By Harry Takla
It’s a cold Friday afternoon in November but Woking footballer and Old Hamptonian Max Kretzschmar is in good spirits when we meet at a local health club.
Despite carrying an injury and unable to play for Woking the next day, Max is feeling positive. Woking are riding high in the National League and he clearly enjoys chatting about his time at Hampton.
Max has endured a career of highs and lows, like any professional sportsman, and shares what it is really like to be a footballer.
Max started his youth career at Southampton and was there from the age of 9 to 15. Being released by the Saints was the first low point in his career but he was then picked up by Wycombe Wanderers in the same year, proving that the next opportunity is always around the corner. Max went on to captain Wycombe’s under 18s and then break into the first team in 2012 at the age of 19.
At Wycombe Max consistently excelled in training but couldn’t get himself into the starting eleven. At this point Max was feeling low and didn’t know what he had to do to get into the team. It was a frustrating time in his career. He didn’t want to continue playing youth or reserve football.
“I should have asked to go on loan. As a young player you have to play men’s football… I didn’t talk to my parents, but I should have reached out to someone” Max admits.
At Wycombe Max got within touching distance of glory only to experience heart-breaking disappointment after losing a League 2 play-off final at Wembley. “We were 1-0 up in the 119th minute. We let a goal in and lost on penalties.”
I ask Max how you come back from something like that? “It’s hard to bounce back but those moments define you as a player.”
At Hampton, Max played 1st XI football in 5th year but had to juggle school and Wycombe games. He had come from a school where school matches took priority but when he was playing for the 1stteam at Hampton he was told by Mr Mills, current Director of Sport at Hampton, that he could miss school matches if he needed to play for Wycombe. Max still remembers how important that support was to his ambitions.
“His fair approach was really beneficial for me and allowed me to progress at Wycombe and become a professional in the end.”
One of the most memorable footballing experiences Max had at Hampton was when he was playing in the second eleven to accommodate his Wycombe games and the team got to the ESFA quarter finals, only to lose to a football academy school. As underdogs in the tournament it was a great achievement.
Max is currently at Woking in the National League where he plays under Alan Dowson. Dowson is originally from Gateshead and moved to the south east in his teenage years. Despite not living in Gateshead for many years he has still not lost his strong Gateshead accent. Max has been managed by Dowson for 3 seasons now and has come to terms with the accent, although he has to act as translator for many of the Woking squad, in particular French defender Moussa Diarra, who can only pick out a couple of words at a time.
Dowson encourages the players to connect with the fans and community. He brings fans into the dressing room before games and goes into the club bar after games. This is one of the big differences between National League football and the Premier League: non-league is more interactive with the fans. The manager’s approach has had a big influence on Max.
“He’s constantly on at you because he wants you to be better, he wants the club to be better, he wants to be the best manager he can be.”
Last year was a great season for Woking, where they went on an exciting FA cup run and won the play off final at home.
“Last season at Woking was one of the best things I’ve done…last season was massive” Max remembers.
Woking started their FA Cup run by coasting their way through the qualifying rounds and then beating Torquay 1-0 away from home in the first round. Max scored a penalty to send Woking through. They then went on to play League 2 side Swindon who were two leagues above Woking at the time. The match resulted in yet another 1-0 away win for Woking which put them in the 3rdround when Premier League clubs enter the competition.
Woking were drawn to play Premier League Watford at home, one of the biggest games in the club’s history. Disappointingly Max picked up an injury just before the game and had to watch from the side-lines. Woking lost 2-0 to the Premier League side but, despite the defeat, it was a great experience for the club.
Woking’s season continued promisingly in the league and they took second place, putting them into the play-offs with semi-final home advantage. They faced Wealdstone and after 75 minutes they were 2-0 down and their season looked like it had come to an end with massive disappointment. 15 minutes later and Woking had won the game. Max scored and got an assist in one of the most unheralded comebacks in English football.
I asked Max how the team kept going when everything looked lost. “When we looked down and out,” he tells me, “we had to keep on believing. I knew we had players on the pitch who could produce a bit of magic or score a goal.”
Woking went on to beat Welling 1-0 in the play off final and were promoted to the National League. So far this season they have surprised the critics by consistently being in the top half of the table and even being top of the league for a spell.
Max is already planning for the future and is studying sports journalism at university. He receives help with pursuing his future career from Woking assistant manager and Sky Sports commentator Martin Tyler. “Mum always said I needed to have a back-up plan”.
As a new Hamptonian I took the following bit of advice away from my chat with Old Hamptonian Max.
“Stick in there and don’t be scared to make mistakes. If you learn from them, that’s the biggest thing.”