CAR­ING POPE’S CALL-UP PRAYER GETS AN AN­SWER

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Luke Baker

NICK Pope did his best Santa Claus im­pres­sion at a lo­cal hos­pi­tal this week, but the goal­keeper ad­mits that, for him, a re­cent run in the Charl­ton first-team has been the per­fect early Christ­mas present.

In be­tween Cham­pi­onship clashes with Black­pool and Black­burn, Pope joined a num­ber of his Addicks team-mates in de­liv­er­ing gifts to chil­dren at Queen El­iz­a­beth Hos­pi­tal in Wool­wich and Demelza Chil­dren’s Hospice in Eltham.

The 22-year-old said: “It was re­ally nice to visit the the kids and bring them some gifts for Christ­mas. It was great to see the smiles on their faces.”

And Pope has had more to smile about re­cently with the chance to get some game-time un­der his belt with the Addicks.

Chance

He wants to grasp his first­team chance with both hands and make it im­pos­si­ble for man­ager Bob Peeters to drop him once first-choice Stephen Hen­der­son re­turns from a shoul­der in­jury.

Pope does have a his­tory of seiz­ing op­por­tu­nity – mak­ing the No.1 jersey his own dur­ing an im­pres­sive loan spell at York City last sea­son.

And although that tem­po­rary stint away from the Val­ley served him well, he ad­mits the Cham­pi­onship is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent beast to League Two.

“It has def­i­nitely been a step up this sea­son in terms of the qual­ity and speed of the game,” he said. “It’s a learn­ing curve.

“When you go on loan you’re told to prove your­self and after do­ing well I thought I mer­ited a chance this year. I’ve been given that op­por­tu­nity and, like any player, I want to make that place my own – that’s def­i­nitely my aim.

“I’m en­joy­ing get­ting a run of games in the Cham­pi­onship. Play­ing matches is a mas­sive part of be­ing a foot­baller but, as a goal­keeper, it doesn’t al­ways hap­pen.

“It’s not the way you’d want your op­por­tu­nity to come around with the in­jury to Hendo but that’s what has hap­pened, so it’s about me do­ing the best I can in his ab­sence.”

Pope kept an in­cred­i­ble 16 clean sheets in just 24 matches with York, help­ing lead the Min­ster­men to the League Two play-offs, and be­com­ing a popular fig­ure at Bootham Cres­cent in the process.

At times, life has been slightly less smooth in the sec­ond tier – he came off his line but failed to claim a high ball into the box for both of Black­pool’s goals in last week­end’s 2-2 draw.

Ad­ver­sity

How­ever, the 6ft 3in stop­per is no stranger to ad­ver­sity, hav­ing been re­leased by Ipswich aged 15 be­fore en­ter­ing the youth set-up at semi-pro­fes­sional Bury Town.

He earned a move from Bury to Charl­ton after im­press­ing Addicks goal­keep­ing coach Ben Roberts in a game against Bil­ler­icay. And his York stint has been cru­cial.

“My loan to York was ab­so­lutely mas­sive,” he ex­plained.“It was the big­gest thing I’ve done in terms of my ca­reer de­vel­op­ment and I can’t thank them enough.

“I was there for five months and to see the turn of for­tune the club had, and to keep a lot of clean sheets in that time, was a great achieve­ment that the squad was re­ally proud of.”

De­spite hav­ing one of the small­est bud­gets in the Cham­pi­onship, Pope is adamant there is no rea­son Charl­ton should not be gun­ning for pro­mo­tion.

A promis­ing start to the cam­paign has faded slightly with Peeters’ troops not of­ten los­ing but ac­cu­mu­lat­ing a Foot­ball League-high 12 draws com­ing into the week­end.

He added: “From now to the end of the sea­son it’s all about turn­ing draws into wins.

“Pro­mo­tion is pos­si­ble, we’re not in the play-offs yet but that’s what we’re aim­ing to­wards.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images & Os­man Deen/ News Shop­per

CALL­ING THE SHOTS: Charl­ton keeper Nick Pope barks out the or­ders and, in­set, en­joys the Addicks’ Christ­mas vis­its

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