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Documentary turns spotlight on the man from Tallahassee

Ed Randolph is far more than the father of Ireland's top goalkeeper, as new a Radio 1 documentary clearly shows, writes Simon Bourke


Ed Randolph with his wife Ann

Ed Randolph with his wife Ann

Ed Randolph in action with Killester in 2001

Ed Randolph in action with Killester in 2001


Ed Randolph with his wife Ann


The life and times of one of Ireland's forgotten sporting icons has been documented in a new feature for RTÉ Radio 1.

Today Ed Randolph is best known as the father of international goalkeeper Darren, but the Florida-native has had a storied sporting career of his own, one which continues as he nears his 60th birthday.

The highs and lows of that career, and how he came to live in Bray with wife Ann, is retold in 'The Man from Tallahassee', a radio documentary produced by Philip Gallagher and Tim Desmond.

One of the first American basketballers to play in Ireland, Ed's story began in segregated America, in a run-down part of Tallahassee. Like so many before him and so many since, Ed used his sporting prowess to escape poverty, attaining a scholarship to attend college in Rhode Island.

Once there, he set a scoring record which stood for 35 years - enough to earn him trials with NBA team the Atlanta Hawks. However, with competition for places fierce, the young Floridian was forced to move elsewhere, namely the nascent Irish Basketball League.

With two overseas players permitted for each team, coaches throughout the country began recruiting top American players, leading to an explosion in popularity for a sport which had previously been on the margins.

Ed signed with Sporting Belfast in 1982, leaving the States for the first time for a new life in Northern Ireland. Arriving at the height of 'The Troubles' his main concern, as a 6ft 5in black man, was being mistaken for a British soldier.

'We always made sure we were high-fiving and speaking really loud being typical Americans,' Ed recalls in the documentary.

Further spells in Clare, Galway and Dublin followed before Ed finally found success with Killester, landing the first silverware of his career in his forties. By this time, Ed had moved to Bray with wife Ann, whom he had met while playing for Ennistimon in County Clare.

'Mixed relationships were rare in 1980s Ireland, it was tricky at the time because there weren't many black people in Ireland,' says Ann. 'The first time Ed came to my house my mother made him boxty, a traditional dish which was her favourite thing to cook. And Ed put jam on it. At the time my mother bit her lip but once he'd left she asked, "how could he put a sweet thing on that?" But they welcomed him, and we still talk about that incident to this day.'

As his career began to wind down Ed began coaching in the Bray area, bringing his sons Darren and Neil along to many of his sessions. And it was basketball which first entranced the future Ireland number one.

'When I was younger, anywhere he went, I wanted to be there. So when he was playing basketball, I was always there bouncing a basketball somewhere in the background or running round the gym,' Darren says. 'He never pushed me to basketball or football, he just let me do what I wanted to do. When I got to about 14, 15, I thought maybe I've got a better chance in football than basketball so I made the change. Luckily football's working out for me at the minute.'

The documentary, which is now available to listen to as a podcast, has been well-received since first airing, with Ed's family in the States among those to give it their seal of approval.

And one of its makers, Philip Gallagher, believes it transcends the world of sport, offering a snapshot into a unique time in Irish society.

'We're far more multicultural now. Back then, it wasn't just that we didn't have black people in this country, we didn't even really see them on television,' said Philip, who also lives in Bray. 'But for Ed it was a case of being very much made to feel welcomed. Ireland doesn't have a history of right-wing facism, we're not a racist country, by and large people like Ed were accepted into their communities. Then again, he wasn't your average immigrant, he was a special talent,' Philip said.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, who returned to their homeland upon finishing their playing days in Ireland, Ed has laid down roots in his adopted country, cementing a legacy for both himself and his family.

'His legacy is twofold: he was a major part of a short-lived unique time in Ireland with the rise of our basketball league; but his coaching role has also left a huge legacy,' said Philip.

'He's coached a lot of schools and camps throughout the country. You talk to anyone in Ireland about basketball and they'll know about Ed - not just as a player but also as a coach. And I have no doubt his coaching ability has helped Darren, both physically and mentally,' Philip said.