GATESHEAD defender Valentin Gjokaj is proud to fulfil the footballing dreams of his father Gaspar who fled ethnic tension in Kosovo to forge a new life for his family in Switzerland.
The 21-year-old Gjokaj will continue his nomadic journey through English football when he steps out as part of the Vanarama Conference side’s squad for Saturday’s FA Cup third round trip to West Brom.
Gjokaj endured unsuccessful trials at Blackburn and Newcastle before securing a short-term contract under Nigel Clough at Derby in 2012. Loans at Barnet and Carlisle followed before he was released by the Rams and signed for Gateshead in May.
He is the first to admit his own path pales when compared with the quest undertaken by his father following an increase in aggression in semi-autonomous Kosovo by the then Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in 1990.
Gjokaj said: “When the Balkan War started in the 1990s my parents had to cover all the windows in their house because as soon as the soldiers saw any light they would bomb it.
“They had to leave because it wasn’t safe and my dad went to Switzerland with nothing. He managed to find a job and bring my mum over with him. I was born in Switzerland and they have a beautiful life there now.
“I am trying to do it for my dad because right from as soon as I could walk, his dream was that one day I would be a professional footballer.
“When I made it and got a contract at Derby and my dad came to watch my first game, it was unbelievable. Just seeing him sitting him proudly there in the stand, I almost cried.”
Given his family’s travails, Gjokaj is able to put his football setbacks into serious perspective. Despite a string of rejections and his struggle to achieve regular first team football he is adamant he will succeed.
Unsurprisingly a trip to The Hawthorns holds no fear for Gjokaj, despite it representing Gateshead’s first appearance in the third round in 60 years, and arriving on the back of a poor recent run of just one win in their last eight Conference games.
“Everyone wants to play in the FA Cup, and even growing up in Switzerland I knew all about it being the oldest cup competition in the world and I was a big Manchester United fan.
“I was hoping to draw Manchester United in the third round but maybe that can wait. We are going to West Brom with the belief we can get a good result and of course there is no reason why we can’t make that happen.”