SPARE a thought for poor old Grandma Maureen.
Every time her grandson scores it hits her in the pocket.
And Matt Crooks has been scoring a lot recently.
Grandma Maureen has been handing over £1 per goal since Crooks was a boy and sees no reason to stop just because he’s a long-established professional footballer who has turned 27 and is about to become a dad for the second time.
“It’s good to be scoring,” says Rotherham United’s attacking midfielder after striking for the fourth time in his last six games against Cardiff City last week. “It’s something I take real pride in. I try to score as many as I can each season.
“My grandma owes me a bit of money now because she gives me a quid for every goal. It’s been going since I was a kid and we still do it. I don’t think she was expecting to be this much down in early February!”
Crooks has bagged six times already this season and there should be more to come.
His poor start to the campaign is long forgotten and his contribution to the Millers’ fight for second-tier survival has been so immense that he’s just been named the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month for January.
In a new role alongside an old pal, he’s in the form of his life.
Yeah, I think it’s got to be the best I’ve ever played,” he says. “It’s the highest level I’ve ever played at and I’m scoring goals.
“It’s a different position. I’m usually more of an ‘8’ than a ‘10’. It’s working for me and I’m enjoying my football. I’m just trying to improve all the time.”
These days he’s playing up front with Michael Smith. Six-foot-five-inch Crooksy, six-foot-four-inch Smudge: a giant partnership and a giant reason why Rotherham look capable of staying in the division.
“I dunno, it just seems to work,” Crooks says. “I feel like he creates space for me because his presence takes up so much of defenders’ attention.
“It kind of allows me to roam a bit more and run in behind and take up different positions. The opposition don’t pick me up.
“The goal tonight, for example, he was out wide and it just needed me to find a space in the box. He put in an unbelievable ball for me to tap it in. It’s working well and long may it continue.”
I’m interviewing Crooks in the players’ lounge at AESSEAL New York Stadium after the Cardiff clash.
Since the Covid pandemic, the ground-floor media suite has been commandeered as an extra changing room on matchdays and press conferences now take place up the stairs where teammates once gathered after matches.
Other journalists are there but they have their heads in their laptops as they hit their deadlines and I’m the only one asking questions.
“What do you do with your grandma’s £1?” I enquire.
“I don’t really know actually,” he grins. “It would normally go into my holiday fund but that’s scrapped this year.”
He and Smith have struck up a close bond since the former joined the club two years ago but spend little time discussing how prolific they have both been since they were paired together in a 3-5-1-1 formation early last month.
“We don’t talk about it that much,” Crooks says. “We just go out and play. I won’t say what we do say to each other because I don’t want to give it away to defenders but he gives me a few pointers now and then.
“We watch our clips back and sometimes I hammer him if I think he can slide me in but takes an extra touch. Away from the pitch, we usually talk about home stuff — how our kids and partners are doing and things like that.
“He’s a good friend of mine. I’ll keep him touch with him when our football careers are done.”
Cardiff have edged out Rotherham 2-1 and it’s a first defeat, following two successive victories, since the close of the transfer window. Paul Warne’s men have lost only twice in their last seven outings, winning four of the others and drawing one.
Lewis Wing and Ryan Giles have arrived on loan, adding to Crooks’ belief that the Millers will still be a Championship side next season.
“We’ve let some really good players go but I definitely think we’ve come out of the window stronger than we went into it,” he says. “We’ve brought in quality.
“At Preston the other Saturday, Wingy was the best player on the park. He’s definitely got Championship quality; he’s been there, done that. Gilesy has played well and scored two.
“I think we’ve shown with the little run we’ve had that we’ve definitely got enough to stay in this league. This season isn’t about just staying up. We want to push up the league. I think we’ve got a chance to do that.
“We’re looking up rather than down. I think you’ve got to be like that. Obviously, we still have to be wary. If we lose a game, we have to jump straight back on the saddle and go for it again.
“Creating chances, that’s the big thing. We’ve been creating chances in all the matches we’ve played in lately. If you tuck some of them in, it wins you games.”
I ask if he’s set himself a goal target for the season and he’s almost apologetic in his reluctance to give too much away: “I have, yeah. Can I keep it to myself? Is that all right?”
Eighty-year-old Grandma Maureen doesn’t know what it is either.
But she’s saving up anyway.
MANAGER Paul Warne is refusing to take any credit for the upturn in form that has culminated in a prestigious award for Matt Crooks.
The Rotherham United midfielder was last week named Sky Bet Championship Player of the Year for January, putting the seal on his spectacular comeback from a frustrating spell early in the season.
Nottingham Forest were hovering back then and their interest unsettled the Millers man who was a shadow of his usual self until coming good from December onwards.
“If a player plays well or bad, 90 per cent of it is down to him,” Warne said. “His improvement is not as much to do with the staff at the club as it is to do with himself.
“He’s the one who drives himself to train hard, he’s the one who makes himself get the right sleep and eat well. All the praise goes to him.”
Crooks has moved from central midfield to a ‘number 10’ position behind striker Michael Smith in a 3-5-1-1 formation and his six goals have boosted his side’s survival prospects.
“When he first came in (two years ago), he had really good start to his Rotherham career in the Championship,” Warne said. “He can obviously play at the level. Last year, he was integral in our League One promotion. This season, the speculation about a move definitely affected him and he started a bit sluggishly.
“But he’s in really good physical shape, he’s really well coached here and he knows his role in the team. That role, with the shape he is in, 100 per cent suits him.
“If you play Crooksy in a two in the middle of the park, he’s a little bit like my Labrador: he just wants to go everywhere the ball goes.
“Allowing him to play as a free-role ‘10’ and giving him the freedom of the park when we have the ball is just ideal for his game. He is a wardrobe on legs. He is a big unit and he’s mobile and a good footballer as well. His performances have driven us to good results. He’s an essential part of our team.
Warne is just as big an admirer of his player’s conduct off the field as on it.
“He’s a great human, by the way, a really, really good kid,” the manager said.
“It’s not my place to talk about this but he’s helped out a couple of our friends’ kids recently by having conversations with them about certain things that have happened to him. He’s a really rounded lad.”