15 Minutes with…. Dragan Stojkov

Dragan is a quiet guy, understated, and doesn’t seem to want to be a bother to anyone. I am not sure how he takes me at first, so I simply ask to start at the beginning. Gently and slowly he opens up. He begins to smile when he talks about his upbringing in Macedonia to parents who worked hard as furniture makers and interior designers. “I like to do that myself” Dragan states. “It takes my mind off everything, to make something with my hands. How do you say… Do it yourself.”

Stojkov was born in Strumica, a town close to the Greek and Bulgarian borders, a small city of 50,000. This proud city nestled in the mountains is a sports city, a competitive city. Lots of soccer players come from Strumica, notably Goran Pandev who graced Serie A, Goran Popov who played for AEK Athens, West Brom and Dynamo Kiev. “All we did growing up was play, we all knew at recess at school we’d find our friends playing something. Weekends were always at the park kicking a ball around.”

It was a good childhood, Stojkov states. Macedonia is a great place to grow up; Strumica is very economically stable. Macedonia escaped a lot of the turmoil that plagued the Balkans in the 90’s and was first country to pull out of the former Yugoslavia. When I ask about it his eyes immediately light up about Lake Ohrid. “Clearest water in whole of Europe!”

Dragan signed his first contract at 16 with his hometown club Belasica. Never missing a practice even though he was doing most of his schoolwork online: “My entire 4th year of high school was done via the internet”.  University was a possibility and then he got an offer to play in the Republic of Korea for Incheon United. “It was hard at 19 to leave and move half way around the world. I was going to go to college for languages and I had a pretty good grasp of English even then, yet nobody in Korea spoke English. There were a few Serbs on the team yet I trained with the second team and they were in the first team squad so I hardly saw them.”

Dragan came back to Europe and played for the Macedonian under 19 team, narrowly losing out on Euro qualification to Portugal from their group. “It was still a massive deal for us to finish behind Portugal. I also was picked for the full national squad in a friendly against Liechtenstein, we won 2-1 and the coach said he’d have put me in for my first cap if it wasn’t going well. I was about to go in when it was 1-1 but we scored and I had to sit back on the bench.”

Two and a half seasons in Athens beckoned with Egaleo FC. Since their Europa League exploits of 2004 and 6th place finish behind PAOK, it had been all downhill for Egaleo with successive relegations. I had to ask, given the financial issues that Greece had faced, was it a tough time? He chuckles ruefully. “Yeah. lots of shady stuff happened with the team, it changed it’s name and had a merger with another team. I got paid every 3 months if I was lucky. I liked playing in Greece but I just couldn’t stay there so I moved back to Serbia. It was brilliant. I played for FK Jagodina, which is a city of 40,000. Now in Serbian football there is Red Star and Partizan who are always 1 and 2. We finished 3rd and 4th in two years, which for a small team like us, was a fantastic achievement.”

On coming to the USA, Dragan continues: “I got offered a trial with LA Galaxy, now nobody from Macedonia had ever played in MLS or NASL, at least that I knew of. I really wanted to see how it was over here. I played under now Galaxy coach Curt Onalfo with LA2, we got beat in the semi finals of USL to Sacramento. It is where I first met Preki, at the end of the season I spoke with [Bruce] Arena and he was adamant that the MLS team would only use the international slots on big name players.”

Indy Eleven called. Dragan sees a lot of similarities with St Louis and Indy. “You guys seem to stick with your team no matter, doesn’t matter the league, the results. I see a lot of passion for home town teams in both cities. I played in a preseason friendly the past two seasons against Saint Louis FC. They were both hard games.”

Away from football, I asked what Dragan is like, how does he spend his time. “I think I am a simple man. I have been on my own now for 10 years around the world. I enjoy my own company. I enjoy the outdoors, nature. I am loving Forest Park here. Just to walk around. I hike and camp in the off season. I won’t go do something just to be with others, for example I am not one for nightclubs. But I’ll be straight up about it and tell you, I don’t want to do that. Yet if someone wants to come for a walk with me or go hang out at a coffee shop then that is cool, that is more my scene.”


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