Football: Hamilton steps up

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BRYAN HAMILTON, capped 50 times by his country, is the new manager of Northern Ireland, writes Rupert Metcalf. The 47- year-old former Ipswich and Everton midfield player was not the favourite from a shortlist of four to succeed the long-serving Billy Bingham, who retired after Northern Ireland's unsuccessful World Cup qualifying campaign.

Jimmy Nicholl, the manager of Raith Rovers and Bingham's part- time assistant, was the Irish Football Association's first choice, but the governing body in Belfast were unable to agree terms with the former Manchester United full-back. 'I asked for a little bit more, but I wasn't being outrageous,' Nicholl said. 'I would still have been earning far less than I do with Raith. To say I'm disappointed would be a massive understatement.'

Hamilton has managed three League clubs: Tranmere Rovers, Wigan Athletic and Leicester City, but he has been out of full-time football after his second spell in charge at Wigan ended in the sack 11 months ago. 'I'm surprised, but utterly delighted,' he said yesterday.

Belfast-born, he made his international debut in 1969 when earning pounds 6 a week as a part-timer with Linfield. He will travel to Vienna today to help draw up a fixture list for a European Championship qualifying group which includes Portugal, Austria and the Republic of Ireland.