Former Bays striker on European stage

GOAL MACHINE: Greg Draper converted a penalty to help TNS defeat Kosovo club Feronikeli in the first qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League last month.

Not so long ago Greg Draper was finding the back of the net for Cashmere High School and Ferrymead Bays, Now he’s scoring UEFA Champions League goals and is even being compared to the biggest names in football.

Draper, 29, has spent the last eight years playing for The New Saints in Wales. In that time he has collected eight Welsh Premier League medals, won the Welsh Cup five times, the League Cup four times and has won two consecutive Golden Boot awards as the league’s top scorer.

Remarkably, last year Draper played just 1032min of his side’s 2880min WPL season, but still finished top scorer with 27 goals. He scored a league goal on average every 38min last season, a better strike rate than Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mo Salah.

“It’s been talked about a lot. There was a BBC story here recently where they compared it to their goalscoring ratios, which was a little bit embarrassing when you get compared to the standard they’re playing at versus the standard I’m playing at, but I say it’s probably the hardest thing to do in football – score goals – no matter what level you’re playing at,” said Draper.

His club are also holders of an even more impressive record. In 2016 TNS created worldwide news by winning 27 consecutive matches, breaking Ajax’s 44-year world record for the most consecutive wins set in 1972 at a time when the Dutch club were dominating European football with the likes of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens.

Europe is also the stage on which Draper and TNS are now looking to prove themselves.

Last week TNS were eliminated in the second round of the Champions League qualifying stage by Dutch club FC København. Tomorrow TNS take on Bulgarian champions Ludogorets Razgrad. A win would set up a tie with Maribor of Slovenia or Norwegian side Rosenborg, with a spot in the group stage of the Europa League on the line.

If they reach the group stage they could face European giants like Manchester United, Arsenal, Roma, Sevilla and Lazio.

“Having the qualifiers each year you get to go to some countries you probably otherwise wouldn’t get to go to. I’ve loved every minute of it,” he said.

“The best one we had was when we went to play Legia Warsaw in Poland, there must have been around 30,000 people there . . . we’ve been to some pretty grim places as well, like the Faroe Islands. There’s literally nothing there.”

When TNS kick-off their league campaign later this month, Draper will be hoping to claim his third straight Golden Boot trophy. However, he’s hoping a new one will finally help him to create a pair after receiving two left-footed boots.

“The funny thing is everyone knows I don’t have a left foot, it’s only good for standing on. Maybe they’re just trying to wind me up,” said Draper.

Another stand out season for Draper would also likely see him become TNS’s all-time leading goalscorer. Draper has currently scored 134 league goals for TNS – 19 behind the record.

Internationally, Draper represented New Zealand at age group level and at senior level. However, he appears to have fallen off the radar in recent times.

“If anyone gave me the call then I’d be straight there, but to be honest, I haven’t had contact since 2012 when I was part of the under-23 qualifiers. I haven’t heard anything, so maybe they think the Welsh League isn’t a high enough standard to be considered. There’s a lot of lads now playing at a much higher level, but you never know,” said Draper.

While the striker hasn’t visited Christchurch since 2012 he still has ties to the city. His younger brother Jamie is currently playing as a striker for Ferrymead Bays.