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Kiwi striker Chris Wood’s aeroplane-style goal celebration is hardly original, but the path he’s flown to be a star striker for Millwall Football Club is anything but well-trodden.

His Didier Drogba-esque soaring action got another airing last Wednesday in Shanghai when he headed home the equaliser for the New Zealand All Whites in a 1-1 draw with China.

Straight after the game, he was on a flight back to London for his side’s clash against Leeds at The Den.

Wood, 20, has been impressive on loan at The Lions from West Bromwich Albion, who he’s been signed to since 2009.

Although being linked on paper to the West Midlands side, he’s spent most of his time with them elsewhere.

Born in Auckland, he was playing senior football at 15 for Waikato FC in the national league. It was here he met Roger Wilkinson, a NZ youth coach and former Crystal Palace and West Brom staffer, who saw something special in young Wood and lined up a trial with his old club.

“Roger basically had a friend there and sorted it out,” says Wood, amazed at the speed of his journey to the other side of the planet. “I came over four weeks later for a two-week trial and two weeks after that, they offered me a scholarship in their academy.”

Wood says his experience playing with adults at a young age was integral to him being picked up by the big leagues.

“Playing with older lads at Waikato FC made me a better player for sure,” he says.

“I had a lot more experience of using my body than others might get early in their career and that worked in my favour when I trialled against guys my own age, even when their technical ability here was much better.”

Wood impressed at youth level for The Baggies and was quickly into the reserves, where he again found goal-scoring form.

He was well placed in April 2009 when a string of injuries to West Brom’s senior attackers led then manager Tony Mowbray to give him a surprise call against Portsmouth at Fratton Park.

When he came off the bench, he became the sixth New Zealander ever to play in the Premier League.

“At the time I didn’t know that,” he says. “As soon as I made my appearance for West Brom everyone was there to tell me though, and I knew it was a great achievement.

Hopefully there’s more [Premier League football] to come for me and more NZ players to come and join me over here.”

West Brom were relegated that year but Wood was at a big English club – by Down Under standards – and stoked about it.

He scored his first senior goal for them, a cracking 25m bullet against Doncaster Rovers, in September 2010, the same month he went to Barnsley on a 93-day emergency loan and began his circuit of southern England’s professional football.

Wood then had a short but successful loan stint at Brighton & Hove Albion that saw them rise from League One.

He also impressed at Birmingham City, where he was sent for a month the day before the Championship began last year and debuted in round one.

As a solo striker in City’s first European match in almost 50 years, in the Europa Cup against Nacional, he hit the post twice in a goalless draw.

His month there turned into three, with Wood scoring seven goals from eight games at one stage, including a hat-trick against Millwall, and a stoppage time beauty to beat Club Brugge 2-1 in the Europa League.

He ended the 2011/12 season at Bristol City and then Millwall came into his life.

He takes each new start in his stride.

“This is my fifth loan, so I’m used to all the ins and outs of the arrangement. Everyone tries to help you settle in quickly and you just get on with the job,” he says.


Flying Kiwi: Footballer Chris Wood is doing the land of the long white cloud proud
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