DAMIAN VOJTEK, of the Melbourne Knights, is finally emerging from the imposing shadow cast by his father, four years after making his senior debut as a 17-year-old.
The son of Billy Vojtek, Damian had a tough act to follow from the day he put on his first pair of soccer boots – so much so that he made a point of scoring 10 goals in his debut with the Rosanna under-eights.
Billy Vojtek is one of the all-time greats of Australian soccer. He won championships with the Knights in 1962 and 1968; played also for Sydney United, Juventus and Green Gully; represented Australia 44 times and Victoria 28 times; won two Victorian player-of-the-year awards and was the Rothmans Medal runner-up in New South Wales.
He also has coached Green Gully, Essendon Triestina, St Albans, Western Suburbs, Glenroy and the Melbourne Knights youth team.
Damian, 20, had a soccer ball thrust at his feet as soon as he could walk. “As I grew up, I never stopped kicking the ball around with dad,” Damian said. “And mum was just as supportive, driving me to training and to matches all over the place.
“I was too young to watch dad playing for the Socceroos – but I’d love to get hold of some film or video of those times.
“My earliest memories are of him being player-coach of Green Gully. While he was playing, I’d be behind the goal having a kick-around with Joe Spiteri and some of the other guys. We’d hardly watch the game.”
Damian Vojtek and Spiteri were to progress to the Melbourne Knights and to the Australian Olympic team for a tour of Malaysia and Europe in 1994.
Spiteri went on to play for the senior Socceroos, while Vojtek lost his place in the Olympic team because he failed to win regular senior selection with the Knights.
Everything looked rosy for him when he scored in his national league debut against Brunswick Juventus, as well as his second match, against Newcastle.
But he was in the team only because captain Josip Biskic was injured and when Biskic returned after the Newcastle match, Vojtek was back on the bench.
“It was hard under (coach) Mirko Bazic because he had his set 11 and wouldn’t change them, no matter how the others played or trained,” Vojtek said.
“But (new coach) Ian Dobson has made it clear that he’ll treat every player equally.
“He sees me as a naturally attacking player, so he wants me to get forward from the left of midfield, take on opponents, support the strikers and shoot at goal.
“At the same time, he wants me to improve my tackling and my chasing back.”
Last weekend, in a 3-3 draw against Canberra Cosmos, Vojtek was voted among the best three players of the match.
Against Wollongong City at the Croatian Sports Centre in Sunshine tonight, he aims to further consolidate his midfield position and refine his partnership with left-back Fausto DeAmicis, who returns after injury.
“What Damian has needed all along was an extended run in the first team. Once he scores, his confidence will shoot up and he’ll play even better,” Billy Vojtek said.
“I’ve always impressed on him the importance of getting into the penalty box because it’s a fact of life that midfielders have to score goals these days.
“He proved his goalscoring ability in the Knights’ youth team, where he scored about 16 or 17 last year.” Damian agreed it was all a matter of recapturing in senior ranks the high degree of confidence he showed in the youth team. “I’m getting my chance now. I can do it,” he said.