Nick Pope’s cool head and quiet determination helped the England goalkeeper reach the top
Nick Pope’s rise after rejection as a teenager in Ipswich Town was defined by his ability to seize the moment.
Whether on trial at Charlton, on loan in the lower end, or in place of an injured Tom Heaton at Burnley, he rarely missed an opportunity.
The secret lies somewhere in his even nature and quiet determination, according to those who know him best.
Nick Pope went from being rejected by Ipswich to becoming an England international goalkeeper
The Pope arrived for England on Monday in a bid to increase his chances of starting at the Euro
Strength of character has helped him survive the setbacks that come with goalkeeper territory and will serve the 29-year-old well as he shows up for international duty as England’s senior goalkeeper.
“I like the kid,” said Ben Roberts, who was Charlton’s goaltender coach when head scout Phil Chapple asked him in 2010 to watch Pope, then a teenager who was playing in the Bury Town goal in Suffolk.
“He had a scattered mule and a bandaged head because he got a huge blow after about 10 minutes.
“I sat behind the goal and there was enough to love about his character to invite him to his trial.”
Pope got his chance in the Football League by Charlton after playing for Bury Town in Suffolk
Roberts, now in the same role at Brighton, has become a central figure in Pope’s early development and is a coach ready to take a stand to protect his young players.
In December 2014, with Charlton leading 2-0 after 20 minutes at Blackburn, manager Bob Peeters sent substitute goalie Neil Etheridge to warm up.
“I was sitting at the bar and I asked over the radio, ‘What’s going on? “says Roberts. Sportsmail.
“They were like ‘Uh, Ben, the manager is going to get Popey out.’ I said, ‘Come on, you kill the kid, tell him if he does that I’m going out of the stadium.’
“I was checking the Trainline app to see how I was going to get back to London. It was heated at half-time but afterwards the manager did well. He kept it and Popey kept going and made five or six big saves. There are a lot of stories like that with goalkeepers.
“It’s important not to zoom in on mistakes. If there’s too much or you don’t see any improvement that’s a problem, but I know more about a goalie after he makes a mistake. Can they train with their teammates and perform next week? This is when you know you have a goalie.
Pope was nearly pulled out just 20 minutes after Charlton started a game against Blackburn in 2014
The stopper had several periods on loan from Charlton to the EFL, including one in York City
It’s a recurring theme in Pope’s story. When a loan at Aldershot went badly, he set about rectifying it on loan at York and then League Two.
“Nick was an inspiration as we reached the playoffs,” York president Jason McGill said. “You could see he was destined for great things and was going about it with quiet authority.”
Pope has made 22 appearances but the bond is still strong and he recently bought an old Bootham Crescent goal post as the club auctioned off fixtures and fittings at his beloved former pitch.
“He told me he was going to put it in the garden and hopes his wife doesn’t notice him,” York goalkeeper coach Andy Collett said.
“I’ve seen a lot of guys show up on loan at clubs in leagues one and two and not buy into the culture once they find out they will have to wash their own kit and stay in a B&B. Nick was superb, he joined the club and lived in a B&B with four or five others.
“It’s great to see him now playing at the highest level with all the attributes you need to be England’s goalkeeper. He’s good in the air, positive and makes those big saves that get you off the ground from your seat.
Pope also played for Bury where he helped the Shakers win a promotion to League One
Pope’s next loan was at Bury, attracting scouts from the Premier League as he helped the Shakers win promotion to League One.
“His personality around the place was huge,” said David Flitcroft, then boss of Bury and now director of football for Port Vale. “He spent hours at the gym and joined the main staff tennis tournament because he was trying to develop his touch with his feet.
“It was a constant search for improvement and an obsession with keeping a clean sheet like a striker has to score goals.
“He was courageous, was not afraid of making mistakes and was not disturbed by the physical element. We played against Stevenage under Graham Westley, the most direct team, they liked to hit the set pieces and get around the keeper. I had never seen them take a short turn and they were short with every set piece.
” It marked me. It was their strength and they had prepared something totally different because they knew Popey would come and take anything in the air and they would be counterattacked.
Pope has now become the Premier League’s No.1 goalkeeper for Burnley
Flitcroft is another who is sure Pope can handle the unique pressure of being England’s No.1.
“His strengths are his character, his decision-making and his courage,” he adds. “His course has been one of the most difficult. He did almost every level to reach this one.
“Hunger plays a big role in football. He will go through difficult times. He has the mental capacity to deal with it when the eyes of the country are on him.
Back in Charlton, after a promotion with Bury in 2015, his mentor Roberts had moved on and Lee Turner was the goalie coach.
“Nick was at a crossroads,” says Turner, now in the same role at Millwall.
“He felt there was no future at Charlton and we had a long discussion in Belgium about the preseason, restarting him and planning a training program to suit his development.
The Pope can now add to his four selections in England during the international meetings of the March of the Three Lions
“He’s a thinker, a student of the game. There’s a calm in the way he plays and it’s a wonderful thing because goalies can be emotional, a little up and down, but he doesn’t. that go about his business.
“We spent hours going through his games and his training, and I’m sure he continued like that with Billy Mercer, his coach at Burnley. I was glad to see him blossom because he is a lovely guy and it sends signs to others that you can come back from adversity.
Pope patiently waited for his chance with England. He has won four caps in nearly three years since making his friendly debut against Costa Rica. He has yet to concede in 250 minutes.
The opportunity strikes again. Jordan Pickford, who kept Gareth Southgate’s faith, came out with a muscle injury. Dean Henderson, who made his debut as a substitute against Ireland in November, and Sam Johnstone, without selection, are the other goalkeepers on the squad for the World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.
Don’t be surprised if Pope takes the risk with both hands.