Sun shines on Hopkin

Phil Gordon finds Scotland's newest hot property eager for his chance
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The Independent Online
David Hopkin has waited a long time for his moment in the sun but even he has had second thoughts about making his Scotland debut in Malta today.

Underneath the burning Mediterranean skies is the last place someone as solarly challenged as the red-haired, freckled Crystal Palace player would choose to be. Hopkin has as much chance as surviving unscathed in the friendly in Sliema as Craig Brown has in discovering a prolific goalscorer. A cover-up will be the order of the day for the 26-year-old Scot but maybe his role as cover man will prove more fruitful. With Scotland desperately needing to find alternatives to their tried and toothless frontline, Hopkin could not have timed his arrival better.

While the 1-0 friendly defeat by Wales on Tuesday underlined the paucity of resources available to Brown when it comes to putting the ball in the net, just 24 hours earlier Hopkin demonstrated his mastery of the art with stunning efficiency at Wembley, striking the winner against Sheffield United to earn his club a place in the Premiership.

Now he will be given the chance to translate that to the international stage in a match which has genuine purpose with next Sunday's World Cup Group Four qualifying tie in Belarus just around the corner. Malta will be no stroll in the sunshine for Hopkin, not that he enjoys such things anyway.

"I always plaster myself with high-factor sun cream or else total block," the Selhurst Park captain said. "With my skin, there is always a real danger that I will burn. I look like a Test cricketer but it's a vital precaution."

Brown has even ordered the squad doctor to keep a close eye on Hopkin during training to avoid burning. However, the one thing the Scots manager knows he can be guaranteed today is a full shift from a player who has picked un unglamorous route to the top but is now as rich in ability as any of the star names he will rub shoulders with next season.

"David brings enthusiasm, power and not a little skill to the side," Brown said. "I watched him earlier in the season in a match with QPR and could finally understand why his former manager Dave Bassett had been raving about him. This is a good game to judge him."

A good performance could raise Hopkin's stock on the international stage. It would also add another pound or two to his value back home, where Leeds United are ready with a pounds 3m bid, although Palace may yet keep their midfielder now that they have reached the higher ground.

It is all a long way from Hopkin's humble beginnings with Greenock Morton, just a mile along the road from his home in the tough shipyard town of Port Glasgow. "I was 18 when I went to Morton from juvenile football but it has worked in my favour because so many boys sign much earlier and are on the scrapheap by the time they are 18. It made me appreciate any success I have had, but there were times when I thought my chance had passed me by."

Hopkin was fortunate that, at Cappielow, he had a manager in Allan McGraw who not only makes it his life's work to seek out young talent but also to find them a bigger stage. McGraw sold Hopkin to Chelsea for pounds 350,000 in 1992 and the player moved on to Pa lace for pounds 800,000 three seasons ago. "I am delighted at David's success," McGraw said, "but I am surprised he's made it as a midfielder because his short-passing game left a bit to be desired."

Hopkin may not be the only fringe player to break through. The one shining light in the gloom against Wales was the emergence of Hearts' central defender David Weir, who strolled through the game with his customary coolness and, in the absence of Colin Hendry, may be required for World Cup duty too.