Former milkman Pope aims to be cream of the crop

Burnley 'keeper Nick Pope came through the ranks and is in contention for England's No. 1 jersey.
Burnley 'keeper Nick Pope came through the ranks and is in contention for England's No. 1 jersey.

LONDON • Nick Pope once had to get up at 4am to drive a milk float, but now the Burnley goalkeeper is hoping that his dream of being England's No. 1 at the World Cup Finals is not disturbed.

The 25-year-old has worked his way up through England's football pyramid, playing in the fifth tier with Aldershot as recently as four seasons ago.

When released by his boyhood club Ipswich at 16, Pope believed that his dream of a professional career was over.

However, after restarting at Bury Town in the seventh-tier Isthmian League, he fought his way to the top via Charlton and a host of loan spells in the lower divisions before joining Burnley in 2016.

"Coming up through the leagues, some cold, dark ones... you think the national team is too far away," he said at England's St George's Park training camp on Tuesday, with preparations for World Cup warm-up friendlies against the Netherlands tomorrow and Italy next Tuesday well under way.

Pope was not even a regular with Burnley until Tom Heaton suffered a dislocated shoulder in September to hand him his top-flight debut.

Yet in just six months, he has kept 10 clean sheets to lead Burnley to seventh in the Premier League on a club-record 43 points with eight games still remaining.

And England manager Gareth Southgate has admitted "the No. 1 jersey is up for grabs".

Pope has shown that he can keep more clean sheets and concede fewer Premier League goals than the other three goalkeepers in Southgate's squad.

West Ham's Joe Hart - England's long-time No. 1 - has kept the ball out of his net only three times, while Stoke's Jack Butland has five clean sheets and Everton's Jordan Pickford seven.

Pope, however, is not content with just receiving a call-up he once believed was impossible and wants to start England's World Cup Group G opener against Tunisia on June 18.

"It's a big opportunity, it's one of the best moments of my life to be here," he said.

"There has got to be one No. 1. Come the World Cup there will be one goalkeeper who has that slot.

"It's every man for himself. I want it to be me. It's a massive honour. To represent your country first of all, and go to a World Cup.

"I have got to prove myself at this level. In football, you have to be hungry."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2018, with the headline 'Former milkman Pope aims to be cream of the crop'. Print Edition | Subscribe