Callum Burton may have played every minute for Plymouth Argyle in the Papa Johns Trophy this season, but up until the beginning of February, he was very much the understudy to Argyle’s highly-rated number one, Michael Cooper, having spent every minute of the Pilgrims’ Sky Bet League One campaign watching on from the bench.
But following Cooper’s season-ending injury that occurred during Argyle’s defeat to Sheffield Wednesday last month, Burton has been called into action, writing his names in the Club’s history books along the way.
A Player of the Match performance in the Papa Johns Trophy Semi-Final saw the 26-year-old stopper save three successive spot-kicks in the decisive penalty shootout to send his side to Wembley, in what will be only Argyle’s third Wembley appearance in their 137-year history.
“It’s massive for everyone at the Club,” Burton said, after the Semi-Final victory.
“Ever since the very first game, the manager said he wanted to go all the way in this competition this season. We’ve made changes when we’ve needed to and a lot of the younger lads performed in the early stages but they stepped up well and everyone has played a massive part in us getting to this Final.
“The whole journey has been amazing and to now be playing at Wembley is really, really special for us all. You’re lucky if you get to play at Wembley once - some players never get that opportunity in their entire career, so we all can’t wait.”
𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭 a performance from this man tonight!— Papa Johns Trophy (@PapaJohnsTrophy) February 21, 2023
Your penalty-shootout hero, @Argyle!#EFL | #PapaJohnsTrophy pic.twitter.com/7iE8OBGxMk
Being a back-up goalkeeper is a tough job in football, a statement backed up by manager Steven Schumacher, who was full of praise for Burton since coming into the side.
“Being a number two can be really difficult,” Schumacher said. “Especially when everyone every week talks about how good your goalkeeper is, which is what happened here.
“He must have thought he was never going to get a chance but I can honestly say in the 18 months he’s been here, he’s never had a bad training session. He deserves this moment and has showed tremendous character.”
Burton added: "It’s hard but that’s the role I play in the team. When the person in front of you is doing so well, which Coops had been doing all season, you’ve got to sit and wait, prepare as best you possible can on and off the pitch and be ready as and when you’re called upon.
"Coops has left the squad in an amazing position and contributed so much this season, so it’s up to me to fill his shoes and hopefully I can play my part in carrying that on."
Burton has had to be patient, but has more than stepped up since being called upon, none more so than in the Papa Johns Trophy.
He admitted that he was initially using the competition to get minutes, but having set up a Cup Final at Wembley Stadium for himself and his Argyle teammates, the Papa Johns Trophy Semi-Final has left him with one of the best moments of his career so far.
“I’d absolutely say it is one of the best [moments of my career]. Not just for me personally and the way in which we made the Final, but actually more for what it’s done for the Club and the fans. It’s only the third time we’ll have played at Wembley and it’s a massive deal, it’s massive for the fans, the staff and the players, but it’s massive for the city as well.
“They’re days out that you never forget, so to have had such an influence giving the Club a day like that, it’s up there as one of the best nights in my career. I’ll never forget it.”
Argyle controlled most parts of the Semi-Final and were unlucky not to finis the tie off in normal time, having had two goals disallowed and a long-range effort from Sam Cosgrove denied by the post.
But preparation is key and just as it looked as though it wasn’t going to be Argyle’s night, Burton saved three consecutive penalties in what was a thrilling shootout… with a little help from his water bottle.
Three penalty saves in a row, to take your team to @wembleystadium. @Cal_Burton96 leaving nothing to chance 😉#EFL | @Argyle pic.twitter.com/gsFKihfdQx— Papa Johns Trophy (@PapaJohnsTrophy) February 21, 2023
With Cheltenham’s Alfie May needing to score to keep his side in it, Burton guessed right, saving the spot-kick to send Schumacher’s side to Wembley.
“All of our preparation paid off,” he added. “We always practice penalties exactly as we would take them in a match. We do our research and it’s then up to us to go and put that into fruition. We stuck at it and really showed our character, saving penalties is as good as scoring one and of course it’s always nice when you save penalties to take your team through to the next round of the cup, even better a Final.
“The crowd really influenced everyone, too. They made a real difference, maybe putting off some of the Cheltenham players, but certainly giving us the extra 10% when we needed it.”
Now, having only been to Wembley previously to watch Shrewsbury Town’s League Two Play-Off Final defeat to Bristol Rovers back in 2007, Burton has an opportunity to grace the hallowed turf as a player and write his name further into Argyle’s history.
Let’s relive last night, @Argyle 🤩#EFL | #PapaJohnsTrophypic.twitter.com/pKY6RrGmmQ— Papa Johns Trophy (@PapaJohnsTrophy) February 22, 2023
The Papa Johns Trophy Final will take place on Sunday 2 April.