hana were both born in B.C. during’s Kah’s time with the Whitecaps, where he was also a playing assistant coach with Whitecaps-2, and became familiar with several of the PFC players who came up through the Whitecaps Academy.
Having his daughters grow up in a world free of racism will be hard to accomplish, but it is a goal that needs pursuing.
“Hopefully, we can see a new start for all humankind,” said Kah.
The 39-year-old speaks seven languages.
“I have been privileged because of football and have been allowed to see the world,” said Kah.
“It has been a blessing because I am naturally curious about people and cultures. It showed me that God created all colours for a reason.”
The head coach of a pro team holds a unique position in a community. Kah realizes, as a person of colour, that has taken on an added dimension for him in this turbulent time.
“I want to use my platform to educate and communicate,” he said.