Tue, Sep

THE strange case of Jason Scotland seems to have been resolved. In the past few months the Trinidad and Tobago striker has plumbed the depths of despair, endured sleepless nights and been wracked by self-doubt, and though he seems to be putting all that behind him , he remains a little baffled.

That feeling will be shared by many who followed the case. The former Dundee United striker is now a St Johnstone player, having had his application for a work permit rejected when it was made by his former club, then accepted when it was made by the first division side. Many, including Scotland, are unsure precisely why this was so, while others might still not be sure whether it's a permanent arrangement, since he initially returned, late last month, on a six-month holiday visa.

But Scotland confirms it is permanent. He has signed a two-year contract, upon completion of which he'll have to apply for another work permit. Which could be complicated by matters as random as his hairstyle, or by whether his goals - two in four games - earn St Johnstone promotion. In that eventuality, will he still be deemed not quite good enough for the top division?

The 26-year old believes the first application was turned down on this basis: his talent is commensurate with the lower division. He also knows he would have been granted the permit with United had he won the requisite international caps, which he would have done if the previous Trinidad and Tobago coach, Bertille St Clair, hadn't objected to his dreadlocks.

But now, having moved 20 miles west to Perth, Scotland declares himself happy to have been allowed to continue his career in a country he says - despite his recent treatment - feels like "a home from home". He admits he is still reeling from the uncertainty of the summer, struggling to regain his fitness after missing pre-season training, and nursing a cold. But despite all that, Scotland is content. Or perhaps simply relieved.

He was away on Gold Cup duty with his country when he heard his application had been rejected. He had thought it would be routine. "It was a surprise to me, my agent, everyone," he says. "I was in Miami and I was actually stunned. I couldn't play football, I couldn't focus, my mind was elsewhere."

The move by St Johnstone came when their manager, Owen Coyle, phoned Scotland's agent, Mike Berry, and asked , "What about another application?"

"I was nervous and panicking [before the second application]," says Scotland. "If it didn't get accepted then I don't know where I'd have gone from there. When my agent called with the good news I just felt relief. The night before I couldn't sleep. I just kept thinking of the worst scenario: where would I go, what club would I play for. I would have had to go on trial abroad and start again.

"I was satisfied and delighted when I heard. I couldn't go and celebrate because I was in shock. The manager and the chairman at United were raging and I understand why, because I don't understand why I was turned down in the first place for the SPL."

His agent, Berry, had been as appalled as United, and muttered about the composition of the original panel, five of whom had previously played for Hibs, knocked out of last season's Scottish Cup by Scotland's goal in the semi-final. Neutrals might not have bought the conspiracy theory, but many were still perplexed, especially given the rules on work permits for overseas players can appear to be applied flexibly.

Despite his client's eventual success, Berry confesses he is still confused. "Two of the original panel also sat on the second panel," he says. "It was a 5-1 decision against Jason the first time, and after going through the same process it was 6-0 in favour the second time. How do you explain that? The system is a shambles."

Many might have wondered why Scotland wanted to stay in this country when he felt he had been treated so badly, but the answer probably lies in the fact his professional career started relatively late. His decision to leave the Army in 2002 was a huge gamble: he wished to pursue a career as a footballer, but, prior to signing for Dundee United, had never lived away from home. Moving to a new country was not easy.

He didn't play as often as he would have liked, but enjoyed life at United. He was an inspirational substitute in the cup semi-final, before playing the full 90 minutes of the Hampden final. Things were going so well he was offered a new two-year contract.

"I was loving it at United," he says. "They made me feel at home and were very welcoming. I didn't want to move to start all over again in a new country."

He thinks if Coyle - the strikers' paths crossed in the early part of Scotland's career at United - hadn't signed him he would have gone to "maybe Belgium or America". Returning to Trinidad and Tobago wasn't a serious option.

"Sometimes here when it's snowing, when the rain is heavy, I think, what could I be doing at home now? I could be playing in the sun on the beach, but the football and the league at home is not really competitive. It's a bit more laid back. It's not like that here. The atmosphere and the fans in Scotland make it feel so real, they make you feel important."

His overriding ambition now is to earn another shot at the SPL. "I'm capable of playing there," he says. "We have a good squad and a manager who knows when to be serious, so maybe I can play in the SPL again with St Johnstone."