City's grand plan convinces James to take plunge in Bristol

David James has never been one to follow the beaten track.

Yesterday England's first-choice goalkeeper and the man who has made more Premier League appearances than any other signed for Bristol City, who finished last season embedded in mid-table in the Championship.

He will be introduced at Ashton Gate ahead of a friendly against Blackpool today, the day before his 40th birthday, having agreed a one-year deal, with the option of staying on for a further season, and having spurned interest from Premier League clubs and Celtic. James was due in Glasgow on Monday for talks with Neil Lennon and his decision to join a club that have not featured in the top flight for 30 years surprised the Celtic manager, and no doubt would have raised eyebrows around the England management's offices at Wembley.

"He has more to offer at a higher level than the Championship – he is England's No 1 goalie and just played at the World Cup," said Lennon. "But I don't think he's made a mistake, he's moved there for genuine personal reasons."

James left Portsmouth this summer after their relegation and was expected to find a home back in the top flight, with Sunderland among those interested. But James, who has four children, lives in Devon and said yesterday that it was because he wants to be a "family man" that he chose to join Steve Coppell at Bristol City.

"I've had offers to stay in the Premier League but it is more important that I play football – which I love – for the right club and be a family man," said James after passing a medical yesterday. "I had a long conversation with the chairman Steve Lansdown yesterday and I liked what he said about the club and his ambition. I know all about the plans for a new stadium and desire to win promotion to the Premier League. The club is ambitious and that's what I am. The South-west has not had a club in the Premier League and that needs to change."

James has not played outside the top flight since 2003 when West Ham were relegated to the Championship. He may claim lofty ambitions with City, who are backed by Lansdown's £452m fortune, but his decision to drop down a league is likely to signal the end of his international career.

He finished the World Cup as Fabio Capello's No 1 – having voiced his irritation over not beginning the tournament as the Italian's first choice. He replaced Rob Green after the opening game and kept two clean sheets before the 4-1 defeat by Germany. Joe Hart is regarded as the long-term answer in goal and with Capello's reluctance to look outside the top tier, James's 53rd cap against Germany may well be his last. He has made 572 Premier League appearances, for Liverpool, West Ham, Aston Villa, Manchester City and Portsmouth, and played in his fourth FA Cup final in May.

Under the stewardship of Lansdown, City have ambitious plans for a new £92m ground to host Premier League football. Ashton Vale is already on the shortlist of stadiums for England's bid to host the 2018 World Cup finals. "My ambition is for this club to play at the highest level," said Lansdown. "We need quality players to make that happen and that's why I'm thrilled that David has agreed to come on board."

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