Former milkman Nick Pope eyeing No. 1 spot as England goalkeeper
Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope believes he can complete the journey from being a milkman to becoming England's No. 1 after earning his first senior call-up for the friendlies against Netherlands and Italy.
Pope, 25, has been handed the chance to make a late surge into Gareth Southgate's World Cup squad after grasping his opportunity at Turf Moor following an injury to regular first-choice Tom Heaton last September.
Pope has kept 10 Premier League clean sheets in 28 appearances -- more shutouts than any other English keeper this season -- after making his top-flight debut this term.
And after his remarkable rise in recent months, he insists that his humble beginnings will not stop him targeting the role of England's No. 1.
"I did two years of business marketing and one year of sports science and had a couple of jobs alongside when I started my career," Pope said. "I worked on a milk round -- I was on an electric float at 4 a.m. -- and in [a clothing shop] as well. I didn't get enough money! It didn't pay much.
"So this is a massive achievement for myself and it's nice to share it with my family and friends.
"I never thought it would come. I went through the leagues and just thought all this got too far away almost. So I feel like I have put in some hard yards to get to this level.
"But now that I am here I would like to think my ambitions are greater than just being in a squad.
"You have to be hungry and this is the first time I have been called up to a squad, but I want to prove myself.
"To play for England is the end goal for me. Obviously throughout your career you set different goals. When I signed for Charlton they were in League One but my career ambition then was to play one game in League Two. As your career progresses you like to set yourself new targets to aspire to.
"But this Premier League season has told me to go and enjoy it and forget about all the noise around it.
"It is just 90 minutes on some grass. Go and show what you are about. That is something I have learnt since joining Burnley -- don't be scared of the challenge, embrace it and show what you are about."
Having played a key role in Burnley's surprise challenge for Europa League qualification this season, Pope insists he has earned his place in the England squad.
"It's not a fluke to get picked in the England squad, even though the last six months are not something I could have foreseen," he said.
"Things can change so quickly in football, nothing is set in stone, so I'm not taking anything for granted at club level, let alone with England.
"But there has to be a No. 1 come the World Cup, someone will have that slot -- so it's every man for himself and I want that person to be me.
"It's a challenge and I'm looking forward to it."
Joe Hart, one of Pope's competitors, has been impressed with his performances this season.
"He's done fantastic," Hart said. "He's had a great season. Obviously, I don't know how you feel but Tom Heaton is a big part of the squad, a really important guy and a good friend of mine.
"We were devastated for him when he got that injury, but Nick has come in and done great. I've spent two or three days with him now and he looks like a really strong keeper."
Hart, 30, is far and away the most experienced member of Gareth Southgate's squad, having made more than twice as many appearances as the next most capped player.
He is facing a fight for a place in the World Cup squad but he is ready to meet the challenge head on.
"It's no different to any moment that I've been [playing football]," Hart said. "Even when I was trying to get into my Sunday league team, it was the same script: people want to play football. That's no different to the one here.
"I am not here to answer critics. I am here to play football, enjoy what I do and try and help my team the best way I can."
Hart's position has looked precarious for a while, but Southgate has backed him to the hilt and last August insisted he remained England's best goalkeeper. But his change in circumstances at West Ham has led the Three Lions boss to reassess his options, admitting at last week's squad announcement that "clearly the No. 1 jersey is up for grabs."
"It was a long enough gap where we didn't really need to discuss it until recently,'' Hart said. "Obviously checked in, he likes to check on his players and see where we're at physically and mentally. Just answered the questions he had for me and luckily I found myself in the last game and hopefully I can continue that for the rest of the season."
Mark Ogden is a senior football writer for ESPN FC. Follow him @MarkOgden_