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From non-league to World Cup, Pope dreams of keeping for England

England goalkeeper Nick Pope prepares to be photographed at St George's Park in Burton-on-Trent on Tuesday, ahead of their international friendlies against the Netherlands on Friday and Italy Tuesday. AFP
England goalkeeper Nick Pope prepares to be photographed at St George's Park in Burton-on-Trent on Tuesday, ahead of their international friendlies against the Netherlands on Friday and Italy Tuesday. AFP

From non-league to World Cup, Pope dreams of keeping for England

Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope once had to get up at 4am to drive a milk float, now the Burnley goalkeeper is hoping his dreams of being England’s No1 at the World Cup are not disturbed.

Pope, 25, 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 felt “lower than a snake’s belly”, believing his dream of a professional career was over.

However, after restarting at Bury Town in the seventh-tier Isthmian League, Pope 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 . . . you think the national team is too far away,” he said at England’s state-of-the-art St George’s Park training camp on Tuesday, with preparations for World Cup warm-up friendlies against the Netherlands on Friday and Italy on March 27 well underway.

Pope wasn’t 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, Pope has kept 11 clean sheets to help Burnley up to seventh in the Premier League on a club-record 43 points with eight games still remaining.

“It’s a big opportunity, it’s one of the best moments of my life to be here,” added Pope.

“I want to prove myself amongst my peers that I’m here with now, and obviously the manager as well.”

Starting spot ‘up for grabs’

Once upon a time, England could rely upon goalkeeping greats like Peter Shilton, Gordon Banks and David Seaman at major international tournaments.

However, just three months out from the showpiece in Russia, manager Gareth Southgate has admitted “the No1 jersey is up for grabs”.

Long-time No1 Joe Hart’s place is under threat as he has featured in just one of West Ham’s last 16 Premier League games.

Everton’s Jordan Pickford and Stoke’s Jack Butland also have more Premier League experience than Pope.

But he isn’t content with just receiving a call-up he once believed impossible and wants to start England’s World Cup opener against Tunisia on June 18.

“It’s every man for himself. I want it to be me,” Pope added.

“It’s a massive honour, to represent your country first of all, and go to a World Cup.”

Pope isn’t the only beneficiary of Burnley’s fantastic season to gain international recognition as centre-back James Tarkowski is also included in the England squad for the first time.

“It’s always an ambition but you need to get to a particular position just to be recognised as an English player,” said Tarkowsi.

“It wasn’t until a few weeks into the season when I started to do okay and the club started to do well that I thought: ‘Maybe I’ve got a chance here.’”

Southgate hailed the work done by Burnley boss Sean Dyche when he announced his squad last week, and Tarkowsi backed Dyche to be a future England manager.

“I don’t see any reason why not in the future,” Tarkowski said.

“There are always rumours about him. Maybe it is a surprise [he hasn’t moved], but I’m quite happy. I’m not going to complain about that.”

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