PICTURE by Football Association of Wales.
Age: 28 years old
Nationality: New Zealander
Current Club: The New Saints of Oswestry Town (Welsh Premier League)
Former Clubs: Canterbury United, Wellington Phoenix, Melbourne Knights, Team Wellington and Basingstoke Town.
WPL goal scoring record: 2011/12: 22 goals in 29 apps. 2012/13: 5 goals in 20 apps. 2013/14: 16 goals in 26 apps. 2014/15: 17 goals in 24 apps. 2015/16: 9 goals in 22 apps. 2016/17: 15 goals in 31 apps. 2017/18: 22 goals in 30 apps. TOTAL – 106 goals in 182 appearances.
HONOURS: Welsh Premier League: Seven – 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18. Welsh Cup: Three – 2011/12, 2013/14 and 2015/16. Welsh League Cup: Three – 2014/15. 2015/16 and 2016/17
WHEN it comes to scoring goals in the JD Welsh Premier League, you can’t find many better over the past five years than Greg Draper.
The 28-year-old was born in Somerset, but emigrated to Christchurch, New Zealand, with his family when he was just 12 years old. Having started playing youth football from around the age of 10, Draper developed his talents over in Oceania and joined Canterbury United shortly after moving to the other side of the world.
During his time in the continent, he also turned out for Wellington Phoenix, Melbourne Knights and Team Wellington, all of which he was regarded as a proven goalscorer for.
The forward has also had the opportunity to represent his country (New Zealand) during his career. He played for the All Whites at the 2007 FIFA u-20 World Cup in Canada and was also included in their football squad for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where he played against Belgium and Brazil.
Draper also made one senior international appearance, when – in 2008, he played in a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Fiji. He was called up for the London 2012 Olympic qualifiers too, but despite scoring three goals in four matches, was controversially left out of his nation’s final squad.
He eventually returned to the UK in 2010, when he signed for non-league club Basingstoke Town in England. He hit 15 goals in 28 games for the side and again proved that he could grab the goals, no matter what team he played for or which division he played in.
A year later, the hit-man decided to try his hand at Welsh Premier League football, signing on the dotted line for serial champions The New Saints (TNS). It’s fair to say, he certainly hasn’t looked back since.
Draper made his competitive debut for TNS in a Europa League qualifying match against Northern Irish side Cliftonville on June 30, 2010. He eventually scored his first goal of many for the club on September 3, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 WPL victory over Llanelli.
The forward had a debut season to remember in Wales’ top flight as he finished the season as TNS’ top scorer with 22 goals in 29 appearances and received the club’s Player of the Year award too. That was the catalyst for what would eventually turn out to be a glistening career in Wales for Draper.
Fast forward eight years and he has seven Welsh Prem titles in his collection, as well as three Welsh Cups and Welsh League Cups too. This season, he has finally scooped the Golden Boot award too (with 22 goals) – eight ahead of everyone else in what has been a fantastic campaign for him.
I recently had the chance to chat to Greg about his time in New Zealand, Australia and Wales. Here’s what he had to say in what was a very eye-opening interview …
AFE: Hi Greg. First off, who was your footballing idol when growing up and why?
GD: Ryan Giggs was always my favourite player!
I think it was after he scored that famous goal in the FA Cup semi-final against Arsenal he always stood out for me.
AFE: Do you feel as though your time playing football in Australian/New Zealand leagues helped you progress as a player? If so, how?
GD: I was young when I played in New Zealand and Australia, so yeah it definitely helped me.
Especially in Australia, because I went there not knowing anyone and didn’t have any family members around me either, so I was really out of my comfort zone.
I think the New Zealand League is very similar to the Welsh Premier League as well, so I was always confident I’d be able to do well here in the Wales.
AFE: What was it like getting the opportunity to represent New Zealand at senior level against Fiji? How did that come about?
GD: It was an amazing moment for me.
New Zealand had already qualified for the World Cup at that point and it was the last match of the qualifiers, so there was a chance for the manager to play some of the nation’s fringe players.
I made my debut along side a a few close friends who I had been team mates with for a long time so that made the occasion extra special.
AFE: What made you want to try your hand at Welsh Premier League football?
GD: The chance to play European football obviously stood out a lot for me.
Also the chance to get back to playing full-time football with TNS was a big lure.
AFE: How does playing in the Welsh pyramid system differ from playing in the English divisions in your opinion?
GD: To be honest I think the only difference really is the volume of games you play in England.
The majority of the time, you can end up playing weekend and midweek matches. That rarely happens in the Welsh Premier League so it’s difficult to compare standards because of that.
AFE: You’ve finally won the WPL’s golden boot this year after many years of going so close. How does that feel?
GD: It feels great to finally win it yes.
To be honest it’s slightly disappointing that it’s taken so long, as when you’re playing for a team like TNS you would think it would have happened sooner.
However, a lot of teams who play against us like to put 11 men behind the ball, which always makes it tough.
I always think to myself “Well, I could have had a few more goals” but then when I look at it and see that I ended up eight goals clear of everyone else, I’m really pleased with that.
AFE: Who’s the toughest player you’ve come up against in the Welsh Premier League and why?
GD: There’s no one really that stands out as the toughest. There’s a few dirty players but I won’t mention names!
To be honest, the defender I’d least like to play against would be Steve Saunders (who plays for TNS). Unfortunately, I do have to come up against him most days in training.
AFE: What has been the personal highlight for you during your time at TNS?
GD: I think the game against Bangor last game of the season in my first year always stands out.
We were one point ahead so it was a winner takes all situation. We won five-nil and I scored three. I’ve scored a lot of goals against Bangor but they were probably the most important league goals I’ve ever scored.
Other than that, I would say the two goals i scored in the Welsh Cup final against Aber when we were two-nil down stands out as well as it helped us come back to eventually win 3-2.
AFE: It’s seven WPL titles on the bounce for you and TNS now. Do you think anyone will come closer to competing against you next season or in the near future?
GD: Obviously Bangor getting relegated has given us one less obstacle to worry about but I suppose the likes of Connahs Quay and Bala will be looking to snap up their players now that they’ve been relegated.
As long as we continue to bring in one or two strong players ourselves, then the league will take care of itself I think.
AFE: Finally, both you and TNS seem to get a lot of stick on Twitter (particularly from Bangor fans!). How do you handle that on a regular basis?
GD: To be honest, most of the time it’s just a bit of banter which is fair enough considering the amount of goals I’ve scored against them during my time with TNS!
Occasionally they go too far like when one told me he ‘hoped I would break my legs and be finished for good’.
It’s all good though. I’ve had Bangor officials/coaches and even a few fans apologise for people’s behaviour so it just shows they’re embarrassed by ‘fans’ like that.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions Greg and congratulations on scooping the top scorer award and the Welsh Prem title.