INVERNESS Caledonian Thistle are known for taking a punt on players from the lower reaches of English football, signing some with little or no track record of success and hoping they fit in. But the gamble can work both ways. Sometimes the move is a leap in the dark for the player as well.
Take Ross Draper. The midfielder, now 25, knew his way around such exotic locations as Hednesford and Macclesfield, Shrewsbury and Stafford during his time in England. But, when the call came from the Highland capital in 2012, he had next to no idea of where he was heading.
“I didn’t know anything about Inverness or even where it was,” remembered the man who scored the decisive penalty that put his club into Sunday’s League Cup final against Aberdeen. “I put it in Google Maps twice and I thought ‘it can’t be that far away’.
“Even when I drove up and I got to Glasgow, it still said three hours. I said ‘surely that can’t be right’, and I put the foot down and it still took me two and a half hours. I got a call on the Friday and I was up on the Sunday to start pre-season on the Monday, so I had to drop everything, pack a bag and head for the Highlands and, on that first day of training, I was being sick by the side of the training pitch.
“In England the teams start back a bit later and I thought I would have another couple of weeks to get fit, but I came up here and I thought ‘the boys up here in Scotland are fit’.
“It was a risk to come up here, but it has been the best decision of my life. I’m thankful there was something in my head that made me think Inverness was the best move. It certainly has been.”
A part-time footballer for much of his time south of the border, Draper had to supplement his income with a variety of jobs. His favourite was working for a bank, although his role there was a lot more genteel than his Inverness team-mates would have you believe.
“When I was at Hednesford I had a job at Birmingham Midshires,” he explained. “I worked with mortgages then in administration before I moved into the collections department.
“Some of the boys joke I was a bailiff, but I wasn’t. I made calls about collections but, if you speak to Gary Warren, you would think I went round with a baseball bat. I’m now involved in the club fines and they tell the boys if they don’t pay up then I’ll be round with the bat again.
“That was my main job, and I would probably have carried on before I got a call off Macclesfield Town to see if I wanted to go full-time. If I hadn’t got the chance I would still have been there, because it was a good job alongside my football.”
Even without that baseball bat, Draper manages to be a decent midfield enforcer. And, if he can collect a cup winner’s medal on Sunday, it will be the realisation of a dream – and vindication for his decision to move further north than he thought was possible. “If you told me a couple of years ago that I would be playing in a cup final then I wouldn’t have believed you. It’s a great opportunity, both individually and collectively. We all get on well together and it could be a great day for everyone connected with the club.”