Nick Pope: Newcastle’s Guardian in Goal

At 31 years of age, Nick Pope has enjoyed a glamorous career in English football, playing a vital role in Newcastle’s return to the UEFA Champions League after a two-decade drought and earning call-ups to two World Cups for the Three Lions. He is nearing a return to full fitness after spending the past five months on the sidelines with a shoulder injury, but with the Magpies looking to replace Martin Dubravka with a younger goalkeeper, Pope could have his hands full as he looks to ward off new competition and prove that he’s not only Newcastle’s short-term option in goal, but their long-term #1 as well.


Born in Soham, Cambridgeshire, Pope gradually made his way up the youth ranks at Ipswich Town, the club he supported as an adolescent, but his time was cut short after being released by the club at 16 years of age. From there, he joined West Suffolk College, whose under-19 side was linked with non-League side Bury Town. Despite his young age, Pope impressed in the few matches that he started, leading manager Richard Wilkins to call him “the most naturally-talented player to progress through the ranks at the West Suffolk Sports Academy and Bury Town.”



His performances for Bury attracted the attention of Charlton Athletic, who offered him a trial and subsequently a two-year contract. He would spend the next two years bouncing around from brief loan spells at Harrow Borough, Wellington United, Cambridge United, Aldershot Town and York City, gaining experience across the lower levels of English football. On January 6, 2015, Pope joined Bury on loan, and he quickly won a starting spot under manager David Filtcroft as The Shakers won promotion to League One.


Pope finally broke into Charlton’s starting line-up in the 2015/16 season, with then manager Guy Luzon giving him the nod in between the sticks, but he was displaced from the eleven after veteran Stephen Henderson’s return from his shoulder injury. Pope regained his place in the team at the start of March, and although it wasn’t enough to keep Charlton in the Championship, it was enough to convince newly promoted Burnley to pay a fee within the region of £1 million for his services.


After being limited to cup appearances in his first season at Turf Moor, he made his Premier League debut on September 10, 2017 in a 1-0 victory against Crystal Palace. Pope replaced Tom Heaton midway through the match after Heaton succumbed to a shoulder injury that would sideline him for the bulk of the campaign, and when he returned to full fitness, he found himself on the bench to Pope, six years his junior. With Pope guiding a rock-solid defense, Burnley finished 7th in the Premier League and sealed European football for the first time in 51 years. 


It was a glorious campaign for Sean Dyche’s Clarets, and Southgate took notice. He called Pope up to the England national team for the first time on March 15, 2018, and despite not having played a single match for the senior team, included him in his 23-man squad for the Three Lions.



Pope made his maiden appearances in a pre-tournament friendly against Costa Rica, but seven weeks later, he faced one of the lowest moments in his professional career after dislocating his shoulder in a Europa League qualifier against Aberdeen. Pope made just three appearances for Burnley in the 2018/19 season as Heaton and Joe Hart vied for the #1 spot.


Nevertheless, Burnley maintained their faith in their young goalkeeper, and at the end of the season, he signed a bumper new four-year contract. Dyche made it abundantly clear from the start of the season that Pope would be getting the nod in goal over Heaton, forcing the club captain to join Aston Villa for minutes. Whilst Pope remained indispensable between the sticks, he wasn’t able to prevent the Clarets from going down.


Following their relegation to the Championship, Burnley saw various players depart Turf Moor including Wout Weghorst, Nathan Collins, James Tarkowski, Ben Mee, Maxwel Cornet and Dwight McNeil. Whilst Collins and Mee headed for Brentford and Tarkowski and McNeil joined Everton, Pope made the move to St. James’ Park, locking down a starting spot between the sticks under Eddie Howe.


Pope flourished in his debut campaign and even rose to the top in the race for the Golden Glove after keeping six consecutive clean sheets, only for David De Gea to edge him to the award. His stellar performances in goal saw Newcastle finish fourth and qualify for Europe’s premier competition, with Pope earning the chance to play in the UEFA Champions League for the first time in his career.



He started in each of Newcastle’s first five Champions League matches, but he missed out on the final match after suffering a shoulder injury against Manchester United. Newcastle would narrowly finish bottom of their group and exit Europe entirely. Once an impregnable back four, Newcastle’s defense has looked somewhat vulnerable since Pope’s injury, and they currently find themselves in sixth place after conceding 57 goals in 36 matches.


With a contract until 2026, Pope will be looking to get back to top form and full fitness and reclaim his starting spot for Newcastle as he seeks to earn an extension on his current deal. A late bloomer, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Pope, but at 31 years of age, he remains vital to the Magpies’ attempts of consolidating a place in English football’s upper echelon. As Newcastle fans have found out over the past four months, sometimes absence does make the heart grow fonder.


By: Zach Lowy / @ZachLowy

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Visionhaus / Getty Images