Association football player
|Birth||27 August 1985, Stoke-on-Trent, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, West Midlands|
Thomas John Pope (born 27 August 1985) is an English footballer who plays as a centre forward for EFL League One side Bury.
A Crewe Alexandra Academy graduate, he turned professional with the club in 2005 after impressing at non-league side Biddulph Victoria in 2004–05. He was loaned out to Conference North sides Lancaster City and Stafford Rangers in 2005–06, before he spent 2006–07 on loan at Barrow, also of the Conference North. He established himself in the Crewe first team picture in 2007–08, before becoming the club’s top scorer in 2008–09 with ten League One goals. He became Rotherham United’s joint-record signing when he made a £150,000 move to the Yorkshire club in June 2009. He scored five goals in the 2009–10 campaign, before he was loaned out to Port Vale in January 2011. The loan was made permanent in time for the start of the 2011–12 season. He scored 33 goals and was voted League Two Player of the Year as he helped the club to secure promotion out of League Two in 2012–13. He was voted Port Vale’s Player of the Year in 2013 and 2014. He signed with Bury in June 2015.
Pope was a part of Crewe Alexandra’s highly acclaimed youth set-up, but was not offered a professional contract with the club. He instead was forced to make his name in the Midland Football Alliance with Biddulph Victoria after coming through the Hanley Town under-18 side to find first team football. He also played Sunday league football for Sneyd, and scored four goals for the club as they beat the Butcher’s Arms 6–4 in the 2004 final of the Potteries and District Sunday League Cup final. During this time the teenager found work as a window-fitter. He scored fifteen goals in his first season with Biddulph, and added a further twelve to his tally before returning to Crewe as a professional in October 2005 — manager Dario Gradi now convinced of Pope’s potential. Pope chose to head to Crewe after two unsuccessful trials with boyhood club Port Vale.
Pope spent much of the 2005–06 season in the Conference North, playing on loan for Lancaster City and then Stafford Rangers. He returned to the division in 2006–07 with Barrow, again on loan. In all he scored 12 goals in 36 games in the division. On 10 March 2007, Pope made his debut for Crewe in a 1–0 defeat to Gillingham at the Priestfield Stadium, replacing Gary Roberts on 86 minutes. He made three further appearances from the bench during the rest of the season, all three games ending in defeat.
He scored his first goal for the club against Bristol Rovers on 18 August 2007, in a 1–1 draw at the Memorial Stadium. He established himself in the Alex first team in 2007–08, and his seven goals put him as the club’s second highest scorer after Nicky Maynard.
He signed a two-year contract extension in November 2008, keeping him at the “Alex” until summer 2011. He believed the players could win round disgruntled Crewe fans, and blamed the players for Steve Holland’s sacking. He bettered his goal tally in 2008–09, and became the club’s top scorer with ten goals, though this was not enough to prevent Crewe from suffering relegation out of League One. His ten league goals reflected good value for his seventeen league starts, and additional nine appearances from the bench. This achievement came despite criticism from assistant manager Neil Baker that Pope lacked consistency on the pitch and professionalism off the pitch. In all he scored 17 goals in 64 games for the Crewe, and he remained thankful to the club, the fans and former manager Dario Gradi for rescuing his career, despite his falling out with then-manager Guðjón Þórðarson. He later admitted that his decision to leave the club was a mistake.
“No one at Crewe ever told me if I was doing a decent job. They told me the things I did wrong, but they never gave me any chance to build my confidence or give me any encouragement. It started to get me down towards the end, it was frustrating but that’s football. I wanted a new challenge and I’ve got one at Rotherham.”
In June 2009, Pope joined League Two club Rotherham United for a joint-club-record fee of £150,000, signing a three-year contract with the club. Impressing in the pre-season games, his first two goals for Rotherham came in a League Cup Second Round tie with West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns on 26 August. However manager Mark Robins departed in September, and in his absence Pope went on to score only three league goals in 35 appearances in 2009–10, and did not feature in the “Millers”‘ defeat in the play-off Final due to a metatarsal injury.
Pope did not hit scoring form at the start of the 2010–11 season, and numerous other League Two clubs expressed an interest in acquiring the player permanently, as Ronnie Moore was willing to sell Pope to the highest bidder. Jim Gannon found top-scorer Marc Richards out injured, and so Pope finally achieved his dream of playing for the club he supported all his life, when he joined Port Vale on a month-long loan starting on 28 January 2011. He missed a penalty in his second appearance for the club, but in the next game he made his first full start and won a penalty – which Justin Richards converted. He scored both of the club’s goals in his fourth game, a 2–1 win over Bradford City at Vale Park, which was broadcast live on Sky Sports. This final man-of-the-match winning performance was enough to convince Gannon to ‘fight tooth and nail’ to keep Pope at the club beyond the initial month long spell. Indeed, his loan spell was extended into a second month. His third goal for the club came on 22 March, and was enough to rescue a point at home to Hereford United for caretaker-manager Mark Grew. Following this his loan deal was extended into a third month. However the loan spell was terminated three weeks early following a change of circumstances – parent club Rotherham had dropped out of the play-offs and manager Ronnie Moore had departed. Pope remained hopeful of a permanent switch in the summer, and a move away from the Don Valley Stadium seemed inevitable after new manager Andy Scott omitted him from United’s pre-season tour of Portugal. He got his wish in August, as he switched to Port Vale on a free transfer. He signed a one-year deal with the “Valiants” despite more lucrative two-year offers from Morecambe and Mansfield Town, as well as interest from Macclesfield Town.
He went straight into manager Micky Adams’ first team for the start of the 2011–12 season. He scored twice in his opening ten games, including a headed winning goal against Bradford City which took the Vale into the automatic promotion places in mid-September; however after the match he was still forced to respond to criticism levelled at him from a minority of fans. Adams added that “Tom shouldn’t listen to the supporters – with the greatest of respect to them”. Pope added to his tally with the equalizing goal in a 1–1 draw with Vale’s local rivals, and his former club, Crewe Alexandra on 24 September. Though he only hit four goals in his first 25 games of the season, he picked up a hat-trick of assists in the 4–0 win over Aldershot Town on 17 December. He ended a run of fifteen games without a goal by coming off the bench to net a late winner at home to Plymouth Argyle on 28 January; the strike was his first goal of the season not to come from his head. However the following month he picked up a groin injury and was forced to undergo ‘hernia-related’ surgery. He agreed to sign a new one-year deal with the club in June 2012, though assistant manager Mark Grew warned him to improve his scoring tally. Pope repeatedly stated to the local press that he was determined to improve his goals tally.
“I’ve made no secret of my desire to stay and I’m really pleased we have come to an agreement on a new deal. I know people have been talking about my goal tally this season but I think that’s down to the style we play and how all of the players work for each other. The gaffer has put a lot of faith in me and I’m really pleased I have been able to repay that faith by committing to the club for a further term.”
— Speaking after signing a new two and a half year contract, Pope remained humble despite his impressive goal tally.
Pope had a quietly consistent start to the 2012–13 season, before hitting four goals in a 6–2 home win over former club Rotherham on 8 September. He was quoted as saying that this was the best game of his career, as he proved a point to his detractors at former club Rotherham. A brace in a 2–0 win over Exeter City at St James Park on 6 October took him to 11 goals in 13 games; this meant that, with the season only a quarter of the way in, the 27-year-old had reached his best ever goal tally. It also made him the fastest Vale player to reach double figures since Tom Nolan hit ten goals within the first eleven games of the 1933–34 season. Pope was quick to credit wing duo Jennison Myrie-Williams and Ashley Vincent for supplying him with the chances he needed to find the net so frequently. His seven goals in seven games saw him named as League Two Player of the Month for September 2012. Fans at Vale Park began to chant “Feed the Pope and he will score” throughout matches, and he picked up the nickname of the “Sneyd Green Sniper / Assassin”, in reference to his hometown. A hat-trick in a 4–0 win over Bristol Rovers on 20 November meant that he became the quickest player to reach 20 goals (from the start of the season) in the club’s Football League history. In February, he signed a new contract to keep him at the club until summer 2015. The next month he was named as League Two’s Player of the Year after leading the division’s scoring charts by five goals despite hitting an 11-game goal drought. After winning the award he claimed his third hat-trick of the season on 29 March, as Vale beat promotion rivals Cheltenham Town 3–2. Vale secured promotion with a third-place finish at the end of the season, and Pope finished on 33 goals in 51 games. He was voted onto the PFA Team of the Year, alongside teammate Jennison Myrie-Williams. He was further voted as Port Vale’s Player of the Year.
Pope was dropped from the starting line-up on 22 October 2013, ending a run of 66 consecutive league starts for the club, but marked his appearance from the bench in the following game with a goal to take Vale to within two points of the League One play-offs by the end of the month. He continued to hold down a first team starting place, and on 6 December he scored his fiftieth goal for Port Vale during a 4–1 FA Cup win over Salisbury City. He ended the 2013–14 campaign as the club’s top-scorer with 16 goals in 51 appearances, helping the club to secure a ninth-place finish in League One, and became the first player in the club’s history to win the club’s Player of the Year award in successive years.
He opened the 2014–15 campaign by scoring in each of the first four games of the season. After Rob Page took over as caretaker-manager in September, Pope said that he was happy to act as a “battering ram” to help create chances for new signing Jordan Slew. The following month Pope was named as a transfer target by Barnsley manager Danny Wilson, and an unnamed Championship club also had a formal approach to Port Vale turned down. Vale chairman Norman Smurthwaite told him that a new contract offer in the summer would mean a 50% reduction in his wages, despite other clubs indicated they would pay him almost double his current wage. In late October he picked up a knee injury and was ruled out of action for three months after undergoing surgery. He managed to finish as the club’s top-scorer for the third successive season despite admitting that he was not fully fit at any point following his recovery from injury.
Pope entered formal talks with Doncaster Rovers in May 2015, before signing a three-year contract with newly promoted League One club Bury. He scored six goals in 33 games in the 2015–16 season before breaking his wrist in February. He continue to play with his wrist in plaster, and also played a makeshift midfielder after coming on as a substitute against Sheffield United. He ended the 2015–16 campaign with seven goals in 43 appearances, and was made available on a free transfer by manager David Flitcroft in July 2016.
On 8 October 2016, he collided with Peterborough United goalkeeper Luke McGee and was hospitalised with two broken ribs and a punctured lung.
Style of play
A 6 ft 3 in (1.91 m) centre forward, he has a natural advantage in the air. A target man, he is able to hold the ball up and bring other players into the game. As he said in an interview in September 2011, “I do the nitty-gritty and the dirty stuff.” In terms of motivation, he also said that “some players need an arm around the shoulder but a kick up the backside seems to work better for me”.
Pope, and two accomplices, were charged with affray for an incident in Hanley on 8 February 2009, and Pope received 200 hours community service and a six-month suspended jail sentence. Pope’s defence team claimed that he was provoked when the victims verbally abused and assaulted his girlfriend.
A native of Stoke-on-Trent, Pope grew up as a Port Vale supporter. He is an accomplished amateur golfer, having reached the quarter-finals of Stoke-on-Trent’s Sentinel Shield competition. He wears contact lenses. He married Melissa, and had a son, Bobby Joseph Pope, in May 2016.
Pope and teammate Adam Yates began the 2011–12 season as joint-managers of local amateur Sunday League side Sneyd, fitting their management duties around their professional careers at Vale Park. The pair took the club to the Potteries and District Premier Division title and the final of the Sentinel Sunday Cup in 2012–13. He began writing a column in the Staffordshire Sentinel in 2014.
|Club||Season||Division||League||FA Cup||EFL Cup||Other||Total|
|Lancaster City (loan)||2005–06||Conference North||5||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||5||1|
|Stafford Rangers (loan)||2005–06||Conference North||10||5||0||0||0||0||0||0||10||5|
|Barrow (loan)||2006–07||Conference North||21||6||0||0||0||0||0||0||21||6|
|Rotherham United||2009–10||League Two||35||3||2||0||2||2||0||0||39||5|
|Port Vale||2010–11||League Two||13||3||0||0||0||0||0||0||13||3|
|2016–17||EFL League One||12||2||0||0||1||1||2||2||15||5|
- Football League Two Player of the Month: September 2012
- Football League Two Player of the Year: 2012–13
- PFA Team of the Year (League Two): 2012–13
- Port Vale F.C. Player of the Year: 2013 & 2014
- Football League Two third-place promotion: 2012–13