Big Interview – Chris still has high hopes as he eases through 26th pre-season

Chris Hope will once again be in the colours of Thrapston Town this season as his football journey continues at the age of 42
Chris Hope will once again be in the colours of Thrapston Town this season as his football journey continues at the age of 42

With pre-season now in full swing and, indeed, beginning to draw to a close, footballers across the land are preparing for the nine months that lie ahead.

For some, it will be a new experience as youngsters take their first steps into the professional, semi-professional or amateur game.

Chris Hope made over 100 appearances for Rushden & Diamonds and later had a spell at AFC Rushden & Diamonds following the original club's demise

Chris Hope made over 100 appearances for Rushden & Diamonds and later had a spell at AFC Rushden & Diamonds following the original club's demise

For others, it will be the repeat of something they have done for years.

But there won’t be many who are currently going through their 26th pre-season programme like Chris Hope is.

At the age of 42, the central defender is preparing for his second full season with ChromaSport & Trophies United Counties League Division One side Thrapston Town.

A resident of Thrapston following his move to Rushden & Diamonds back in 2006, Hope is clearly enjoying playing the game more than ever.

Chris Hope joined Corby Town in 2009 and the move saw him become one of the few to have played for the Steelmen, Kettering Town and Rushden & Diamonds

Chris Hope joined Corby Town in 2009 and the move saw him become one of the few to have played for the Steelmen, Kettering Town and Rushden & Diamonds

And that’s saying something when you consider his vast career that saw the graceful, yet so solid defender make over 500 Football League appearances for Scunthorpe United and Gillingham – two clubs whose fans still hold Hope dear to their heart.

There are no signs of him slowing down now, though.

“I am still feeling reasonably fit and it’s just down to still loving to play really,” said Hope, who works as a sports coach at Kimbolton School.

“I think the older you get, you hold on to that a little bit more than when you are younger.

“When you are young, you think you will go on for ever, but the older you get, the more you look after yourself.

“Pre-season is always hard but this summer I have felt pretty good to be honest.

“I have changed my diet a little bit, I have looked after myself and I watch what I eat so that’s certainly helping.

“Bizarrely, it seems like I am getting fitter the older I get. I used to struggle with long-distance running when I was younger but you learn how to pace pre-season.

“Instead of going all guns blazing, you know what’s coming so you adapt to it.

“I just look forward to turning up and playing or training on Saturdays and Tuesdays now.

“I am going to keep going until the body says no but, touch wood, it seems okay at the moment.”

The ease at which Hope, a north-easterner and big Middlesbrough fan, is going through this pre-season is, however, a far cry from his first one when he was a youngster who had just signed for Darlington.

Indeed, he can remember that first-ever one vividly.

“I had just signed for Darlington and I struggled massively!

“We went up to the Cleveland Hills and we did these seven or eight-mile runs.

“I remember coming back after my first day and thinking, ‘If this is like this every day, then I’m going to struggle.’

“Again, that probably came down to not looking after myself properly while also getting used to full-time training.

“It was a real shock to the system.”

As far as the new season is concerned, Hope and his Thrapston team-mates face an early start as their home clash with St Neots Town Saints a week on Sunday makes up part of the UCL’s Groundhop Weekend to kick off the new campaign.

The match will be played at Chancery Lane at 10.45am on Sunday week and will signal the start of what Hope is sure will be another “open” season in Division One.

“This will be my second full season with Thrapston,” he said.

“The manager (Richard Scott) has signed some decent players and I think we will be quite competitive this year.

“Since the likes of AFC Rushden & Diamonds and Sileby have gone up, it is quite an open league and it’s there for the taking.

“There is plenty of rivalry between the local clubs and it’s good because there is plenty of local pride at stake in a lot of matches and that’s what gets the lads going.

“We also have a good draw in the FA Cup at Rothwell Corinthians. They did well last season and there is a big rivalry there so it gives the tie an extra edge.

“And we are also involved in the Groundhop Weekend so hopefully we will get a decent crowd in for that game as well. It’s an exciting start to the season.”

So what’s it like for an ex-pro being in a UCL dressing-room?

He added: “I tend not to mention my career too much but it does get brought up now and again. If anything, it’s all tongue in cheek.

“At the end of last season we did a calculation of the squad’s average age and, even with me at 42, it was something like 22. With me out of it, it was 19.

“So we had a young team but Scotty has signed a few more players in their 20s this summer.

“As the old boy, I will just try to keep them all in line!”

When it comes to the local game, Hope forms part of an elite group having played for Corby Town, Kettering Town and Rushden & Diamonds (Brett Solkhon is another, answers on a postcard for the rest please!).

He joined Graham Carr’s Poppies for a loan spell when he was with Nottingham Forest as a youngster during the 1992-93 campaign and, after those long stints at Scunthorpe and Gillingham, he later joined Diamonds in the Conference before going on to play for the Steelmen under then-manager Graham Drury.

Hope insists his time with Kettering was key to building his career but, such is the niceness of the man, he doesn’t have any favourites.

Instead, he just wants football in Northamptonshire to continue to prosper.

He said: “When I played for Kettering it really helped my career and was a springboard really.

“I’d had two years at Nottingham Forest and I was quite down the pecking order.

“Graham Carr was the manager at Kettering and he asked if I wanted to come and play Conference football.

“Back in those days it was quite a big thing to drop down to that level but it was the best thing I did.

“It was a really good standard in the Conference and Kettering were getting fabulous crowds and had a lot of experienced players.

“I learned a lot that season and by the end of it, I had seven or eight clubs knocking on the door asking to sign me.

“If I hadn’t have done that spell at Kettering you don’t know what would have happened.

“Later in my career I came up to Rushden & Diamonds and enjoyed my time immensely there and then I went to Corby for a couple of years as well.

“I know there is a lot of rivalry around here but I enjoyed my time at all the clubs.

“I am from the north-east and I am a Middlesbrough supporter but I want all the clubs up there to do well.

“It’s the same down here, I want all the teams to do well.

“It was devastating to see what happened at Diamonds but I played one season with the new club and things seem to be on the up.

“Kettering have been on a bit of a roller-coaster ride but they are also climbing up the leagues again.

“And things seem to be going really well over at Corby. It’s great to see that.

“Yes, there are rivalries between those clubs but I would rather see those rivalries develop up the leagues compared to where they have been over the past few years.

“The whole local football scene from Corby, Kettering, Diamonds and Northampton into the UCL really interests me and it’s always good to see them doing well.”

So, how about pre-season number 27 this time next year with Thrapston preparing for a UCL Premier Division campaign?

“I would love to be doing that,” Hope said.

“My wife keeps going on at me about retiring but this has been ingrained into me from a young age, I just love playing.

“It’s great to see these lads turning out to play for Thrapston for nothing and just enjoying the game. It keeps me young playing alongside them.

“We were hopeful last season but our squad got a bit depleted. I think it’s wide open again and if we can start well, then why not?

“We will be striving to do well in the league and hopefully have a decent cup run as well.”