From part-time milkman to Three Lions glory: The Nick Pope story
- Credit: PA
Former tractor boy Nick Pope made his dream England full debut on Sunday, but the road to Wembley has never been simple for the goalkeeper.
Pope, 27, put on the number 1 jersey for the Three Lions in their final Euro 2020 qualifying match against Kosovo in front of a sell-out Pristina crowd.
But a matter of years ago it seemed an impossibility, especially after being released by boyhood-favourite Ipswich Town aged 16.
A season ticket holder in his younger years, the Cambridgeshire-born lad called his release "the biggest disappointment" of his life, debating whether or not he had a future in football at all.
It was then back to school for the disheartened youngster, who played for non-league Bury Town while studying business marketing at West Suffolk College. During that time he worked part-time as a milkman, before then League One Charlton snapped him up.
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Signing for the south London outfit, he sent a message to others like him to "never give up on your dreams".
Six loans and 38 appearances for The Addicks later, the Premier League beckoned with Burnley and a three-year contract in 2016.
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Making his mark in the top flight the following season, he earned a call up to Gareth Southgate's England squad for the 2018 World Cup - although didn't make his international debut until June 7 that year as a 65th-minute substitute in a friendly against Costa Rica.
Richard Wilkins, who worked with Pope at Bury Town and West Suffolk College, said at the time: "It's fantastic news for every young player who gets released at 16 and just shows if you keep working hard then people do take notice and dreams can come true."
But as was becoming a common theme for Pope, it was not destined to be plain sailing as he suffered a dislocated shoulder in a Europa League qualifying match away to Aberdeen in July 2018. He later missed most of the season as a result.
But as England looked to see off their qualifying campaign in style, Pope finally got the start he deserved.
Russell Ward, chairman of Bury Town Football Club, said: "We at Bury Town Football Club are all really pleased with the success Nick Pope has achieved.
"He always worked really hard at Bury Town and we are not surprised how well he is doing.
"We all wish him the best in his future career and look forward to watching him play for England."
West Suffolk College head of sport Anthony Harvey said: "We are delighted for Nick to have made his full England debut - what an amazing achievement!
"He played brilliantly and as a college we are so proud of him, he has set a great legacy that our current sports academy students can aspire to. We wish him the best of luck as he continues this amazing journey."