Some pretty daft things are said in the wake of a team winning promotion. Players who, in the depths of winter, you were berating for not being able to pass a ball two yards are suddenly going to be providing the names of your first born. You claim that you believed in the team all along, when in reality, after a home defeat by Dagenham & Redbridge, you had sworn never to go again. Most stupidly of all however, you claim that your young loanee goalkeeper will go to the next World Cup. Or at least that’s what I did after Bury’s promotion on the last day of the 2014/15 season. While little Thomas Daniel has yet to show his face, the latter statement may actually come true as Gareth Southgate takes a look at Burnley’s Nick Pope in his latest England squad.
Nick joined Bury in January 2015, on loan from Charlton Athletic. Our promotion campaign wasn’t running particularly smoothly. The day before Pope’s debut we sat 9th in League Two, two points outside the play off places and nine points off the automatic promotion places. We’d lost nine games, shipped as many goals as Tranmere, who went on to be relegated and the aforementioned Dagenham & Redbridge had managed to do the double over us as they fought at the wrong end of the table. Three goalkeepers had already worn the ‘keeper’s jersey before Pope. Shwan Jalal, Rob Lainton and Scott Loach had tried and failed to provide the solid goalkeeper David Flitcroft was looking for.
Pope’s debut was a pretty forgettable home draw against Wycombe Wanderers. He conceded a goal, which was to be rarity during Nick’s time with Bury. In the following 21 games, Pope conceded only nine goals, won fifteen games and lost only four. Pope exuded a calmness rarely sighted in the fourth tier of English football, instilling a new confidence in a defence which had underperformed for most the season. Come the final day of the season, Bury needed to win to be promoted. Away at Tranmere, who had already been relegated, the nerves showed. Pope was called upon to make crucial saves to keep the scores level. In the 61st minute however, Tom Soares wrote himself into Bury folklore and at the end of game, Bury found themselves in League One.
The following season, Pope was back with parent club Charlton. He began and ended the season as Charlton’s first choice goalkeeper, not playing all the games as Charlton preferred Stephen Henderson through the middle part of the season. This season was to be one of disappointment however, as Charlton were relegated to League One. Rather than drop down to League One with Charlton, Pope’s career took a different path. The winners of the Championship, Burnley, decided to take Nick onto the Premier League, signing him on a three year deal in July 2016. Pope played only cup matches in his first season with the Clarets. Even when Tom Heaton missed Premier League matches, 37 year old former England goalkeeper Paul Robinson was the preferred option.
With Robinson retiring in July of 2017 and a further injury to Tom Heaton opening the door, the 2017/18 season has seen Pope grasp his opportunity with both hands. To date Pope has kept ten clean sheets in twenty seven Premier League appearances, working behind a defence containing fellow England hopefuls James Tarkowski and Ben Mee.
Could Pope go from League Two to a World Cup in three years? Despite being arguably England’s most in-form goalkeeper heading into the tournament the chances are probably slim. Without any injuries, Gareth Southgate will take Joe Hart, Jack Butland and Jordan Pickford. Despite being woefully out of form, going into a tournament without Joe Hart would be seen as a mistake by most, given his experience, even if he is just there to lend a helping hand to the number one. Butland doesn’t seem to be losing any favour from being embroiled in Stoke’s relegation battle while Pickford could claim to be Everton’s best player of this season. However one mistake, a loss of form or injury could see Pope take the place of any of these three.
Back at Bury, nearly three years have passed since that rainy day promotion at Tranmere and we have never properly replaced Nick Pope. Since that day twelve (!) different goalkeepers have been used, seven during the 2015/16 season alone. As we head towards relegation back to League Two, the summer would be that little bit more bearable knowing that an ex – Shaker was on the biggest stage of them all. All the best Nick, lad. UTS.