Football: From Vancouver to Ibrox via El Salvador

Phil Gordon says for Dasovic the semi is a stage on a long journey
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The Independent Online
IT IS a North American tradition for parents to invite their grown- up offspring over for Sunday breakfast, but Marko Dasovic is having his Sabbath morning, not to mention his waistline, ruined by his son, Nick. The St Johnstone midfielder's father is having to prop up the bar at 10am simply to catch a glimpse of his boy.

Dasovic Jnr has not been home to Vancouver since last summer, but, any time St Johnstone face the Old Firm in a live television encounter, Dasovic Snr simply heads to either of the Celtic or Rangers supporters' clubs in the Canadian city. The eight-hour time difference between Scotland and the Pacific coast is no barrier to the expatriates. Beer, rather than waffles, are on the menu and Marko Dasovic joins in a like a native.

The old man sank quite a few last Sunday to toast his son's team's stunning Premier League victory over Rangers. Should Nick make it a double in tonight's Scottish Cup semi-final, then Dad might be advised to take his celebrations off to the Celtic club instead, because there will be a lot of exiled Rangers fans with sore heads which have nothing to do with drink.

"I don't have anyone coming over," Nick said. "If we play Celtic or Rangers, my dad and my old football friends go and watch the games live on the satellite. The Scots are all great supporters. They turn up at seven in the morning and have a few pints while watching."

Certainly, Celtic Park seems to instil a potent brew in Dasovic's game. The robust midfielder has scored twice on two previous visits to the semi- final venue already this season - once against Celtic, and the other when Rangers beat St Johnstone there in the League Cup final last November - and the 30-year-old is eager to make it third time lucky.

"They were both special goals," he reflected, "shots from the edge of the box. My dad said he was nearly through the ceiling when I equalised in the League Cup final. To know my friends are also watching is nice, because most of the guys I grew up with started out playing soccer but are really into ice hockey now."

While almost every other kid in Canada dreamed of being Wayne Gretzky, Dasovic grew up with a passion for the beautiful game. He moved to Europe and played for Dynamo (now Croatia) Zagreb in his dad's native country, and then had a spell at the Swedish club Trelleborg - Uefa Cup conquerors of Blackburn Rovers - before moving to St Johnstone in November 1996.

His 35 caps for Canada have also taken him to some very exotic, if not hostile, football hotspots too. He has played against Brazil, has been hammered 8-0 in the Azteca Stadium by Mexico, but the most painful experience came in El Salvador during the qualifying campaign for France 98.

"We always play El Salvador and Honduras in our group and those countries open up your eyes. In El Salvador, they will do anything to intimidate you but the worst is throwing plastic bags filled with urine.

"I got injured when we won 2-0 in El Salvador and I was lying on the sideline when they pelted me. I took five direct hits with those bags, it was awful. In Honduras, our bus was smashed up and every window was put in as we sped out of the stadium with all our guys lying on the floor."

If that all seems all too wild to be the life of a footballer, then Dasovic is probably secretly pleased. He gave up the chance of a rock-and-roll lifestyle back home. He was part of a grunge band called the Virgin Whores, who achieved some notoriety in Vancouver, before exchanging his guitar for shinguards.

Dasovic's combative style and willingness to shoot on sight has seen him take to Scottish football like a duck to water, and the tall, long- haired Canadian seems to typify the underdog spirit that St Johnstone will need to summon up once more.

"Perth is not a big town, but it would be good for the city if we could reach another cup final," he said. "About 10,000 came to Celtic Park for the League Cup final, and that's not bad for a city of only 50,000. There was such a buzz."

Should Dasovic succeed, it would not be the first time this wanderer has elbowed the bigger names out of the spotlight. He won the American Professional Soccer League in 1994 with his first club, Montreal Impact, and swallowed up the headlines reserved for the superstars of ice hockey and baseball. "The NHL and Major League Baseball were both on strike," Dasovic explained, "so the media went crazy on us.

"Instead of one old guy with a camera, there were six film crews and when we won we got a civic reception from 5,000 people lining the streets." Dasovic will settle for just one special guy in a Vancouver bar saying "cheers" tonight.