Nick Pope admits he did not dream of going to a World Cup as a child because he never believed he was good enough.
Now he is heading for the second of his career in the form of his life and hoping to play a part in ending England’s quest for another major honour.
The 30-year-old Newcastle goalkeeper travelled to Russia four years ago as Gareth Southgate’s number three, but while Jordan Pickford seemingly remains the man in possession, Pope’s contribution to his club’s unlikely surge into the Premier League’s upper reaches has simply enhanced his reputation.
It is a scenario he did not envisage as a youngster taking his first steps in the game.
Asked if he had dreamed of going to the World Cup as a child, he replied: “I didn’t think I was that good, to be honest. I thought I was a long way away.
“But I was a massive football fan growing up. It very rarely comes around. I always looked forward to it as a child, as I do now. That is something which will stay with me for life.”
Pope has had to work hard to get where he is currently after his fledgling career suffered a major setback when he was released by Ipswich as a teenager.
He said: “Obviously at 16 when I got released by Ipswich, that was kind of a tearful couple of days. That was, I suppose, a difficult lowlight in my life because I had been there six years and it had become part of my life day to day, week to week, so that was a low point.
“When you are at college and playing, you do not play on pitches and stadiums like this (St James’ Park), every week, so back then I felt a long, long way from the World Cup.”
Charlton eventually handed Pope the chance to resurrect his career, but it was after loan spells with Cambridge, Aldershot – where he met his team-mates for the first time on the bus an hour-and-a-half before kick-off as they travelled to an away game – York and Bury that his big chance arrived when Burnley called in July 2016.
He made 155 appearances for the Clarets, proved himself in the Premier League and saw his quality recognised at international level, and it was only in the wake of relegation from the top flight that Newcastle were able to snap him up for what increasingly looks like a bargain £10million this summer.
Four years on from his first World Cup adventure and with the water which has passed under the bridge since, Pope believes he is a better keeper than the one who set off for Russia.
He said: “Yes, 100 per cent. It would be a little bit strange if I wasn’t! Certainly I have a lot more games under my belt and in general feel in a very good place.
“And I think when you play that many games in the Premier League, you pick up all that experience and as a person and player, you’re always looking to grow your game, week by week, game by game. So I would like to think I have done that, yes.”
Southgate turned to Pope for September’s Nations League clash with Germany at Wembley, a night on which his late error allowed the visitors to snatch a 3-3 draw after England had fought back from 2-0 down to lead.
He has taken that disappointment too in his stride.
Pope said: “Obviously, it was not ideal, but that is all part of being a goalkeeper. Something I always said to myself when I was a younger goalie, you really have to normalise those stickier games and stickier moments.
“So yeah, after that game, I got a few texts and it was as if someone had died, but for me, it is so much not about that.
“It is a case of carrying on, coming back to Newcastle, there were some big games to play in and fortunately for us, it’s gone very well.”
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