City teen plays his way into big time

EXECEPTIONAL FORM: Hamilton teenager Chris Wood in action for Wanderers last year. He yesterday played for West Bromwich Albion in the English Premier League.
DONNA PAGET/Waikato Times
EXECEPTIONAL FORM: Hamilton teenager Chris Wood in action for Wanderers last year. He yesterday played for West Bromwich Albion in the English Premier League.

Hamilton teenager Chris Wood became just the fifth New Zealander to play in soccer's English Premier League yesterday but a David Beckham-sized payday is still some way off.

Wood, 17, played the last 15 minutes of West Bromwich Albion's 2-2 draw with Portsmouth coming on as an injury replacement at Fratton Park.

Just last year Wood played for Hamilton Wanderers' senior side, but now he has played in front of more than 20,000 fans in the world's best league. While some players receive hundreds of thousands of pounds each week as EPL players, the Waikato Times understands Wood still an apprentice receives 105 (NZ$265) a week as he waits for a professional contract.

Wood was advised by his club not to talk to media after the game with fears the quiet 17-year-old former St Paul's student may be swamped. But speaking to a very proud father Frank last night in Hamilton, Wood said he was "over the moon and ecstatic" to have his first taste of the big time.

"When he went over there less than 12 months ago, he never thought he was going to get a shot in the first couple of years at least," Mr Wood said.

But Wood has been in exceptional form for the youth team and West Brom reserves where he scored on debut. And when a first team striker was injured, Wood got the callup.

His mum Julie was at the game and when Wood came on, she called Mr Wood.

As if a Premier League debut wasn't big enough, the 15 minutes Wood played nearly turned to a complete fairytale when he narrowly missed giving his relegation-bound side a winner with two minutes remaining. From a corner West Brom skipper Jonathan Greening saw Wood making a run and aimed for his young striker, but Wood, in traffic, headed over the bar.

"I thought he was excellent when he came on," Greening said.

"He worked his socks off and deserved his chance." Yesterday's performance is sure to increase the chances of West Brom offering Wood a contract, as is the fact his side is almost guaranteed to be relegated to the Championship.

Mr Wood said his son was likely to be back in the youth side this weekend, but the taste of the premiership something only four other Kiwis, Lee Norfolk, Simon Elliott, Danny Hay and Ryan Nelsen, have experienced would give him even more motivation to continue chasing his dream of a full-time professional contract in the EPL.

The Times also understands Wood has been included on a list of possible players to represent New Zealand at the Confederations Cup in South Africa in June.

Waikato Times