IF you’re a goalkeeper, then having a finger that repeatedly keeps dislocating is probably far from ideal.

The first time it happened to Nick Pope, as he saved a penalty from Matt Targett during a training session in the early weeks of last season, it was painful. The second time, which came during a game against Bournemouth, was concerning. By the time his finger was popping out of its joint for a third and fourth occasion, the overriding emotion was one of frustration.

Something needed to happen, and that something was an operation that meant Pope missed the final game of last season as well as England’s summer Euros qualifying double-header against Malta and North Macedonia. No professional footballer likes to voluntarily miss big games, but if it means Pope does not have to worry about what the fourth finger on his right hand is doing over the course of the next nine months, it will have been a worthwhile sacrifice.

“There were probably four or five times over the course of six months where it happened,” said Pope, whose form during his first season on Tyneside was a huge factor in Newcastle’s remarkable rise to a Champions League place. “There was one in the summer, one in September and a couple around games after that.

“It wasn’t like it was happening all the time, and it was normal stuff setting it off really, nothing drastic. But every time it dislocated, it was getting weaker and the joint was getting weaker. It was one of those situations where if I did nothing about it, it was only going to get worse.

“When it came out, the first time was probably the worst in terms of the pain, then it kind of eases off, which is a good thing pain wise, but probably not a good thing for your health. I wasn’t pushing it back in – I left that to the doctor. I didn’t really want to look at it to be honest, it would happen, then I would glance down at my hand and then look away.”

The surgery was a success, with Newcastle’s qualification for the Champions League with a game to spare enabling Pope to bring forward his operation date to help ensure he was back in action well before the end of pre-season.

Any fears of a recurrence were allayed on the Magpies’ pre-season tour of United States, when a series of superb second-half saves helped Newcastle secure a draw against Chelsea, and when the real action begins on Saturday, with Aston Villa visiting St James’ Park, Pope will be back between the sticks forming the last line of the home side’s defence.

“I’m really happy with it now,” said Pope, who was speaking at the launch of We Are Newcastle United, the four-part series on Amazon Prime that launches today. “The rehab has gone really well every step of the way. I’ve had regular intervals with the specialist and surgeon, and was seeing the physio most days, so I’ve always felt like I’ve never been behind in the rehab process.

“It was slow at times – there’s only so many exercises you can do with a finger – and it was a bit dull, but the fact I could have the time off during the summer worked out really well.

“I’d been in training for a couple of weeks before the first game in America, and there were a couple of moments in the game where it was tested, and you’re glad you get through them. It feels really good, and obviously it was great to get through those first few games.”

When Pope moved to Newcastle from Burnley last summer, he joined a club whose primary aim was to avoid another relegation battle. Twelve months on, and the goalposts have well and truly shifted with the Magpies targeting a second successive top-four finish and preparing to return to the Champions League after an absence of more than two decades.

Another summer of the maximum investment permitted under Financial Fair Play regulations has raised expectations further, but like the rest of his team-mates, Pope is ready to embrace the challenge.

“Every season is different,” he said. “You never know what’s going to come with it. There’ll be ups and downs for sure, that’s a given, but there’s a lot of excitement like there was last year. There’s a lot of momentum with the way the season ended, and there’s a good buzz around the city, which we had last year.

“There are some similarities which is nice, and I think excitement would be the overriding feeling in the squad, with the opportunity we’ve got. We’ve got new players in the building as well, and then there’s obviously a Champions League season to look forward to.

"I feel like we’ve got a nice blend of players, with lads that have played in the Champions League in Bruno (Guimaraes), Tripps (Kieran Trippier), Sven (Botman), and then we’ve got players that haven’t done that before and are excited and want to rise to the challenge and prove they’re good enough to play on that stage.”


Pope is keen to continue progressing. He has always been renowned as a top-class shot-stopper, but since joining Newcastle, he has been subjected to an increased focus on his ability to play as a ‘sweeper-keeper’ and help the Magpies build up play from the back. It is a facet of his game that is often unfairly derided, but that he feels has come on in leaps and bounds during his time on Tyneside.

“It’s something I actually enjoyed to do at Burnley, but we obviously played a bit of a deeper line a lot of the time,” he said. “It’s something I wanted to be involved in back then, trying to be proactive coming off my line, whether that was with crosses or long balls over the top.

“I think reading the game has been a strength of mine for a few years, and is something where I like to have a positive impact on the game and help out with the players in front of me. If we’re playing a higher line, then that means I have to hold a higher line too to make the team successful. I’ve enjoyed it.

“It’s modernisation. If you want to press high up the pitch, then your backline needs to be high and if your goalkeeper is left behind, the gap’s massive. It’s an important component.”