Full England debut a source of great pride for goalkeeper Nick Pope
Wicken-raised goalkeeper Nick Pope has spoken of his pride after making his first start between the posts for England in Kosovo on Sunday.
The 27-year-old was first called up to the England squad in 2018 following a breakthrough Premier League campaign with Burnley, but he has largely been used as an understudy to Jordan Pickford.
Pope’s one prior appearance for the Three Lions before the weekend came as a second-half substitute during a pre-World Cup friendly against Costa Rica – not helped by the fact that he missed much of the last campaign with a shoulder injury.
However, the ex-King’s Ely School pupil has been restored as Burnley’s number one this term and his form was rewarded by England boss Gareth Southgate with a full debut in the weekends’ 4-0 Euro 2020 qualifying victory.
“It is right up there with my first cap and it is something that nobody can ever take away,” said Pope, who was watched on at the Fadil Vokrri Stadium by several members of his family.
“It feels like it has been a long time coming with my first cap being about 18 months ago.
“A lot has gone on between the two caps, but it was all worth it to walk out with the team in a competitive international and sing the national anthem.
“Everyone watches England. It is the pinnacle and to be part of the team was a major source of pride.”
Pope’s injury – sustained during a Europa League tie at Aberdeen in July 2018, shortly after returning from the World Cup – forced the former Soham Town Rangers colt goalkeeper to sit out 10 straight internationals.
But once he regained his Burnley place he was straight back in the England fold, and he is grateful for the faith shown in him by Southgate.
“It was a strange time after the injury. I had only been back from the World Cup for about 10 days and the highs of that. Then all of a sudden I am out long term,” he said.
“It was difficult to get my head around it because things had gone so well over the previous year or so – it was a big shock to the system.
“You do have those moments of doubt, especially when you see Burnley and England doing well without you there.
“But those are things you cannot control and as hard as it is you can only concentrate on your recovery and then doing what you can to get back into the team.
“The fact that I got back into the England squad so quickly was a real confidence boost and shows how well thought of I am.”
With all three of their group games set to be played at Wembley – along with the semi-final and final – there is plenty of excitement around what the current England side can achieve next summer at Euro 2020.
They are second favourites with the bookmakers behind world champions France, and Pope has admitted that the squad is full of confidence.
“It is a great squad on and off the pitch,” he said. "For someone like me, who does not always have club-mates in the squad, it is a big positive that everyone gets on.
"We had a good World Cup and next summer could end up being even better – that is what we hope anyway.
"It looks like there will be lots of games at Wembley and those will be massive occasions.
"It is a young, exciting squad and we are evolving together. We are in a good place, scoring lots of goals so I do no see why we would not be confident."
England do not return to action until March 27 when they will take on a so far unnamed nation in a friendly, before facing Denmark at Wembley four days later.
Of more immediate concern for Pope will be Burnley's Premier League campaign, starting with Saturday's trip to Watford (3pm).