Mel Hopkins - Obituary

Thu, November 04, 2010 - 8:51, Diary, Administrator,

Mel Hopkins

Welsh international full back Mel Hopkins spent the vast majority of his playing career on our books, playing as a 16 year old trialist during the early months of 1951 and moving on to Brighton & Hove Albion during October, 1964.

In between, he rose through the ranks to make 240 senior appearances in our colours, play 34 games for Wales and featuring at the 1958 World Cup Finals. It was at Gothenburg, in the quarter final tie with Brazil, that Mel had his finest game at international level, marking Garrincha out of the game.

Born at Ystrad Rhondda on November 7, 1934, Melvyn Hopkins attended the local Elementary School and gained a scholarship to Tonypandy Grammar School – a rugby playing school. He developed his football with Ystrad Rhondda Boys’ Club.

Our scouts in the area spotted his talents and he was offered an extended trial with our youth team, then known as Tottenham Hotspur Juniors. During February, 1951 we made a donation of 10 guineas (£10.50) to the Ystrad Rhondda Boys’ Club and by the end of the season Mel had played for our ‘B’ team in the London Midweek League.

On May 10, 1951 he signed amateur forms, was given a job on our groundstaff and found lodgings at Enfield.

Mel made his ‘A’ team debut in our Eastern Counties League game against Arsenal on October 4, 1951 and stepped up for his reserve team bow at Bristol Rovers on April 2, 1952. Twelve days later, on Easter Monday, he returned to Ystrad Rhondda to play for a Spurs XI against a past and present Boys’ Club XI at Gelligaled Park.

A further donation of £100 was added to the Boys’ Club coffers when Mel signed professional forms on May 12, 1952. National Service was spent with the R.A.O.C. near Shrewsbury where he represented the Army XI and was also able to turn out for our intermediate sides. Mel featured in all four of our games when we participated in the first FA Youth Cup campaign during 1952-53. He became only the third 17 year old to feature in our Football League team when selected to play at Derby County on October 11, 1952. During September, 1954 he claimed a regular place in our senior side and remained there for five years until a broken nose suffered on international duty at Hampden Park on November 4, 1959.

Having represented the London Combination against a Dutch XI during season 1954-55, Mel made his international debut the following season, facing Northern Ireland at Ninian Park, Cardiff on April 11, 1956. He was ever-present in 23 consecutive international matches for Wales until being injured against Scotland. This included their five games at the 1958 World Cup Finals which ended in a 0-1 defeat to eventual winners Brazil, a young Pele scoring the only goal.

Mel resumed his international career during April, 1961 and gained the last of his 34 caps against Northern Ireland on April 3, 1963. He also played once at Under-23 level, featuring in the 2-1 win over England at Wrexham on April 23, 1958.

He made his final senior appearance for us against Ipswich Town on April 4, 1964. His tally of 240 appearances included 219 in the First Division, 20 in the FA Cup and one in the European Cup-Winners Cup. His only senior goal for the club came in one of 31 friendly appearances, that being in a 3-3 draw with Hibernian in an Anglo-Scottish Floodlit match on October 31, 1956.

At intermediate level, Mel scored twice in his 200-plus competitive games for our reserve, ‘A’, ‘B’ and youth teams. Both of those came in the Football Combination during season 1960-61; the first in a 6-3 home win over Bristol City on August 27 and the other in a 9-1 home win over Ipswich Town on December 10.

Having played mostly on the left during his time with us, Mel featured regularly at right back after joining Brighton for a £4,500 fee during October, 1964. He helped them to the Fourth Division title in his first season at the Goldstone Ground and netted his first senior goal on his 240th Football League appearance, versus Chesterfield on February 27. His three years with Brighton yielded two goals in 62 league and cup games.

Spells with Canterbury City and Irish club Ballymena followed until moving back into League action with Bradford Park Avenue during January, 1969. Mel featured in their last two seasons of Football League membership, making 31 league and cup appearances. His final senior game was at Colchester United on October 11, 1969.

Mel played for and coached at Lancing, served as secretary to the Sussex coaches association and worked as a sports instructor for the Brighton Education Authority, coaching at local schools. He also scouted for Derby County during Dave Mackay’s time there as manager. Mel then spent 20 years as sports officer and sports centre manager at Horsham Sports Club until retiring during 1998.

Along with his surviving colleagues from the 1958 World Cup, he received the FA of Wales merit award during 2003.

One of his cousins, Graham Hopkins, played for our Eastern Counties League ‘A’ team during the mid 1950’s.

Mel had lived at Shoreham-by-Sea in recent years and was a regular visitor to our Legends lounge since it first opened during 1992. He was last here for the Wolves game on September 18 and also attended Brighton games at the Withdean Stadium.

Mel Hopkins passed away at a Worthing hospice on October 18, aged 75. He is survived by sons Paul, Simon and Mark and second wife Barbara.

Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this sad time.


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