HE’S going to deliver, for sure.
Nick Pope used to deliver milk and is now close to completing an amazing rise from part-time player to England goalkeeper.
The Burnley goalkeeper says an England call-up seemed a “far off possibility” when he was starting a milk round at 4.00am after being released by Ipswich Town as a teenager.
What a rags-to-riches tale for the 25-year-old as he is in the England squad for their forthcoming friendlies with Italy and Holland after an impressive debut Premier League season.
His success story will surely inspire a lot of teenagers to assure that the sky’s the limit if you put your heart and soul – and football gloves – to what you dream.
He was let go by Ipswich aged 16, and had to take part-time work while playing for non-league clubs. He says: “It’s been a very hard ride,” he says. “I had a couple of jobs. I worked in Next and on a milk round. I was on an electric float, a 4am-er in Soham. It didn’t pay much.”
He adds: “Obviously when you get released by Ipswich at 16, you think making it is a distant possibility. But I was lucky enough to go to a college and a set-up that suited me down to the ground with the people I met.
SPRINGBOARD TO SUCCESS
“That allowed me to play 150 games in three years — something that is impossible in academy football. It allowed me to get into the men’s game and play men’s football at that young age. That gave me a springboard and helped me grow as a player
“I did two years of business marketing and one year of sports science. I had a couple of jobs alongside — on a milk-round and in Next, too. It didn’t pay much. I was on an electric float. It was a 4.00am start in Soham.”
Pope joined non-league Bury Town after leaving Ipswich, and even after joining Charlton Athletic in 2011 had spells outside the Football League at Harrow Borough, Welling United and Aldershot Town.
But he never ever gave up the fight, especially in believing in himself.
“I’ve played in some very cold, dark leagues,” he says. “I was in Bury Town reserves in the Essex and Suffolk Border League. I think that was tier seven. Brightlingsea was a rough one…I hope the people of Brightlingsea don’t mind! Little Oakley – some places you need a map. [It was] 10 people and a dog.
“You have to prove yourself at every level to get to the next one.”
Pope joined Burnley from Charlton in 2016 but only made his Premier League debut in September when the Clarets’ first-choice goalkeeper Tom Heaton was injured.
“I feel like I’ve put in some hard yards and proven myself at those levels. I don’t think it’s a fluke to get called up to the England squad,” he adds. “It’s obviously a day I never thought I’d see come and, now it has, it’s massive elation for me and everyone close to me.”
Burnley, recently promoted from the Championship, are seventh in the Premier League. Now Pope is one of four goalkeepers vying for the England gloves, along with Joe Hart, Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford.
He says: “To play for England is the end goal for me. I want it to be me — who wouldn’t? — obviously it’s a massive honour, so it’s something I want and why I am delighted to be here. I feel as though I have put in the hard yards and have proved myself to get to this level. It is not a fluke to get into the England squad. I am here to prove myself again.”
His latest England call-up has sparked massive interests from other English and European clubs. But Burnley has no plans to release him. He is on around £15,000 a week and the newly-promoted club intends to double his salary to £30,000 a week this week to make sure that he stays.
Mind you, should Nick Pope end up being England’s World Cup No 1, there should have no worries over whether he has the bottle for the job.
He came up the hardest way, he worked as a village milkman while desperately trying to make the grade as a footballer.
Suresh Nair has covered the global sports scene for over three decades and says in terms of starting right at the bottom and reaching the top, Nick Pope’s journey is one of the more remarkable ones.