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He Came, He Saw, He Stayed

Last update - Thursday, January 11, 2007, 00:00 By Metro Éireann


Some of the many American basketball players who came to Ireland to earn a buck in the 1980s didn’t stay for long. Others, however, remain to this day. Players like Lennie McMillan, Jerome Westbrooks and Kelvin Troy were part of a generation that put down roots in Ireland, and continue to contribute to the game today.

Ed Randolph was among that group, and at 46 years of age he is still playing for DART Killester, where he is also an assistant coach.

An immensely popular figure in Irish basketball circles, he also coaches in a number of schools in the southside of Dublin, and teaches PE in St Joseph’s of Cluny in Killiney.

From Tallahasse, Florida, Randolph received a scholarship to Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, a long distance from home. He studied and played there for four years, making the All- Conference team in three of those years and becoming their all-time top-scorer. But in 1982 he finished college, and was unsure what do with his future.

“I played in summer leagues in the area organised by an Irish-American family. There I met a referee called John Bristol who told me there were guys looking for players to play in Europe and specifically Northern Ireland and England. I said I would be interested. My choice at the time was to do a Masters, get a job or play overseas. And I didn’t want to get a job then!" he laughs.

Two teachers from the Sporting Belfast basketball club, Fergus Woods and Pierse Tohill, were in the area looking for players. They liked the look of Randolph and made him an offer to come to Belfast. The Troubles in Northern Ireland were at their height, but he was completely unaware of what he might be getting himself into.

“I was happy until I spoke to my older brother who asked me was I going to the Republic of Ireland or Northern Ireland,” he remembers. “That was the first time I was made aware of the Troubles in the North.”

He spoke to Woods and Tohill, who were honest with him about what he might face in Belfast. “They told me there weren't that many Blacks or even Americans in Belfast and asked, how would I feel? Well, I said I’m coming from a place [Rhode Island] where there were only six per cent minorities,” he says. “I asked, ‘What was the story with the Troubles. I’ve heard people are getting shot and blown up over their religion?’ They said it would be no problem... So that was it. I discussed it with my family and they said ‘it's your decision, but please be careful’.”

He arrived in Ireland for the very first time on 6 October 1982. “I remember it was a foggy day. On the old Swords Road there were sheep grazing by the roadside when I pulled out of the airport. When you look at that road now, it’s completely different and shows how much Ireland has grown over the years.”

After half a season in Belfast, he was off to Liverpool, back to Ireland again, then to England to play with Kingston, followed by a period in France – and then back to the United States.

While in the US, he got a call informing him that a friend of the Belfast recruiters had been in touch; he was Enda Burke from Co Clare. He had said the Claremont Admirals’American player had upped and left because rural Ireland didn’t agree with him, and wondered if Randolph would be available.

He duly made the journey back to Ireland to join the Admirals. Two years at the Ennistymon-based club were followed by a spell with the Galway Democrats, and in 1987 he moved to Team Tivoli in Dundalk.

“It was at a time when the Troubles were serious,” he recalls. “I was working in an area near the border called the ‘Deadly Triangle’ which was from Castleblayney to Carrickmacross to Crossmaglen. It was an area where bodies would show up at that time. I was coaching in youth clubs with a priest called Fr Sweeney who would drive me around. I was stopped on two occasions by the British Army and once by an IRA patrol. They were hairy situations and ones I will never forget.”

In 1989 he moved to Dublin to play for Marian. A couple of seasons with them were followed by spells with teams in Limerick and Killarney, but he soon moved back to the capital and signed for his present club, DART Killester.

“By now I’ve either coached or played in just every county in the country. I’ve seen a lot of the country at this stage,” he says with a smile.
While in Ennistymon, Ed Randolph met Anne, who worked in the local bank. In a small community of only 800 people they would often bump into each other while socialising. They fell in love and married – and now have two sons, Darren (19) and Neil (14).

Darren played underage basketball for Ireland, but is now on the books of Premiership soccer side Charlton Athletic, and is expected to have a big future in the game. He hasn’t yet made a first team appearance for Charlton, but has been on the bench for games against Manchester United and Newcastle United and has spent time on loan with Gillingham. He was capped three seasons in a row at under- 19 level for the Republic of Ireland, played for the under- 21 side and featured in the B international for his country last November against Scotland.

The first international appearance for Darren was an emotional experience for his father: “You can’t help but pinch yourself and feel very, very proud. I was thrilled to bits. In a way it did make me feel more Irish, but the first feeling was pride that he had made his own decision to follow football as a career and that he had been picked to represent his country.”

Randolph’s other son Neil plays soccer for Darren’s old team, Ardmore Rovers, in their hometown of Bray. Like his father, he also plays basketball. “He is doing his own thing and it’s tough enough having an older brother or someone in the family to follow,” says Randolph. “As long as he is happy in himself doing what he’s doing, that’s all that matters.”

When Ed Randolph first arrived in the country, there were very few Black people living in Ireland, save for those who were here studying. He himself has not borne the brunt of much racial abuse, although he acknowledges that his size and prominence as a sportsman may be factors in that.

“If you’re involved in sports, and are well known, you are less likely to receive racial abuse. You would get banter maybe from someone who had too much drink on them. But in my time here I would say that I have had only two or three incidents,” he says.

He has noticed as of late a low level of tolerance among young people in Ireland towards immigrants, especially towards those working in the service industry – something he puts down to the fact that young Irish people aren’t willing to do those same jobs anymore.

“They don’t understand that thousands of Irish people emigrated and still more go abroad to work on student visas, and they would have got a hard time wherever they are,” he says. He tells of a friend who asked his young daughter to help him with some chores in the garden; she responded by saying she didn’t see why he couldn’t hire a Pole to do the job instead. “Socially, we need to be more tolerant. Like [in] America, you will get some people – you always do – who don’t understand and say they are freeloaders who are coming here to fleece the country.”

The changing patterns of immigration and attitudes of Irish people are not the only changes Randolph has witnessed in his time here: “I’ve seen a lot of changes in this country from those sheep on the road to the M50, which is like a car park now. The infrastructure has changed a lot, although more needs to be done. The money in the country now and the growth the Celtic Tiger brought has completely changed the country. I think the friendliness, the céad míle fáilte, has kind of gone.”

At present, Randolph is hoping to make his playing comeback soon, having suffered a knee injury early on this season. “It’s taken me a while to get back, especially at my age. I’m 46 and still trying to play with the young guys, still hanging in there,” he says. “It takes us old guys that much longer to recover where it only takes two or three weeks for the younger guys.”

Currently top of the table, Randolph’s team-mates at DART Killester are hoping to keep their good form going following the Christmas break and stay on track for the end of season play-offs. “We have a heavy schedule but we want to keep our momentum going. The other teams are looking strong and we have a lot of tough road games in the second part of the season. If we can keep everyone healthy and keep working together we can be champions of our conference and make the play-offs,” he says.

With injuries and age creeping up, the thought of retirement must be at the back of his mind. But team-mate Jerome Westbrooks is still playing at 50 years of age, which shows that there may be another few years left in Randolph yet.

“Right now I’m taking it a season at a time but I think two seasons max, if the body holds up,” he says. “You want to be able to enjoy it."

Ed Randolph is part of the American generation that kept giving, and he ain’t finished giving yet.


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