Yesterday I spoke with a couple of very helpful men from Crumlin United in Dublin.
They weren’t surprised that a journalist was on the phone to them.
Their young goalkeeper had just made a little bit of history.Alan Smith, originally from Cork, had signed for the Rangers Under 19 team.
Celtic had the lad over two weeks before he signed for the Light Blues.
Crumlin could have claimed up to €450,000 in compensation for the lad, but that, of course, would have killed the deal.
I have a sense is that isn’t what the folks who run Crumlin United are about.
The club official told me that, as far as he was concerned, “Alan is the first Republic of Ireland player to sign for Rangers.”
Certainly in modern times this is correct.
Alan Kernaghan is a youth coach and the club did attempt to sign Alan Maybury some years back.
Now they have signed a young RoI player from a catholic background.
This is progress.
I’m sure that Rangers have signed Alan because he is a fine young footballer and not as an act of tokenism.
Rangers never had a written policy that no player from a Roman Catholic background would were their colours and play for the first team.
Discrimination is rarely written down. When it is it writes its own death warrant. Think Apartheid. It was indefensible. However it was out there and it could be tackled head on. There was no pretence that the regime valued or respected South Africans of all racial backgrounds. Nods, winks and glass ceilings are much harder to tackle.
A key to extinction of any species is habitat removal. It is no different with racists. For generations being a Rangers supporter has been a vehicle for Anti Irish Racism.
It is hard to thing of any other club in Britain whose supporters could think up something like the “Famine song.”
Moreover it is hard to conceive of another club issuing a statement warning their fans not to sing a racist song for fear they will be arrested, but failing, in the statement to condemn the song or the sentiments contained within it.
It is then that the club’s putative employment policies come into stark relief.
Of the 104 clubs who made up the English four leagues in 2009/2010 and the SPL in the same season, 103 have had either an ROI Full internationalist or under 21 internationalists since the year 2000, many of those clubs have had several ROI players.
In the summer of 2009 a dossier on the racism of Rangers supporters was compiled for Marian Harkin MEP. Ms.Harkin is the MEP for the Connaught Ulster European constituency. This huge electoral area includes Counties like Donegal with a large connection to Glasgow and Mayo, which, in many ways, is THE famine county. This dossier included a statement from the anti racist organisation Kick It Out and an Irish community organisation based in Glasgow. Ms. Harkin MEP sent this dossier with a covering letter to Michele Platini.
The import of this dossier, which I have seen, was to ask UEFA to make sure their match delegates were informed about the issues around Anti-Irish racism from Rangers supporters.
The dossier also included reference to the apparent failure of RFC to find ANY player from the RoI to play in their first team.
I got sight of the reply from UEFA to Ms.Harkin and it was the intention of the football authorities based in Nyon to seek clarification from Rangers on these matters.
This correspondence would have been taking place in June and July 2009.
In August 2009 I received a tip from a well-placed source inside the FAI that Rangers had registered a scout with the FAI.
It was an exclusive scoop. This was, I was told, the first time that RFC had every registered a scout with the FAI.
The natural tabloid thing to have done was to go to Clontarf and doorstep Ranger’s man in Dublin with a snapper at my side.
I decided, instead, to do nothing and let him get on with his job.
Although the Dublin based Scotsman has since become Everton’s scout he passed on more than a few names to Rangers.
A cynic could say that signing a lad for the U19 team, perhaps firth or sixth choice goalkeeper is an exercise in tokenism that will get UEFA off Ranger’s back on this issue.
Football fans will always tell you that it is only a minority of the club’s fans that will know or really care about happens in the youth team.
Everyone knows what is happening in the first team.
It could be argued that Rangers are moving, however slowly, from a “No Irish” policy to simply an “Anti-Irish” policy.
The clear analogy would be a workplace that had been back in the day male only.
If today that same workplace has a healthy gender balance then the history of that change would find that one day there was ONE woman.
The culture of that workplace may still have been hostile to female co-workers, but it was a start.
At some point critical mass was achieved and the workplace started to become tolerable for women.
That will happen, in time, for Republic of Ireland players at Rangers.
One day it will be no big deal if another RoI player is signed for the Rangers first team squad.
We aren’t there yet, but it’s a start.
What we can now say with certainty is that in the coming season a young Rangers player from the Rebel County will stand to attention and face his flag. The Irish Tricolour and sing amhran na bhFiann.
When that can also be said of one or two regulars in the Rangers first team in years to come then the habitable space for anti-Irish racism among the Ibrox faithful will be less and less.
The racist in the Rangers shirt will be an endangered species.
These things take time. Perhaps we should, set an aspirational date for Rangers finally dealing with their Irish question.
Six years from now.
Perhaps it would be fitting if, in the 1916 centenary celebrations when we on this island and freedom loving people all over the world pay homage to the insurgents of Easter week, that a couple of members of the Rangers first team would feel the same gra for Pearse and Connolly.
That they could be fully Irish and it would be no bother, no big deal.
That the new project manager at the factory is called Paula not Paul.
No big deal.
Perhaps the last word should go to the fine men of Crumlin United who have reared and nurtured this lad to the young man he is.
A club spokesperson said this to me:
“On behalf of Crumlin United we would like to wish Alan Smith every success in his future. We hope that the media will leave him alone now. It is of no relevance which club Alan has signed for. He just wants to be a professional footballer.”