Recently the Republic of Ireland U19 squad played against Sweden.
Ireland won 2-1.
This, hopefully, is another good crop of young Irish players that can break into the top level within a few years.
Last year the same squad, in the main, comprised the RoI U17 squad.
In March 2008 the U17 lads played against Finland at Kilkenny.
What was different about this fixture was that there was a scout from Rangers present.
My sources in the FAI thought that the Ibrox scout was watching RoI players, but he may also have been checking out a Finnish lad.
That was more than a year ago, since then Rangers have made no enquires for any of those players who wore the green of the Republic that night in Kilkenny.
The Rangers scout hasn’t been seen since.
I contacted FIFA registered agents based in Ireland who represented these lads and I was told that not a single one had been contacted by the Ibrox club.
One of the Dublin based agents, a chirpy talkative northerner who studied law at Trinity and who is from the Rangers side of the street, was quite unequivocal:
“there is still a huge barrier there,” he said.
I asked him to clarify what he meant.
“Well would you want to be an Irish lad going to Rangers?”
It was a powerful question.
A source in the FAI stated to me that, in his opinion, the Irish lads who had yet to win a move over to Britain would rather stay playing league of Ireland than go to Ibrox.
Clearly Rangers have an image problem among Irish players.
That image problem is largely, of course, of their own making.
The Famine song hasn’t helped or the fact that there are Rangers supporters in Dublin who have a banner saying that they are “Behind Enemy Lines”.
It isn’t that difficult to see why young Irish lads might be put off signing for Rangers.
Those Rangers fans that sing the Famine song and see nothing wrong with that racist ditty and believe that the “Behind Enemy Lines” banner is acceptable “banter” are probably beyond any non-clinical help.
This is the classic chicken and egg situation for those who own and run Rangers.
Any objective third party –say someone at UEFA headquarters in Switzerland-would look at the situation.
What would they find?
Well we have a club that has a section of fans that are openly racist to citizens of a neighbouring nation.
This racism has seen some of these supporters before the courts.
Moreover the club had not signed a player from that country for 50 years.
I have been informed that in the 1980s Rangers had at least one Catholic player in the youth team.
It was a start.
Perhaps this is a clever way to break a previous discriminatory barrier.
No one saw the Maurice Johnstone signing coming.
Rangers supporter’s buses were cancelled and some outrages fans burned their Rangers scarves outside Ibrox, but it didn’t last.
Ten years later Rangers had a Catholic captain.
In the 1950 and 1960s there may have been hesitancy from some players who were Catholics to play for Rangers-had they been asked.
An apologist for the club could have said, “ Well what Catholic would want to come and play for Rangers?”
However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that there was a signing ban on Catholics.
People like Sandy Jardine and Walter Smith have openly and unequivocally stated the existence of the ban on Catholic players at Ibrox.
Sandy Jardine even stated that when he had joined the club in the early 1960s that there were no members of staff, never mind players, who were Catholics.
It was just one of those things.
Unstated, but implicitly understood by everyone.
So there was a ban on Catholics playing for Rangers. The ban is no more.
How did we know there was a ban?
There wasn’t a single Catholic in the team.
Slowly Rangers were shamed into signing a Catholic.
Most sports journalists working in Scotland at that time managed to get through their working day without mentioning that Rangers was operating a ban on Catholic players.
There were, of course, honourable exceptions like the late Ian Archer.
The current generation of sports journalists in Scotland report on the anti-Irish “Famine song” en passant and fail to mention that Rangers have not signed a player from the Republic of Ireland in 50 years.
As in the 1970s the exception in the sporting hack pack in Scotland is Graham Spiers formerly of the Herald now with the Times.
That Rangers have an image deficit with Irish lads is actually beside the point.
It is a section of the Rangers support that the club needs to lose if it is to, finally, to lose its problematic baggage and delinquent supporters.
Rangers will not be rid of, as Graham Spiers styled them, “the white underclass” from their support until the club loses its de facto signing ban on Republic of Ireland players.
It is classic cognitive therapy for people with phobias to take the person with the irrational fear-say of flying-and then gently introduce them to the source of their phobia.
It is called “systematic de-sensitisation” I have used this professionally many times and it works well with most people.
In my training I saw a video of a very successful, if expensive, programme working in the USA to cure people of their fear of flying through this cognitive behavioural approach.
On the first treatment session the person would be taken to the airport.
The second day through check-in and so on.
Penultimately onto the plane and strapped in and with the engines roaring on the apron the treatment session would end and the person would leave the plane before the pilot launched the aircraft down the runway.
In the final session the plane would take off with the person in the plane and the phobia was conquered.
By taking it a tiny step at a time a person who had been completely unable to countenance flying was gently manoeuvred into a position where they took off.
Once through that barrier the phobia usually disappeared.
Like all major journeys it started with a single step.
Groups of people, just like individuals, can suffer from phobias.
This approach can also work with groups of people.
How would this approach help Rangers to break their phobia of things Irish?
Clearly were the management of Rangers to persuade a full Irish international to sign for the club and that player ticked all the boxes as a “Fenian” then it would be a step too soon for the hordes that wrecked Manchester.
Perhaps I can suggest a tentative baby step for the fearful at Ibrox reared in a dysfunctional sub-culture to fear all things Irish.
Probably it would be good if that player was not born in Ireland, but qualifies via parentage.
The irony of Rangers signing what they would deride as a “plastic paddy” is not lost on this writer.
However, signing an Irish born player without impeccable “West Brit” credentials is probably too much for the “white underclass” section of the Rangers support.
I may have the first step for Rangers to break their anti-Irish signing policy.
One of the stars of the current RoI U19 squad is Lanre Oyebanjo.
A man mountain of a young Londoner his mother is from Ballyfermot and his dad is from London.
He doesn’t fit the identikit picture of the “Fenian” in the muddled heads of the “Famine song” choir.
We in Ireland just see one of our own and, hopefully, another Paul McGrath.
Lanre qualifies, by birth, to play for England, through his mother to play for the Republic and, via the grandparent rule on his dad’s side, he could play for Nigeria.
He chose Ireland, it is his choice and should he turn out to be a star then I’m sure England fans would be mature enough not to boo him for being a “traitor” to England.
At the last match against Sweden he was a complete stand out.
He currently plays for lowly Histon in the conference.
This is not the lad’s true level as a footballer that much is self-evident.
They know they have a valuable asset on their books and he has another year to run on his contract.
£500,000 is the probable asking price, which is a lot for a largely untried 18 year old.
That valuation maybe an indication of the kid’s potential and why Alex McLeish is having him watched very closely.
A promising lad at this level is where Rangers and, indeed, Celtic will be dealing in the future as the financial belt tightens at both clubs.
Were an offer to come in from Rangers for the lad he would, quite reasonably, ask his international teammate James McCarthy about Rangers.
I have met James and he is a lovely lad, as straight as an arrow.
What would James tell his international buddy about the Ibrox club?
What would be fair and truthful?
What would be an accurate description of the behaviour of Rangers fans at New Douglas Park towards this teenager last October?
Are the Rangers management anti-Irish?
Well clearly not if they made an off for an U19 RoI international (something as far as I can find out has not happened).
Are a section of the Rangers support anti-Irish?
Are the Rangers management hesitant about signing a RoI player to start in the first team?
Is the lad a player?
Perhaps. What is undeniable is that he is attracting interest from bottom rung Premiership sides and championship clubs with aspirations.
One wonders if the current Birmingham manager would have bothered having the lad assessed if he were still the manager at Ibrox?
One thing is for sure Alex McLeish doesn’t have to concern himself what the reaction will be of the Birmingham city fans to Lanre Oyebanjo’s international team.
Can anyone say with any belief that he could be as sanguine if he were still the manager at Ibrox?
Rangers have a problem of anti-Irish racism to address within a section of their support and like the “Billy Boys” saga they will probably need outside help to deal with it to the satisfaction of society.
The house-training project at Ibrox is a work in progress.
Recently the Republic of Ireland U19 squad played against Sweden.