Pope’s journey to England squad via Ipswich, Bury Town and a stint as a milkman
PUBLISHED: 18:08 22 March 2018 | UPDATED: 18:35 22 March 2018
Making his England debut and earning a place at the World Cup was a long way from Nick Pope’s mind as the teenager hauled himself out of bed for his 4am milk rounds in Soham.
Having been released by Ipswich Town at 16, the young goalkeeper had started a business marketing course at West Suffolk College in 2008 and, like so many teenagers, took on part-time work to fund an independent lifestyle.
For Pope that meant jumping onto an electric milk float in the early hours and also working in retail, at Next, with football taking a back seat following the disappointment of being let go by his boyhood club.
He certainly wasn’t thinking about turning out for his country and potentially going to a World Cup, but that is exactly the position the 25-year-old Burnley goalkeeper finds himself in now.
His remarkable rise makes him the poster boy for not giving up on your dreams given, following his release from Ipswich, the next stop on his football journey was with Bury Town reserves and games in the Essex and Suffolk Border League.
Once at Ram Meadow as part of the club’s link-up with the college, he began to enjoy the game again and made rapid strides under the tutelage of manager Richard Wilkins. He then caught the eye of League One Charlton in 2011, battling through a succession of loans to earn a first-team place and then securing a move to the Premier League with Burnley last summer.
“Even six months ago, before I played my first game for Burnley, to be in this position was unthinkable really,” Pope said, before flying with the England team to Amsterdam yesterday ahead of tomorrow night’s game with Holland.
“Even at Christmas when I’d played 10 games it wasn’t something that was on my mind. It’s grown over the last few weeks really.
“I’m over the moon to be here now and it’s something I want to make the most of and enjoy because that’s what’s got me back into football really - the enjoyment.
“Hopefully I can make it to the World Cup but that’s still a long way away. It’s been an unbelievable year for me and, whatever happens now it still will be.
“But you still want to kick on and grow, you can’t rest on your laurels and you just have to keep going and concentrate on what’s got me this far.”
Pope’s journey to this point is certainly a unique one, with his stint as a milkman and a return to eduction more a plan for life after football, rather than a desperate search for a route back into it.
“When you’re at college you’re not on the 9-5 every day so you get spare mornings or a few hours here and there so you have time to earn some money just to pay for yourself and got out and do your own thing,” he said. “You get to that age where you have to earn your way and you can’t rely on the bank of mum and dad anymore so that’s what the milk round was for me.
“I wasn’t really thinking about playing football too much at that stage, but after two years of college there were rumours of trials and things like that but it never happened and I thought that was it.
“I then went on trial at Charlton in the April of my last year at college and that’s where it all kicked off from.”
His route to The Valley was as far away from the bright lights of the Premier League as you can get in football and, while Pope admits he “played in some cold, dark leagues” during his time with a young Bury reserves side, he wouldn’t change his route to the top for anything.
“Playing for Bury and Wilks (Richard Wilkins) was massive, they sold it to me and then looked after me for the three years,” Pope said.
“When I walked in the door there I didn’t know any of the people or any of the other students, but that was something I needed and it breathed new air into me really.
“I just wanted to get back into enjoying football to be honest because that enjoyment had been lost in the academy for me, so I wanted to try and get that back.
“It’s character building I think. It’s a welcome to men’s football, although it can be a bit of a shock, but it’s all great experience.
“You have to stick together, know you are in a bit of a fight sometimes and stick up for yourself. It was interesting to say the least but a great grounding, a great leap out of academy football and something new.
“The courses I took were working towards an end goal, a job and a future and I finished that all before I went to Charlton so it all concluded well.”
While Pope may be more prepared than most for life after football, his story in the game is far from over.
Another chapter is set to be written over the coming days as he prepares for a debut either against Holland or Italy next Tuesday and then maybe, just maybe, he could force his way onto the plane for this summer’s World Cup in Russia.