CARING POPE’S CALL-UP PRAYER GETS AN ANSWER
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.
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.
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.”
CALLING THE SHOTS: Charlton keeper Nick Pope barks out the orders and, inset, enjoys the Addicks’ Christmas visits