BASKET CASE BLUE
Birmingham No.1 Darren Randolph on his basketball background
HIS DAD was one of the first Americans to play in the Irish Basketball League and his younger brother is on a scholarship in the United States – so is it any wonder Darren Randolph relies on his hands for a living?
Like the rest of his family, all the Birmingham City goalkeeper wanted to do was play basketball growing up in Bray, 12 miles south of Dublin.
But he soon caught the attention of football scouts with his sharp reflexes and 6ft 2in frame and, before he knew it, Randolph was an age-grade international in both sports.
Push eventually came to shove and football won out. A move to Charlton in 2003 was the catalyst for a career that now sees him named in Ireland’s squad for their upcoming Euro 2016 qualifier against Poland on March 29.
And the 27-year-old, who was attracting interest from Premier League clubs in January, credits his early days treading the court for his rise.
“I’d certainly like to think playing basketball gave me a good grounding and safe hands – some people might like to argue about the safe hands part though,” joked the former Motherwell No.1.
“I used to play basketball all the time when I was younger and a scholarship to America is all I really wanted. But growing up, football was obviously the bigger sport in Ireland and all my mates were playing that.
“It got to the stage where doing the both of them was hard to juggle. I played for Ireland in both when I was younger, but they often clashed on the same day. I came to the decision I had a better chance in football.”
It would be hard to argue Randolph’s decision has not paid off. But with his dad, Ed, still playing in the IBL at the age of 54 and his younger sibling, Neil, shooting hoops in New York for Elmira College, are there any regrets?
“My brother has the brains of the family, that’s the only regret,” laughs Randolph. “He’s going to graduate in May, come back, do his Masters and tour Europe.
“My dad is still going now, and he came over when it was quite big and he helped the sport grow. He was part of the first group of Americans who came over in the 1980s to raise the profile.
“It’s not as big as it was back then, or even ten or 15 years ago, because the money has dropped out of it.”
Randolph has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise troubled past couple of years for Birmingham.
He helped the Blues escape relegation on the final day of last season and his performances have earned admirers from far and wide – including new boss Gary Rowett who has steered the Midlands side out of troubled waters of late.
A new deal is on the table for the twice-capped stopper, and he revealed that an agreement is getting closer.
“It’s still there, we just need to hash it and get it over and done with,” he added. “All the boss has asked is that I’m honest with him.
“He gave me January to look around and there was interest from a couple of Premier League sides and a few Championship sides as well.
“I heard about the rumours of Celtic as well. I never spoke to anyone from there and neither did my agent. I don’t know where that rumour came from at all, but I have been letting the boss know what’s been happening.
“I’m happy at the club.The boss has targeted a top-half finish and we’re on the way to achieving that. The league is so tight we could really push on.”
Boro are back on song with the 4-1 thrashing of Ipswich – Pages 14-15
BASKET CASE: Darren Randolph in typically defiant action for Birmingham City
SAFE HANDS: Darren Randolph, centre, could have been a basketball player like his dad Ed, left, and brother Neil, right