Joe Bursik had a taste of Accrington before signing in the summer – as an AFC Wimbledon youngster during Stanley’s agonising Play-Off semi-final defeat in 2016.
The goalkeeper grew up with AFC Wimbledon and admitted he did warm-up at the Wham Stadium as his childhood team made it to Wembley and into League One that season, inflicting heartbreak on the Reds, who missed out on automatic promotion on goal difference during the regular season.
“I remember I was only 15 and I came here with the team and we got to the changing rooms and it was so small! But it was a big game, a semi-final to get to Wembley.
“They brought me for the experience, it was a good few years ago but it was good to get a taste of it then and it was my first taste of Accrington.
“They were good to me at Wimbledon, they put me in the first team quite early so I was training with the big boys from a young age which I think has helped me in the long term.”
Lambeth-born Joe, 20, admitted he didn’t always want to be a goalkeeper.
“I joined Wimbledon when I was nine, they were a Conference team then, and I joined as a left winger as honestly, I used to be the smallest in my class.
“I was noticeably smaller than everyone else.
“I guess I wasn’t the best outfield player and, I think I was 12 and you know how everyone just takes turns in goal? I must have done alright and stayed in from there.
“It was between Year Nine and Year 10, when I was 14-15, that when I came back from the summer holidays everyone was shocked at how much I had grown. I was then the tallest in the group!
“There were moments when it almost didn’t happen for me. I remember I was 14 and we had a mid-season review and my goalkeeping coach, who was really good with me, said: ‘If you don’t change or get better you are going to get released.’
“There were uncertain times but I worked hard and thankfully it all worked out.
“I love being a goalkeeper now, it’s the best in the world.
“People who know me, know I love to kick a ball around but I live for the moment where you make good saves and help the team and I love diving around in the mud and getting dirty.”
Joe moved from Wimbledon to current club Stoke City when he was 17 and admitted it was hard leaving his family in London.
“It was challenging moving from Wimbledon to Stoke, I learnt a lot from that.
“I lived in digs with a family who I am still in touch with. You can get lonely, you are in your room watching films until you train the next morning.
“Luckily there is Facetime and such like to keep in touch with my family and I got through it. I had good support from my coaches at Stoke so I am thankful for that and things are good.”
The next stage in his career were two loans spells last season which he feels set him in good stead to make an impact at Stanley.
“Last season I was on loan at Hednesford in the Evo-Stik League, I was glad to get out and play games, and then from January, I moved up to the Conference North at Telford which was a good step up.
“I am so thankful for that loan as I learnt so much, more about the mental aspect, playing a lot of games. I learnt to stay focused and I take that into training and into games now.”
He also has England Under 20 games and he is proud every time he puts on an England shirt.
“I love being with England, it’s an honour. My first camp was Under 17s when I was still at Wimbledon and I am in the Under 20s now. It’s a good group of lads and it’s lovely to play with them.
“It makes you so proud singing the National Anthem before games, wearing an England shirt, seeing your parents in the crowd and seeing their faces, it’s such a good feeling. It’s a great experience and hopefully I can keep going up the age groups.”
Bursik has been battling with Dimi Evtimov for a first team spot at Stanley, initially being on the bench and was restricted to Leasing.com Trophy appearances - and his England duty stopped them at times.
He, however, ticked another mark off his ‘to do’ list when made his league debut in the 4-1 victory over Portsmouth in December.
“It was amazing making my league debut, it was the moment I have been waiting for since I was a kid. I was glad I got the chance to show what I can do.
“I knew when I came here in the summer that it was a big step up, I didn’t think it was anything I couldn’t handle, but Dimi (Evtimov) started off well and hopefully all I can do is play well when I am playing and I am glad I got my chance to do that."
He has kept his spot with Evtimov injured, admitting it is hard being a keeper as there is only one place in the starting XI and he is close to Dimi, Toby Savin and coach Tony Warner.
“Every goalkeeper group is a tight-knit group. We are really close, we respect each other and what you have to do is work hard and be graceful with whatever you do.”
And he hopes his mum can rest easier. She didn’t watch him make his league debut but his dad did.
“When I had finished the Portsmouth game, I had around 20 texts from my mum who was nervous, I don’t think she wants to watch live as she would be a nervous wreck!
“My parents were proud as it was a big moment – and hopefully there are plenty more to come.”