'I Worked In Next And On A Milk Round' - How Nick Pope Rose From The Bottom To Being Selected By England
Fighting for a place in England’s World Cup squad might be tough work for Burnley’s Nick Pope, but it beats riding a milk float in the early hours of the morning.
Pope was handed a maiden call-up for the forthcoming friendlies against Holland and Italy, joining Joe Hart, Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland in battling for three seats on the plane to Russia.
He is the least experienced of the trio, both at Premier League and international level, but is enjoying by far the best season with long-term number one Hart failing to nail down a place at West Ham and his closest rivals suffering from the disappointing form of Everton and Stoke respectively.
Pope faces a further challenge at Turf Moor where club captain Tom Heaton – who was part of Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2016 squad – is returning to fitness after the long-term shoulder injury which first opened the door to his 25-year-old understudy.
But a glance at Pope’s CV shows he has never had it easy.
Let go by boyhood club Ipswich as a teenager, he went on to study business marketing and sports science at college, making ends meet with part-time jobs and resurfacing in football in the non-league hinterlands with Bury Town.
“Obviously when you get released at 16 you think making it here is a far possibility,” he said.
“But it allowed me to get into the men’s game and play men’s football at that young age which helped me springboard and helped me grow as a player.
“I had a couple of jobs alongside… 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.”
After taking in his new surroundings at the lavishly appointed St George’s Park, Pope was invited to reminisce about his experiences lower down the ladder.
As with the likes of Jamie Vardy and Rickie Lambert before him, Pope saw plenty of football’s less glamorous side before earning his international spurs.
“I’ve played in some cold, dark leagues. I was in Bury Town Reserves in the Essex and Suffolk Border League, I think that was tier seven,” he said.
“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.
“It’s been a hard ride. But you have to prove yourself at every level to get to the next one.
Now, after a revelatory campaign which has seen him register 10 clean sheets since taking over from the stricken Heaton in September, he is looking to make one last leap into new territory.
Whether it comes in Amsterdam on Friday, at Wembley against the Azzurri four days later or even on the biggest stage of all in Russia, Pope has his eyes on the big prize.
Nick Pope 2017/18 Amazing Saves – Burnley FC
“There’s got to be one number one (with England) and I want it to be me, who wouldn’t?” he said.
“It’s a massive honour. You’ve got to be hungry in football and you’ve got to be greedy as well. It’s a new challenge and a challenge I want to take on.
“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.”