Charlton Athletic’s Soham-raised and Ely-educated goalkeeper Nick Pope discussed his route into the professional game with former West Suffolk College coach-turned writer MICHAEL STEWARD as he prepares to face the east Suffolk club who released him.
One incident sticks clearly in the mind of young Charlton goalkeeper Nick Pope, as he discusses his passage into the world of professional football.
At age 15, having already been released by Ipswich Town, a car journey to the club’s training ground for some injury treatment is one he has never forgotten.
He said: “I remember it clear as day, saying to my mum ‘turn the car around, I don’t want to go, I’ve had enough of football’ but she kept going.”
The 22-year old recognises just how lucky he was to have that parental support during those difficult times, following the news that he was not to be offered a scholarship at Ipswich.
“Even though I wasn’t that surprised when they told me, it was still a day I’ll never forget. I was heartbroken.”
Having spent six years in the academy system, Pope is all too aware of the intensity and subsequent effect it can have on younger players as they strive to reach the top.
“I fell out of love with football at that time. There is constant pressure playing in academies, I wouldn’t say there’s a great amount of fun in academy football.”
It was a spell of playing football at his school in Cambridgeshire that reignited his passion for the game.
“It was the spark that I’d missed, coming from Ipswich where everything was very serious and over analysed to playing with my mates at King’s Ely. It was that spell that got me back into thinking that I want to stay in football.”
Leaving King’s Ely, Pope spent three “thoroughly enjoyable” years at West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds, studying Business, while playing in the youth set up for semi-professional Bury Town.
He first appeared on Charlton’s radar following his debut for the Bury Town first team, aged just 18.
Charlton goalkeeping coach Ben Roberts had been sent to watch the player in a game away at Billericay.
“I didn’t know during the game that he was there which was probably for the best, but I played well.” Pope said.
Impressing in a trial for the south London club, Pope was delighted to receive a call from Roberts on his 19th birthday asking him to come down with his parents to discuss terms.
“To hear him say the words ‘we’d like to discuss a professional contract’ was unbelievable. I was absolutely buzzing,” he said.
As Pope prepares to make his sixth appearance of the season tomorrow, against Ipswich, he will always have his mum to thank for not turning the car — or her back on his aspirations.
“She must have seen something,” he added. “I’m not sure what it was but it was lucky she did.”
* Pope is set to play against Ipswich Town for Charlton Athletic in tomorrow’s SKY televisied game (12.15pm). If you cannot be at The Valley, follow live updates and comment on the action from our Ipswich Town columnist Russell Claydon on the ‘Live Sport’ tab on this website, or via Twitter (follow @russclaydon).
* Michael Steward is a journalism student at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, who previously played for Bury Town, Diss Town, Needham Market and Stowmarket Town, among others, as well as being a coach at the West Suffolk College Football School in Bury St Edmunds.
More of his work can be read via the course website: Sports Gazette