A rise as “surreal” as it has been impressive means Nick Pope is off to the 2018 World Cup just eight months after his Premier League debut.
Injury to Three Lions regular Tom Heaton saw the 26-year-old thrust between the sticks at Burnley at the start of the season – a chance the unproven goalkeeper grasped with both hands, producing a string of fine displays.
But Pope does not have the time to bask in the afterglow of an unforgettable campaign as that fine form led Gareth Southgate to include the former non-league goalkeeper – and milkman – in England’s World Cup squad.
“It feels like it’s gone in the blink of an eye, almost,” the Clarets shot-stopper said. “It’s been that quick.
“Obviously a year ago, I don’t think I was sitting there going, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to maybe get to the World Cup next year’.
“It’s definitely been a season that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
“It’s been a mad nine, 10 months that’s led me to get to this stage. It was September when I played my first Premier League game.
“Even at that point you don’t picture going to a World Cup or getting called up for England.
“To be here is surreal.”
It is little wonder that Pope is struggling to take it in given his rise after being released by boyhood club Ipswich.
Bury Town, Harrow Borough and Welling United were among the many pit-stops on his rise to the top-flight, which he secured by joining Burnley from Charlton in 2016.
Reduced to cup appearances in his first season at Turf Moor, Heaton’s shoulder injury led to a Premier League debut in September – and a campaign so impressive that he has been selected ahead of Joe Hart.
“I wouldn’t mind his 75 caps! A great career for him,” Pope said.
“Someone that I’ve looked up to in the past and someone I’ve managed to learn off and watch play a lot of games.
“That is a measure of the competition that someone like Joe hasn’t quite made the squad.
“A lot of lads that have missed out are probably disappointed but the standard and level we get to pick from England makes it a tough pool of players to pick from.”
Pope saw Hart first hand when called-up by England for the first time for the friendlies against Holland and Italy in March.
The 26-year-old did not make his debut as Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland got the nod from Southgate – but the uncapped new boy has not given up on usurping the duo in the Three Lions pecking order.
“We are a group, a squad that do get on really well but that helps us push each other every day in training,” Pope told Sky Sports.
“The lads that are playing and not playing, we’ll still try and push each other and obviously the end goal is to get in that starting XI for the first game of the World Cup.
“But the bigger picture is the England national team and that’s what we really want to push and want to do well.”
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