Nick Pope reflects on journey from academy rejection and non-League to England squad

After joining up with the England squad for the first time this week, goalkeeper Nick Pope explains for how he's still pinching himself at his journey to St. George's Park ahead of March's games with Netherlands and Italy.

Wednesday 21 Mar 2018
Nick Pope reported for England duty on Monday for the first time following his maiden call-up

Despite the speculation, getting called up for England was a massive surprise for me.

I didn’t know how it worked and I thought you might even hear the night before or something, so it was a shock when the gaffer at Burnley brought me in on Thursday morning and told me the good news, just a few hours before it was announced.

Nick Pope
  • Born: Soham, Cambridgeshire, 19 April 1992
  • Clubs: Bury Town, Charlton Athletic, Burnley
  • Loan clubs: Harrow Borough, Welling United, Aldershot, Cambridge United, York City, Bury
  • Twitter: @Popey1992

But it’s something I was so happy to be able to share with the people who have been with me throughout my journey, over the weekend and before I arrived here at St. George’s Park.

It has been a real whirlwind for me. If you look back six months, and if you said what has happened since, you wouldn’t believe it.

I can still remember playing my first ‘adult game’, which was for Bury Town reserves, and just thinking how different this is to playing academy football.

I’d just been released by Ipswich Town’s academy at 16. They were my boyhood club. At the time, you are devastated and it’s a feeling that you never forget.

You can get low on confidence and self-belief which is everything you really need to play football so it was a difficult time for me.

I couldn’t say I was massive back then and maybe I was a late grower, but I think they just decided that I wasn’t good enough and you know, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.

I went off to college and met a new group of people there, I didn’t know anyone in the whole building when I began, so it was just like starting again and it was the change in my life that I needed. It was a new environment and it was perfect for me.

Pope makes another save in training with the Three Lions on Tuesday

On the football side, playing for Bury Town, it was a bit of a wake-up call as to how the game is so different at that level and outside of the academy bubble.

It’s proper football and it was a definite moment of realisation for me and after that, I looked at everything differently.

Even when I moved to Charlton - I’d signed as a professional at the age of 19 but I was still earning a scholarship wage - I was also trying to do a degree at the time.

After a lot of thinking, I realised this was my chance to be a professional footballer and that was what I wanted to try and do.

I knew I could study anytime, but this was the time to try and be a footballer so I decided to leave the studying.

It’d take almost two hours travelling across to Roehampton University for classes and then back again, so I could spend the extra time into going to the gym and concentrating on my football.

I went straight back out on loan to Harrow Borough, ironically at the same level Bury Town were playing at and I even played against them in the Ryman Premier League.

I had 18 games or so and enjoyed it, playing under a manager who was a goalkeeper himself, Dave Anderson, and he’s someone that I still speak to now because he was great with me at the time.

After further loans at Welling, Aldershot and Cambridge United in the Conference, I always refer to my move to York City in 2014 as the one which changed everything for me.

I was there for the second half of a season in League Two. That’s the first time that your goals are shown on TV to a wider audience and you’re playing in front of bigger crowds.

Pope only made his Premier League debut for Burnley earlier this season, but has among the best goalkeeping stats in the division

Points really do mean a lot, people are fighting for their livelihoods and we went from lower mid-table to make the play-offs, which was brilliant.

When I first signed for Charlton, my only goal was to play in the League so to have that first ambition ticked off was a big thing for me and I progressed from there.

Funnily enough, my last game for Charlton was actually against Burnley on the last day of the season almost two years ago now.

We’d been relegated from the Championship a week or two earlier and Burnley were going up as champions when we played them at the Valley.

I wanted to keep proving myself and it was hard being relegated, but I had heard there might be a move happening. I didn’t know what to believe, because it would be my first real transfer between two professional clubs for a fee so I just concentrated on what I was doing and took things as they came.

It’s my second season at Burnley now and last season was my first in the Premier League. Even though I didn’t play, I was learning so much in terms of the players and coaches that I was working with day in and day out.

At the time, Tom Heaton was one of the best goalkeepers in the division and he had got himself into the England squad, so I picked up so much from him.

I got to watch Heats every weekend and train with him every day and that was something which helped me grow as a player and it was all of those things combined that helped me get to where I am now.

Pope (far right) along with Joe Hart, Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford at training with England

Now, I’m in the England squad and training with three of the best keepers in the country.

We have eight games to go in the Premier League and then there’s games in June to look forward to before the World Cup, so I’m just going to see where it goes.

Since I’ve broken into the team at Burnley, that’s how I’ve done it, take it a week at a time and just build on that.

It’s only been my first experience of Premier League football this season so I’m learning weekly and learning on the job and trying to build on each performance.

But to be even in with a chance of going to the World Cup, it’s something that at the start of the year, I wouldn’t have even dreamt about or been written about by anyone, let alone me.

Now I’m here, I’ve got to enjoy it and just prove myself.

Tickets for England v Italy at Wembley next Tuesday are still available and selling fast priced from £20 for adults and £10 for kids – click here to book now.


By Nick Pope England and Burnley goalkeeper at St. George's Park