Non-League Football: James the novice takes on Merthyr mission

MERTHYR TYDFIL, the only team in the GM Vauxhall Conference without a win this season, have entrusted their future to a novice in the managerial game, following the resignation of Wynford Hopkins this week, writes Rupert Metcalf.

However, the Martyrs' new management team are no strangers to top-flight football. Robbie James, the 36-year-old former Welsh international, left Cardiff City on Wednesday to take over as player-manager at Penydarren Park, where he makes his debut for his new charges against Halifax Town tomorrow. Tommy Hutchison, still a member of the first-team squad at the age of 46, remains at the club as player-coach.

'We can boast the most experienced management duo in non- League football,' John Reddy, the Merthyr chairman, said yesterday. James enjoyed a 21-year League career with Swansea, Stoke, Queen's Park Rangers, Leicester, Bradford and Cardiff while Hutchison, capped 17 times by Scotland, turned out for Coventry, Manchester City, Burnley and Swansea. Between them, they played 1,412 League games.

Asked to explain the reasons behind the departure of Hopkins, Reddy said: 'I don't like to interfere in team affairs but there were obvious problems - we needed a new direction, some excitement at the club. We feel James will provide that.' Reddy is also playing down suggestions that Merthyr will leave the GMVC for the League of Wales next summer. 'We want to move out of the Conference, but only in an upward direction,' he said.

Mark Falco, the former Tottenham striker, played 90 minutes in goal for Cornard United in a 2-0 FA Vase win at their Suffolk rivals, Felixstowe, on Wednesday. Keith Cheal, who was supposed to wear the No 1 shirt, failed to complete the journey from his Sussex home because of chaos on the M25. Falco, who joined Cornard from Worthing in the summer, made several fine saves.

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