Injury has meant that Tom Hopper’s season has been cut short, but that hasn’t stopped him from wanting to set his own goals heading into the business end of the campaign.

The Imps striker was substituted with a hamstring injury during Lincoln’s 3-0 defeat to Gillingham on March 16. While it has been a huge frustration for the 27-year-old, he says he is eager to get back playing before the timeframe given to him by specialists.

“I’ve not really had many muscle injuries in my career so far,” he said in an hour-long interview with Linc Sport.

Lincoln City’s Tom Hopper has become a leader in a young Imps squad. Photo: Aaron Mayhew

“To go and pick up an injury the way I did was really frustrating, but I’ve had specialists look at it and they always set times, so I always see it as a challenge to try and beat that.

“I know it’s their job [specialists], but I always challenge myself to beat that and get back quicker than planned. It’s going well at the moment and it’s feeling good, so hopefully we will keep picking up the rehab.”

Football has always been in the striker’s DNA, playing a variety of sports from a young age. It was only at the age of 10 when he started to take football seriously, playing Sunday league in his hometown of Boston.

Just five years later and Hopper was making his professional debut for Boston United as a 15-year-old, becoming the youngest player in the club’s history in doing so.

That was Hopper’s first experience of adult football, and the feeling it gave him meant that he has not looked back since.

He said: “You are always trying to chase that buzz; you are always chasing that initial buzz of playing football when you were a kid.

“I’m lucky as a striker that I get the chance to score goals, and there’s no better feeling than hearing a crowd and a stadium erupt when you score.

“That’s why it’s such a shame having no fans in this year. Obviously it would be amazing to have them there and it would make such an impact.”

While Hopper hasn’t been the most prolific goalscorer this season, the striker’s career could have had a very different destiny had he followed a pathway given to him by a former manager.

Tom Hopper speaks to Linc Sport and his career with Lincoln City. Photo: Ben Robinson

“When I was at Leicester, before I went on loan to Scunthorpe, I played centre half in pre-season,” the Imps talisman says with a smile.

“Nigel Pearson was the manager, and he pulled me into his office and said ‘What do you want to do? Do you want to stay here and become a centre half? Or do you want to go out on loan to League One and Scunthorpe and become a striker?

“All you want to do as a young lad is play games in men’s football, so I said ‘let’s go to Scunthorpe and be a striker.’ Ever since then, I’ve never looked back.”

After his initial loan spell with Scunthorpe, Hopper joined the Iron on a permanent deal in 2015. He made 119 appearances in total for the club, scoring 23 goals in all competitions before joining Southend United in 2018.

However, his spell at Roots Hall proved to be difficult off the pitch. Financial difficulties for the Shrimpers saw them served with a winding-up petition the day before his move to the LNER Stadium.

Speaking about his time at Southend, Hopper said: “I absolutely loved it because they were great people and great lads, but it [financial difficulties] did create tensions. We were having regular meetings as players as to how we were going to go about it.

“You tie that in with the results on the pitch, which weren’t great, and the injuries, and it almost ended up in a snowball effect.”

The difference in the way that Lincoln is run to Southend is one of the reasons why the 27-year-old decided to make the move back up north.

“You read reports on how Lincoln are doing and the glowing responses it gets, it’s testament to the people on the board and how they handle day-to-day life,” he said.

“I think it’s something you want to be part of, that was always an attraction for me coming to the club. It was always an attraction to be part of that journey.”

The 27-year-old could have joined the Imps earlier in his career, with a move reaching a close stage under former boss Danny Cowley.

However, he joined Southend after a move could not be finalised: “There was a bid from Lincoln in the January prior to that [move to Southend].

“It was a strange time for me because the manager at Scunthorpe didn’t want me to go; I was into the last six months of my contract, I was playing in League One and we were chasing the play-offs, so it was a strange time and I found myself being a bit of a scapegoat.

“There were conversations with Lincoln, there is no denying that. I felt I had done enough that year to be in League One, and I wanted to prove to a lot of people in League One that I could still do it.”

Follow @LincSport on Twitter for live updates of Lincoln City vs Fleetwood Town. Photo: Kieran Curtis

The striker eventually joined the Imps in January 2020, and although he did not hit the ground running straightaway, he has become a fans’ favourite this season due to his hardworking performances.

Hopper is one of the more senior players in the squad, having amassed 48 appearances for the Imps. Being a team leader is something that he has not always been used to at former clubs, but it’s a role that he says he’s grown into this season.

Hopper said: “I’ve really enjoyed it. I like to think I’m a good people person in terms of speaking to people, getting to know them and knowing what makes people tick.

“I’m really interested in the psychology of people, especially in football, so to be able to get to know the younger lads and what’s going to help get the best out of them, I’ve always relished that side of it.

“We’ve got a variety of leaders that, together, I think as an older group within that squad can have a real impact when players need it.”

The Imps are at a crucial stage of the season, with nine games still left to play. Despite not being able to feature, Tom still hopes to play his part in the run-in.

“When I’m around the boys I just try and be myself,” he said. “It’s obviously a sticky patch at the moment in terms of results, but I’ve just got to try and keep the spirits up when I’m around the boys.

“As players you look at results and how other teams get on. We would be lying if we said there has never been a conversation about it.”

You can listen to the full interview with Tom here.