‘Never give up on your dream’ – ex Ipswich Town youngster Nick Pope ready for the Championship with Charlton Athletic

He may be starting the season as third choice keeper at Charlton Athletic, but Nick Pope says he will be ready for his Championship opportunity if it arises. STUART WATSON spoke to the former Ipswich Town youngster.

HE may start the season as Charlton Athletic’s third choice keeper, but no-one knows more than Nick Pope how quickly things can change.

As recently as two years ago the 20-year-old was not only utterly convinced that his dream of being a professional footballer was over, but he was also beginning to question whether he could break into the starting line-up of non-league side Bury Town.

Now, back at his family home in Soham, Cambridgeshire, he is able to reflect on a whirlwind year which saw him named in a matchday squad against Premier League opposition.

“I’ve been home for the last five weeks. It’s been good to sit back for a bit and reflect on the year because it’s all happened so fast,” said the former King’s School Ely pupil.

“Little over a year ago I was preparing to go off to university to study sports science, a few months later I’m on the bench against Fulham for an FA Cup game and now I’m preparing for my second pre-season as a Championship player.”

Released by his beloved Ipswich Town aged 16, Pope – a season ticket holder at Portman Road throughout his childhood – admits his faith in the game was wavering.

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“When I was released it felt like the end of the world at the time,” he said. “My confidence was shattered and I didn’t go on trial anywhere else because I just didn’t think I was good enough. It hit me really hard.

“I thought the dream was over and went off to West Suffolk College thinking the ship had sailed for me.

“The football set-up there is superb though and the coaches, Richard Wilkins in particular, really got me enjoying my football again.”

Despite making his debut for Bury Town before his 17th birthday had arrived, it remained far from plain sailing for the youngster. With established number one Marcus Garnham keeping him out of the team, he largely had to make do with playing for the Suffolk club’s feeder side, Team Bury, at step six of the non-league pyramid.

“Even when I started playing for Bury Town I still thought I’d missed the boat in terms of professional football and I was planning on going to Roehampton University to study sports science,” explained Pope.

“I was handed a brief run in the side around March/April last year though which happened to coincide with Charlton watching a few of our games. That turned into a trial and then they offered me a two-year deal.

“That first day of training was definitely a nerve-wracking experience. I was going into the wilderness and didn’t know what to expect. I just remember the adrenaline carrying me through those first few days.”

Loaned out to Harrow Borough and Welling United during his debut season at The Valley, Pope was an unused substitute for the Addicks in their FA Cup ties against Carlisle United and Premier League outfit Fulham.

He said: “It was great to be in and around the first team for those matches, warming up before the game and really feeling part of it. The game against Fulham was when it really sunk in for me because 7,000 Charlton fans made the trip and I was out on the pitch watching the likes of David Stockdale and Danny Murphy warm-up – people I was used to seeing on television on Match of the Day.”

Following their title-winning campaign in League One, Charlton are back in the second tier of English football. And while Ben Hamer and John Sullivan are ahead of him in the pecking order, Pope insists he will be ready if fate once again sees him called upon.

“Ben and John are both around 24 and are great role models; they’ve shown me what’s required. We’re all pushing for the same place and as a goalkeeper you’ve just got to be patient and wait for your chance because you never know when it might come. I know that more than most having had to sit on the bench quite a lot at Bury.”

For now though Pope, who is set to share player digs in Bexley with another former Ipswich Town youth player in Morgan Fox next season, has a pre-season friendly trip to his former club on July 31 – organised as part of his switch – and the announcement of the Championship fixtures on Monday to look forward to.

“I still keep in contact with a lot of the boys and it will be good to play at Ram Meadow again,” he said.

“And of course there will be one fixture in particular I will be looking out for straight away when they’re announced.

“I had a season ticket at Ipswich Town before I was signed and I carried on watching them while I was there, training on a Saturday morning and then going to watch the first team in the afternoon with my dad and brother. We went to a lot of away games too.

“I played with the likes of Connor Wickham and Luke Hyam and it’s been great to see them progress.”

He added: “Most kids dream of being a footballer and I feel very privileged to have been given the chance.

“My message to young footballers who have been released is just to keep plugging away because you never know who is watching you. I know that there was an element of good luck in me being in the right place at the right time and that can happen to anyone.

“There are plenty of players in the Ridgeons and Ryman leagues that are good enough for the Football League and there are more and more scouts watching that level of football now.”