Young, gifted and multi-ethnic–melting pot offers vital ingredients to Irish teams
SOCCER:The Republic of Ireland Under-15s scored a remarkable 3-0 win over Juventus in Qatar yesterday with Zachary Elbouzedi scoring twice and Jean Yves Poame once for Niall Harrison’s side, who will take on local side Aspire Academy today.
While the win was pleasing for Harrison, though, as well as for his employers at Abbotstown, the very make-up of the squad he has brought to the Middle East represents a cause for some satisfaction with the 17-strong party arguably the most ethnically diverse the association has ever sent away for a game.
Five of the 17 originally named for the trip were born outside Ireland or can point to prominent family roots abroad. Two, Ismael Diallo and Poame, arrived from Ivory Coast as kids while Daniel Mandroiu’s father’s family is originally from Romania. All, observes the FAI’s intercultural officer Des Tomlinson, feel at home in the green jerseys they wore for the very first time yesterday.
“If you talk to kids generally who come here at a young age in terms of their awareness of nationality then it’s going to be Irish,” he says. “They would still be aware of their family’s country of origin and the traditions that they are being taught at home. But if you talk to Noe (Baba, the 16 year-old born in Cameroon who has lived and played in Castlebar for the last six years and who has just signed for Fulham) his socialisation is in Mayo. For the lads in Corduff, it’s Corduff. They all have Irish passports and they all feel Irish.”
Tomlinson works closely with Harrison, who oversees the association’s Emerging Talent Programme, to bring promising youngsters from all sections of the community into the fold. While players must be eligible to play competitively for Ireland, which means having or being entitled to a passport, in order to get into the programme, clubs up and down the country are working with kids from all backgrounds, including those struggling to obtain citizenship.
Outside of Dublin, Tomlinson, who is also on the board of the charity, Show Racism The Red Card, cites the likes of Middleton in Cork, Foundation in Galway and Limerick’s Granville Rangers as examples who do particularly good work in the area. He and the FAI’s regional development officers run a number of programmes aimed at involving children from Ireland’s newer communities in the game and once recruited at their schools a co-ordinated effort is made to channel them into local clubs.
Baba’s progress from a 10-year-old still finding it difficult to communicate is an impressive example of how swiftly things can move along when the system works. The number of clubs who are represented at international level for the very first time this week also indicates the way the large-scale investment during the boom has levelled the playing field, so to speak, in schoolboy football.
“I think the coaching at a lot of club has got better, the facilities are generally a lot better and the network of scouting is a hell of a lot better,” says Harrison. “The widening base can only be good for the game.”
Still, as good an example as any of what can be achieved is provided by Blanchardstown’s Corduff FC, an avowedly local club for locals which, just to be clear, they mean in the very best way possible. “The club is a melting pot of different backgrounds, cultures and nationalities,” the club’s website proudly informs visitors. “Blanchardstown is a microcosm of Irish life today and Corduff FC is a direct reflection of that. The club is 50 per cent native Irish and 50 per cent various nationalities including Irish-born kids of foreign parents.”
Johnny Bootman, its secretary and the manager of the team for which Poame and Diallo play, rattles off a few of the other nationalities – Chinese, Lithuanian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Pakistani – represented in the club’s 17 underage sides.
“You can see we’re going to have a more multicultural society represented by a more multicultural team in the not too distant future,” he says, “and that’s going to be good for the country and the game.”
He works in Corduff Sports Centre, the construction of which enabled the club to expand and attract more kids from the locality. That Poame and Diallo have become the first players from the club to be capped is just the most public aspect of what’s in it for the club, he suggests.
Tomlinson, meanwhile, points out “football provides a pathway whereby people can socialise and integrate, and not just for the kids but for the adults as well.”
Incidents of racism are not unknown but almost everyone insists they are rare, in part, one manager theorises, because almost every team has kids from different ethnic backgrounds and so abusing those from the other side would be unthinkable.
Bootman remembers one “where one of our lads ran amok, kicked out and got sent off. When I asked him what had had happened he said he was getting racist stuff, black bastard or stuff like that; every time he went in for a tackle or whatever. He said he told the referee but that he had told him he’d just have to play on. That’s the only thing that stands out for me in five years really.”
Tomlinson acknowledges the problem exists. “We have rules and we have to ensure that out leagues understand what those rules are. Some people will face it and some won’t. What we have to try to do is to ensure referees are equipped to deal with it because we have a policy of zero tolerance.”
Still, there can be problems as Brian Kenny, Elbouzedi’s coach at Malahide United points out. “Yeah we play against East Meath United from time to time and there’s a guy up there, Tommy, a lovely fellow but he kept trying to change the times of our games and I thought they must be trying to unsettle us. Then,” he adds with a laugh, “I heard it was because they have a young lad, a good little player, who has to go to church on a Sunday.”
Members of the under-15 squad with links abroad
Born in Dublin, both of Avis’s parents are Nigerian. Until this season he played with Firhouse but has recently moved to Templeogue United.
Born in Dublin, Zach’s father is from Libya. He plays mainly as a winger for Malahide United and has, as he showed in Qatar yesterday, an eye for goal.
Born in Dublin, Daniel has Romanian roots on his father’s side but, says Alan Caffrey, a coach at St Kevin’s Boys, with a laugh: “Daniel was born and raised in the heart of Ballymun. You couldn’t get any more Dublin than he is.”
Born in the Ivory Coast, Ismael plays for Corduff as a centre-half or, occasionally, full back.
JEAN YVES POAME
Born in the Ivory Coast, Jean is a highly-rated central midfielder who also plays with Corduff.
Sari urges FAI to be more proactive
While expressing considerable satisfaction at the make-up of the Republic of Ireland squad in Qatar, Ken McCue of Sport Against Racism in Ireland feels the FAI could do more for kids still hoping to get their passports by including them in the Emerging Talent Programme.
“There are a lot of other kids with talent out there, we come across them all the time but they are not getting the breaks,” he says.
“It used to be that they would be capped here in friendly games but not be able to travel abroad.
“That’s what happened with Emeka Onwubiko (the first African-born player to represent Ireland) who had something like a dozen caps before he got his passport, but now they’re excluded.
“The upshot is that we’re losing the stars of the future to clubs in the likes of Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Portugal and Germany.
He cites Temmy Raheem, a Nigerian-born teenager who has, after a long wait, just received his Irish passport in time to use it when he moves to Belgium.
“This isn’t just a problem in football,” says McCue, who points out that under current rules and the Citizenship Act of 2005, Steve Heighway would not have been eligible to play for Ireland.