Max Crocombe interview: Burton Albion goalkeeper on rude awakenings, New Zealand caps, and why Alisson is the best | Football News

Max Crocombe has had to be patient. He made his League One debut for Burton Albion just days after turning 30 – but it came 14 long years after making his senior debut for Buckingham Town as a 16-year-old goalkeeper in the Union Counties League.

“I remember my first game,” Crocombe tells Sky Sports. “I got absolutely mullered on a cross. I was cleaned out and the lad tapped the ball in. I remember being on the floor thinking I am going to get a free-kick and I didn’t. That was a bit of a rude awakening.”

He had already been released by MK Dons and seen a trial with Luton come to nothing. But that experience of the men’s game helped him earn a chance at Oxford United before subsequent spells at Salford City and Grimsby Town – via Australia – led him here.

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Burton Albion and New Zealand’s Max Crocombe picks out his goalkeeping inspirations

Buckingham Town are long gone but Crocombe is still going strong. “It feels like I have got a lot of experiences, a load of things to call upon, but I still feel quite young and everything is still fresh. I am just trying to take it in my stride. It has been a good step up.”

Crocombe has been brilliant for Burton. The Brewers sit in lower-midtable but the consensus is that the situation would be far worse had their new goalkeeper not been in such good form. His 80 saves have salvaged some points and kept other scores respectable.

A late bloomer despite his early start, Crocombe credits his two seasons at Grimsby for that. “The run of games was the main thing. When you start to feel that consistency, you can start to improve. I went from strength to strength once I got into the team.”

Grimsby Town goalkeeper Max Crocombe celebrates with the Vanarama National League Final trophy after their side's victory during the Vanarama National League play off final match at the London Stadium, London. Picture date: Sunday June 5, 2022.
Max Crocombe celebrates with National League Final trophy during his time at Grimsby

There was drama. In his first season, Grimsby were seconds from being eliminated in the quarter-final of the National League play-offs away to Notts County before Crocombe went up for a late free-kick and deflected the ball towards his team-mate to equalise.

“I was just trying to make a nuisance of myself,” he recalls.

“Somehow, the whole playoff campaign felt like it was meant to be. There were bits of luck and skill just when you needed them.” Maybe his background as a striker helped – at Buckingham Town, he had played up front for the U18s while keeping for the first team.

There was even a senior goal. “I was third sub. I got my outfield kit on and ended up coming on and scoring.” Did he ever consider another career as a superstar striker? “I don’t think I would have made it professionally or I would have pursued it!”

Grimsby's goalkeeper Max Crocombe celebrates after winning the English FA Cup fifth round soccer match between Southampton and Grimsby Town at St Mary's Stadium in Southampton, England Wednesday, March 1, 2023. Grimsby Town won 2-1. (AP Photo/David Cliff)
Max Crocombe celebrates after Grimsby’s FA Cup fifth-round win over Southampton

His second season at Grimsby finally proved he could more than cut it in the Football League, earning him a move to League One – and a recall to the New Zealand squad. Raised in England but born in Auckland, he had not been selected for a number of years.

“I was actually comfortable with that. I put it to one side almost and just focused purely on my club career because in the past I had missed league games and it had set me back because I had come back into the fold and not got my place back straight away.”

At Burton, a compromise was reached, allowing him to join a little later in the international window, and he is enjoying himself again. “The Ireland game was really cool. It was a great atmosphere. They are great experiences to go away and see different cultures.”

Dublin , Ireland - 21 November 2023; New Zealand players, from left, Joe Bell, Callum McCowatt, Max Crocombe and Chris Wood before the international friendly match between Republic of Ireland and New Zealand at Aviva Stadium in Dublin. (Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)
Max Crocombe alongisde New Zealand team-mate Chris Wood at the Aviva Stadium

Crocombe also had a taste of testing himself against the best during Grimsby’s run to the FA Cup quarter-final – they beat five teams from divisions above them. But he acknowledges that he has still noticed the rise in standard now playing regularly in League One.

“It is a step up in quality first and foremost. League One teams definitely try to play more. Maybe there are not as many direct balls into the box from deeper. Teams try to work the ball around the box a lot more so concentration is a massive thing.

“The better players just take it a little bit earlier, they are ready to shoot with a little less back-lift. you do learn as it gets higher, people are just that more willing to take strikes out of nowhere, it is all a little bit sharper. Decision-making goes up. Patience goes up.

“I am really happy with how I have adjusted to it.”

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Highlights of the Sky Bet League One match between Burton Albion and Wycombe

When he describes himself as feeling at a good stage in his career now, that reflects the hard work that he is putting in. He studies the game, thinks about it. “I really try to take it seriously and hone all the small parts of my game, learn my craft,” he explains.

Peter Schmeichel was a childhood favourite, Edwin van der Sar an influence after that. “Just a top goalkeeper who hardly made any mistakes.” Then there is Manuel Neuer. “He takes the game away from his box by defending 20 yards outside,” says Crocombe.

But it is Liverpool’s Alisson who he looks to now.

“It is like he has completed goalkeeping,” he adds.

“He is so quick around the goal. I don’t know how many times you watch him where he makes saves look so easy.

“It hardly gets applause, not from the commentators or anyone. You are just thinking, he is letting someone smack a ball at him from two yards and he doesn’t even react with his hands, he just lets it hit his chest. His composure in the box is unbelievable.

“You can see with that focus when defending the goal, because it is such a hectic moment, that composure, all of them have it. If you can take those bits and see how you can get on, you can really start to improve your game. At the same time, you have to be yourself.”

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Watch Alisson tip Miguel Almiron’s thunderbolt onto the woodwork earlier this season

So, how does Crocombe describe himself as a goalkeeper?

“I like to be as proactive as possible. The game is not just about making the saves at the end of it. I try to come for balls over the top, come for balls in the air. You need to set attacks off and do that side of it well, manage the game when you need to manage the game.”

Burton supporters are seeing that now.

There have been some difficult moments for the team. “A couple of blips where you see what can happen if we fall off our standards. You can get punished and punished pretty brutally.” But Crocombe points to a united group who are working hard.

“We have got a really good relationship among the players. Everyone is sticking their bodies on the line. Anyone that has watched us can vouch for that. We defend with a lot of pride. When the ball is in the box we are going to chuck ourselves in the way of it.

“It is a great feeling when you have that camaraderie at the back. You can be a bit selfish about it and just want to keep clean sheets but we need results. We have had some really good runs and we have picked up recently and are showing what we can do now.”

Monday 15th January 7:30pm

Kick off 8:00pm

Monday night under the lights away to Derby County will be test. A crowd approaching 30,000 is expected, the biggest crowd that Crocombe has experienced for a league game. But his history in FA Cup games and playoff ties suggests it brings the best out in him.

“There is a different tempo, more emotions involved. But you learn not to treat them too differently. I relish the bigger occasions – and against one of the in-form sides in the league. We are looking forward to and go there full of confidence that we can get a result.”

What next for Crocombe? He has already gone from the National League to League Two and now League One in consecutive seasons. Internationally, there is the prospect of a World Cup in 2026. Perhaps a group game against Alisson’s Brazil would be the dream?

“Can you arrange that for us, that would be nice,” he laughs. From scoring as an outfield player to assisting late equalisers, from international adventures to unlikely cup runs, Max Crocombe does not seem to need much help. He is writing his own scripts.

Watch Derby County vs Burton Albion live on Sky Sports Football from 7.30pm on Monday; kick-off 8pm

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