Remembering legendary Spurs fullback Mel Hopkins:
Mel Hopkins stood at about six foot heigh, he was a commanding left back who loved to attack and dart forward down the left flank for the mighty Lilywhites. Born in Ystrad, Rhondda, Wales on the seventh of November 1934, Mel Hopkins was the son of a miner. Starting his football career at the Rhondda Valley Boys’ club, Hopkins was spotted playing by Welsh scout Joe Fisher (Mel was also watched by Manchester United) as a 15 year old in 1950, he was invited down to Spurs for an extended trial along with 40 other boys before signing amateur forms with Spurs in May of 1951. The former Tonypandy Grammar School pupil had already played for Spurs’ B team in the London Midweek League by the end of that season. During the following season the ever improving full back progressed up to the Spurs A team in the Eastern Counties League before then making his debut for the reserves against Bristol Rovers in the April of 1952. Such was Hopkins’ fine progress, he made his debut for Spurs’ first team under the tutelage of manager Arthur Rowe in a league game against Derby County in October of 1952, the game finished in a goalless draw. Living in lodgings in Enfield at the time it must have been difficult for the young Welshman to adapt to life in the big smoke, and before he knew it he had to do his national service shortly after signing professional forms for the club. However, while doing national service, Mel was still able to turn out for Spurs’ intermediate sides. When he returned to Spurs he pretty much made that left back spot his own up until he suffered a horrific nose and upper jaw break after colliding with Ian St John in an international friendly with Scotland at Hampden Park in late 1959. Hopkins would go onto win 34 international caps for Wales, with arguably his finest game coming against Brazil in the quarter finals of the 1958 World Cup, when Hopkins effectively marked legendary Brazilian winger Garrincha out of the game, as a result of this Mel was named man of the match.
Back before that incredible performance at Sweden, Mel’s performances for Spurs made him regarded as one of the finest full backs in the country. Racking up appearance after appearance for the Lilywhites (Mel made 240 for Spurs’ first team in total, scoring one goal) things were going so well for the Welshman who was a key player under managers Arthur Rowe, Jimmy Anderson (the majority of his appearances for Spurs came under Anderson) and Bill Nicholson, up until he broke his nose and upper jaw in 1959. Upon returning to full fitness Hopkins could never dislodge Ron Henry in the first team, and he would ultimately not make a single appearance for Spurs’ first team during the 1960/61 season when they won the double. Mel stayed at Spurs up until October 1964 when he joined south coast club Brighton & Hove Albion. While playing for the ‘ Seagulls ’ the versatile left back who had played in a number of positions when he was younger, often played over on the right flank at right back. After notching up 58 appearances for Brighton scoring two goals, Hopkins left Brighton in 1967 to join Canterbury City before then playing for Northern Irish side Ballymena United, both spells were short ones. Hopkins finished his footballing career off at then fourth division side Bradford Park Avenue before hanging up his boots in 1970. After retiring from the game Mel played for Lancing as well as coaching them, he also served as secretary to the Sussex coaches association, as well as working for the Brighton Education Authority, Mel also scouted for former teammate Dave Mackay at Derby County. He also spent a total of 20 years working as a sports officer and sports centre manager at Horsham Sports Club. Later on in his life Hopkins was awarded with a merit award which was given to him by the Football Association Of Wales.
Sadly Mel passed away back in the October of 2010 at the age of 75. His funeral took place at Worthing crematorium near to where he lived down on the south coast, and the service saw a number of former teammates make the trip down to Worthing to pay their respects. Hopkins is undoubtedly one of Spurs’ all time greatest left backs and he is so very rightly remembered as a legend by fans and player alike of the Lilywhites. Known for taking the time to speak to youth players during his time at Spurs, all the former Spurs players that I know who knew Mel couldn’t have spoken highly enough of him. One such player was Eddie Clayton who I caught up with recently to talk about Mel’s time at Spurs. Clayton himself desperately unlucky not to play for Spurs during the double winning season, remembers Hopkins with great fondness as he used to be close to the Welshman. Eddie spoke to me and explained that Mel was a tough tackling wing half who was good on the ball and possessed good pace. “ He was probably the best left back in the country at the time up until his unfortunate accident when he lost his place ” recalls Clayton who also went onto say that Hopkins loved to attack down the left flank. On comparing Hopkins with Ron Henry, Eddie said that “ if you put the two together Hopkins was miles ahead ”. He could distribute the ball well and he was just a terrific guy said Clayton. Eddie also told me that Mel used to be very upset that he didn’t make the double winning side and that he would have loved to have been a fullback in the modern game as you don’t have to defend as much.