Tranmere bank on an ideal Hume exhibition, Canadian style

Brian Little has a small wonder to turn to at Millwall today. Ronald Atkin meets a striker with a sense of the spectacular
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Perhaps there is some corner of God's workshop where quick, gifted and combative athletes of unexceptional height like Iain Hume are produced. If so, it is an assembly line which also gave the sporting world Lleyton Hewitt, a tennis champion who bears an uncanny physical and facial resemblance to the Tranmere Rovers footballer.

However, it is unlikely Hewitt has been referred to as "a little gem", the description offered by Tranmere's manager, Brian Little, in praise of a 5ft 7in striker whose explosive shooting has propelled the club into the quarter-finals of the FA Cup and a visit this afternoon to Millwall's bear pit, the New Den.

It is the third time in five years that Tranmere, now Second Division dwellers, have marched into the last eight, and if the wisdom and experience of Little has much to do with this latest feat, the 20-year-old Hume is the one responsible for the thrilling goals that have brought them to the brink of their first-ever FA Cup semi-final.

Sporting a designer T-shirt, cropped hair and small silver crucifix, Hume pauses for a chat in the trophy room at Prenton Park a few feet from a framed testimonial to Tranmere's most famous player, Ralph "Dixie" Dean. When he made his debut for Tranmere in March 2000 at the age of 16 years, 167 days, Hume shattered Dean's long-standing mark as the youngest-ever to appear for the club. Dean's other record, the one involving goals, is not under immediate threat, but the young Canadian international intends to give it a go.

Having produced the rocket which put out Bolton Wanderers in a third-round replay, Hume uncorked another stunner to see off Swansea in the fifth round. There is nothing more readily guaranteed to have the big clubs salivating than a goalscorer, especially one with flamboyance and dynamite toecaps. He hit three more like that last December when Canada lifted eyebrows by reaching the quarter-finals of the World Under-20 Championships in Dubai.

It is, says Iain, all down to his dad, Eddie, whose sporting CV belongs in another code altogether, rugby with Boroughmuir. Eddie Hume and his wife Wilma emigrated from Edinburgh when Iain was a year old and settled in Brampton, Ontario. "I am naturally right-footed, but as soon as I started playing football my dad made sure I never used my right foot. So I learned at a young age how to use both feet and it has paid off, I guess."

At 15, Hume came to England with a Canadian Youth touring team and was snapped up by Tranmere, turning professional at 17. Gradual, careful grooming saw him progress to become the club's Young Player of the Year and a first-team regular last season. Having been with Tranmere for four-and-a-half seasons, the Hume accent has more Mersey than Canuck about it, and he has also put down roots in the area, having become the father of a girl in December. "But my accent comes back when I go over there for a week, pure Canadian again," he grins.

The attitude is pure Canadian, too. When a Scottish scout murmured to a pal on the Tranmere coaching staff that the land of Hume's birth would be keen to recruit him for international grooming, Scotland were turned down flat.

"I am Canadian, my heart is in Canada," says Hume. "As soon as I started playing at a professional level Canada was the only country I was ever going to play for." He has won three full caps so far and both he and Canada's new coach, the former Ipswich defender Frank Yallop, are keen to boost that total.

Though the pair have not yet met, this will be remedied at the end of this month when Canada's European-based players gather for a five-day training camp at Manchester in preparation for this summer's qualifying games for World Cup 2006. "I hope he will be a big part of my plans," says Yallop. "He is a real bright one for the future for us and is on fire at the moment."

Tranmere hope Hume's bomber boots are primed this afternoon, though the player himself insists it is teamwork which has got the club this far in the Cup. "I have been lucky to grab the headlines with my goals, but that's to overshadow the performance of the team, we have put in 110 per cent. The way we have played in the last two rounds we have merited our place in the last eight and if we can repeat it, Millwall are going to have a tough battle. We have been playing like this since Brian Little came here last October. He has made us a really hard team to beat."

So, thanks to his dad, Hume will be taking aim with either foot at Millwall. His attitude is that if he spots the chance of a shot he lets fly at once. "I figure I might not get another chance and if I hit the target, who knows what might happen? And I have been lucky, they have gone in twice. But don't get me wrong, I have meant them. It's just that I've been lucky for them to have been match-winners." Though he insists he is willing to battle for the ball in the air, Hume's strengths lie in what he calls "my pace and trickery, turning and running at opponents".

Another spectacular goal today in EastEnders territory would be great, but he is content to do whatever is needed in the cause of beating Millwall. "Even a five-yard tap-in."