How a holiday to New Zealand and a run in with Brendan Rodgers’ analyst helped pave the way for Greg Draper to become The New Saints’ all time leading goal scorer

“It’s funny how things work out isn’t it. It is about who you know and you need a lot of help. In football it takes all these things to fall into place.”

It’s funny how things work out in life.

If certain things never clicked into place or certain moments in life did not happen then most of us wouldn’t be sitting where we are today.

And that is certainly the case for TNS’ all time record goalscorer Greg Draper, in a story that involves a holiday to New Zealand and Brendan Rodgers’ first time analyst.

The 31-year-old striker surpassed Mike Wilde’s club record tally of 153 goals in October, but it could have been all so different for Draper, who was born in the UK but ended up with international honours for New Zealand.

“We had family who moved out there in the 90s and then we went to visit for a three week holiday, and as soon as we come back my Mum and Dad decided they wanted to raise us out there,” revealed Draper.

“A year later we moved over and that was that really.

“Then I came back and played for Basingstoke Town and a lad I played with in New Zealand called Chris Davies, who is a big part of Brendan Rodgers backroom staff as his analyst was training with Neath.

“He’s been everywhere with Rodgers, Liverpool, Celtic and now Leicester and when he was with him at Swansea, Chris was training with Neath to keep fit.

“Andy Dyer was the manager there and I was close to signing for Neath, but Andy left or was sacked I’m not sure.

“Anyway, Andy was involved with the sports brand Macron as was Mike Davies the TNS manager at the time.

“I went there for a trial and scored a few goals then signed a two year contract and I’ve been here nine years.

“So it’s funny how things work out isn’t it. It is about who you know and you need a lot of help.

“If I hadn’t gone to New Zealand and met Chris, and if he hadn’t come back and been training with Neath, these things wouldn’t have happened.

“In football it takes all these things to fall into place.”

Born in Somerset, Draper moved to New Zealand at the age of 12 and ended up representing the national team through the age groups, qualifying through the fact his grandfather was a native.

He also gained citizenship after five years of residency, and went to signed for Wellington Pheonix, a well known club in the country.

But it could potentially have been a lot different from the start for the prolific striker, who opted for the kick the big ball rather than than hit a smaller red ball with a bat.

“Growing up I played just as much cricket as football, and the way it worked out I chose football and played for various teams over there.

“I played cricket to a decent level but probably wouldn’t have got as high as I did in football, and as a kid you look at football and see it as more glamorous so I was always going to pick that.”

After playing for Wellington Draper moved away to Australia to play in the Melbourne Victorian Premier League, before deciding to return to the UK to live with his auntie and have a crack at being a full time professional.

“I just wanted to have a crack at it. If I didn’t come back to England and have a go I would have regretted it,” admitted Draper.

He bagged over 20 goals in the Conference South for Basingstoke before signing with The New Saints.

But after flying back from England to New Zealand and scoring the winning penalty to take his adopted country through to the 2012 Olympics, Draper was dropped from the squad.

“I scored the goal, it was a penalty against Fiji and that made sure we qualified but when you’re in the competition you can bring three older players in,” added the striker.

“They brought in Chris Wood who may have been at West Brom at the time, and the national team don’t really look at the Welsh league, there wasn’t enough exposure.

“It was disappointing to find out I hadn’t made the squad after the goal, but I found out when we were away in Sweden for the Champions League.

“So that probably helped me focus on something else, and the disappointment probably made me the player I am today.”

Picture by Mike Sheridan

In his first season at Park Hall Draper bagged 22 goals in the league, which in turn sparked some interest from Football League clubs.

Nothing came of it and Draper has remained a key figure for the Saints ever since, and believes he probably found his level.

“It is a great league and it is probably my level,” admitted the 31-year-old.

“I’ve scored a lot of goals and achieved a lot which I’m not sure I would have done in a higher league or a different league, but I wouldn’t change any of it.”

Draper surpassed Wilde’s goal scoring tally in 10-0 win over Flint Town United in October, and admitted it was never an accolade he really thought about when joining nine years ago.

Many of his goals came from the bench but thinking about how many he could have got bagged if he started more games doesn’t really cross Draper’s mind.

“I got goals coming off the bench when we were in control, so you can look at it that way,” added the striker.

“I’m really proud of the accolade, you don’t think about things like this when you sign.

“I could have scored more if I had started more but that didn’t happen and the next best thing is to score off the bench.”

Draper has now begun his journey into coaching to run alongside the final years of his playing days.

The former New Zealand international believes he still has plenty more left in the tank and is now eyeing up more records.

“I wasn’t sure about the coaching to begin with but I’ve loved it, and I’ve been surprised,” added Draper.

“It’s definitely what I want to do when I finish and TNS is a good place for it. Scott Ruscoe and Steve Evans ended up with the first team.

“Simon Spender coaches and Chris Seargeant is the head of the academy, so the club provides great opportunities for players.

“And I just want to keep scoring goals for as long as I can and hopefully the club will be happy with me.

“I’m capable of 20 goals a season for the next three or four years.

“I want to get to 200 and I want to beat Rhys Griffiths’ record of 180 odd for one club and I’m about 22 behind that.

“I’m still motivated to score goals and I’ve got a few years left in me yet.”

LEAD PICTURE – TNS WEBSITE/BRIAN JONES

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