Bury striker Tom Pope has carved out a reputation of being one of the best goalscorers in the Football League over the past few seasons.
An impressive 61 goals over the past three seasons for boyhood club Port Vale saw the 30-year-old snapped up by newly-promoted League One outfit Bury in the summer.
But the forward’s success may not have ever happened.
Released twice by Crewe, whose famous academy he is a product of, the goal-getter was forced to spend most of his earlier playing days earning his trade for Biddulph Victoria, and then in the Conference North with Lancaster City.
Failing to earn himself a contract originally with Port Vale, he was offered a deal to play at Crewe when former boss Dario Gradi saw his striking potential.
A 10-goal haul in 2009/09 earned him a switch to Rotherham, before, this time, Port Vale came calling for him.
He quickly found his scoring boots and won the fans’ hearts at Vale Park but after three goal-filled seasons and a promotion it was time for the Stoke-born striker to seek his next challenge in the form of the ambitious Shakers.
Despite fierce competition for places, with Leon Clarke leading the line superbly well, Pope has made an early impression by notching five goals already this term.
Now, after contributing to the club’s impressive start to the season, the powerful forward spoke to Shoot about his aim to keep his side in the promotion hunt, his battle for a starting place and why he chose to move to Gigg Lane.
How have you settled in since your move to Bury?
“It’s gone a bit better than planned I think. When you move to a new club with new team-mates and a new manager you don’t always settle straight away, it takes you a while, but I’ve settled in quite well.”
What attracted you to the club?
“It was the manager (David Flitcroft) really. There were quite a few clubs interested in me in the summer but geographically, it was the best move for me. Obviously I want to spend a lot of time with my family so moving away and spending most of my days up and down motorway didn’t really appeal to me. I’m a homeboy and I wanted to be around my friends and family. The training ground is 40 minutes up the road, which isn’t too bad, and the facilities are superb. Having a chat with the manager and what his ambitions are were all key factors in joining the club.”
You don’t think joining a newly promoted side was a risk?
“Well no not really, because I was already aware of a few of the players that were here. At the time Leon and Peter Clarke had already signed, so they were making some big noises in pre-season with a lot of decent signings. I felt that it was the right club for me, and I felt that we could give it a good go this year and be up there challenging.”
You were very consistent for Vale and have started well at Bury. Do you think you can replicate your form through the season?
“Well I’m hoping so. Without being disrespectful to some of the lads at Vale, I think we’ve got some really good quality players here. And certainly set-pieces and crosses, something that I thrive on, are coming in with a lot of quality. If I can keep getting on the end of them then I can keep scoring goals.”
There are a lot of strikers at the club, are you enjoying the competition for a starting place?
“Yeah it’s good, there’s five or six strikers here. I mean, Ryan Lowe and Daniel Nardiello have been injured for most of the season, so they haven’t had their chance yet. But obviously you’ve still got Leon Clarke who’s been on fire, and Danny Rose and Hallam Hope, so there’s a lot of good strikers. We’ve been playing one up front in the last few weeks and we’ve been winning games so hopefully I can start soon and get more goals.”
You’ve made a decent start to the season, which included a 10-game unbeaten run. What’s the secret behind your success?
“I think it’s more to do with behind the scenes. The manager’s got a great bunch of people with him who can analyse everything, with what the strengths and weaknesses are, and they can make sure we’ve got a game plan and stick to it. Then the lads just go out and try to stick to the game plan that the gaffer has come up with, and so far it’s been working for us. Even in that 10-match run there were a few matches where we probably should’ve got something more points.”
The manager’s eased you in so far this season giving you six starts. What is your relationship like with him?
“The gaffer’s good. He’s doing the best for us to win games, and when you’re a manager you don’t have time to sit everyone down individually and go through it, you’ve got a game plan. As long as the team’s up there and challenging for promotion you can’t complain when the team is winning. Obviously, we had a bad start losing games and if you’re not playing, then obviously you got a reason to knock on his door and have a case for it. But as long as the team continues to win games of football then it’s happy days for everyone.”
The manager and chairman appear to be very ambitious. So what is the club’s goal for this season?
“We want to be there or thereabouts; to stand a fighting chance. We got off to a good start now we’ve turned it around, but we’ve got a lot of key players injured in our small squad. I think the ambition will be to try to keep everybody, or the majority of the squad as fit as possible and then see where it takes us. If we’ve got everybody fit and available then we can turn around and say we want promotion, because it’s a realistic goal. We’re certainly not a Bristol City last year, who walked the league. It’s quite tight and anybody can beat anybody on the day, but if the players in the squad can keep that consistency, we’ve got a fighting chance.”
And your own goals? Have you set any targets?
“I don’t set myself targets, because normally if I do then I end up getting injured or having a bad season. It’s just to try to play as many games as possible and keep the fans on your side by trying to score the goals to keep us up there in the league.”
Do you think Bury could compete in the Championship should the club be promoted?
“I think we’ve got a lot of Championship quality players. Obviously we did make a few additions, and I think personally, we can as I think the strikers who I’ve played against and certainly the defenders I’ve played against, and bullied on occasions, are playing regularly in the Championship. With the manager we’ve got and the foundations and backroom staff we’ve got, as well as the squad of players we have got here, then we can get promoted. With a couple of additions then we’ll have a good chance.”
You recently turned the big 30 back in August. Did that get you thinking about a career after football or is that too early?
“I’m actually going to take my badges this year and see where that takes me. I think all footballers are the same when you take your badges and you can end up in a job that suits you and is right for you. Most importantly, it gives me the chance to stay in football.”
So you want to stay in football?
“Yes. You can meet a lot of friends along the way and people who aspire to be managers, whether it’s a manager’s job, assistant or helping out on the training ground somewhere, it’s something I would like to do. Also working with kids and trying to improve them is something that appeals to me.”
Favourite Film? Shawshank Redemption.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Listening to the band Lighthouse.
Messi or Ronaldo?
Coronation Street or Eastenders? Neither. I’m not a soaps person.
If you weren’t a footballer what would you be? I’d probably be fitting windows.