WE KNOW what’s always been said about goalkeepers. But for Chris Maxwell, the on-loan Cambridge United stopper enjoying a sensational start to the season, we can change the age-old adjective from mad to modest.
Tuesday night, Blundell Park, Cleethorpes. Second-placed Grimsby Town against unbeaten tale-toppers Cambridge United in the biggest game of the Skrill Premier season so far.
For me, it also brought the best two young goalkeepers in the division up against each other in a re-run of last season’s FA Trophy final.
On that occasion, the Mariners’ James McKeown took plaudits for a series of stunning saves in open play, while Maxwell and his then club Wrexham took the silverware in a penalty shoot-out.
Not that the man known as Maxi didn’t excel, too. He touched the first Town effort from Sam Hatton onto the post, as the Welsh side won 4-1.
“It was a very feint touch and it was a long time ago. It’s gone now, hasn’t it?” the 23-year-old says when I remind him of it.
The point of the recap is because this week, Maxwell was at it again, thwarting the Mariners hopes of a point as he saved a Lenell John-Lewis spot-kick soon after United had gone one-up.
Again, the Welshman’s response is humble: “It’s one of them, isn’t it? Sometimes they go for you, sometimes they don’t. Yes, it’s always nice to save a penalty, no matter who it’s against. But I’m just thankful to get another three points and Adam Cunnington’s goal sealed that for us. It’s just part and parcel of my job.”
Meek as Maxwell may be, that is a job he is currently performing brilliantly. The Grimsby win extended the U’s undefeated start to 14 matches – a club record. They’ve kept nine clean sheets in that run, winning 1-0 on six occasions.
I’ve seen two of them, when Lincoln and Gateshead were seen off by that solitary scoreline at the Abbey, and Maxwell made wonderful saves at crucial moments of both.
It is all a far cry from the long, lonely months he spent on the Wrexham bench after losing his place in the team to Joslain Mayebi just over two years ago.
The experienced Scott Shearer told me soon into the 2010-11 campaign that he’d been sidelined by then-Dragons’ boss Dean Saunders because there was this talented kid attracting interest from Premier League clubs.
Maxwell went onto star as they reached the play-offs, and it was only his absence representing the national team in Montenegro – when Wrexham were top with five successive victories and Saunders crediting him for “starting to win us games” – that gave Mayebi his chance.
Full marks to the Cameroonian for taking it in the 2-0 win over Kidderminster, but seeing Maxwell reduced to warm-up and back-up duties for the rest of that 2011-12 play-off campaign, then again at Fleetwood after his free transfer, was sad.
Mayebi’s misfortune in sustaining a season-ending injury last January took Maxwell back home on loan, and he proved he had lost none of his class by helping the Dragons to two Wembley appearances.
It’s been two years of ups and downs, but Maxwell doesn’t dwell on history. “That’s football, for you, it’s going to be like that,” he says. “I’m learning the game and I don’t know any different.
“There’s nothing I can do about it, so I just get on with it and it’s got me here to Cambridge. I don’t think I’d have changed anything for the world, with the way things are going.
“This is the most professional club I’ve been at. I don’t think I’ve had one day that I haven’t enjoyed it, whether it’s training or a game. It’s a really good place to be.”
With his loan up in January, it seems inconceivable that such a talent could go back into the League Two wilderness when the option to continue at the Abbey will surely arise. Would he be open to staying?
“You can’t be asking questions like that!” he laughs. “I’m just focusing on the next game. I’m not getting too far ahead of myself and you never know, Cambridge might not want to keep me.”
There is more chance of head coach Richard Money being asked to replace Russell Crowe in Gladiator II than that, but one can understand Maxwell’s caution bearing in mind his experience of the last two years.
“Exactly,” he says. “Football changes just like that, for good or for bad. All I know is I’m enjoying myself and things are going very well, for both myself and the club. I’m just taking each day as it comes.”
Wise words from a modest, old head on broad young shoulders!