CAPTAIN'S TABLE: James Coppinger on getting his chance to lead Doncaster Rovers

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It has been for only two and a bit of his 16 seasons at the club that James Coppinger has been the official team captain of Doncaster Rovers.

Given the iconic status he has long held, that fact immediately strikes one as somewhat strange.

There is no doubting that Rovers have possessed some undoubted leaders in the last 16 years. And mere longevity alone should not determine whether or not someone wears the armband.

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But it is the much lauded example that Coppinger sets both on and off the pitch that has long made him one of the standout candidates for captaincy.

James Coppinger in action for Rovers in 2016James Coppinger in action for Rovers in 2016
James Coppinger in action for Rovers in 2016

It was such an attribute that stood out to Darren Ferguson after his arrival at Rovers in 2015. He would soon make the veteran his skipper.

“He was fully aware of my status at the club because I’d been there so long,” Coppinger told the Free Press. “How people respected me.

“He just wanted me to continue what I was doing and maintain my standards in training, keep driving and pushing and demanding of people.

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“It’s not something that people see but Monday to Friday in training, it’s massive. It’s one of the most important parts of what you do in football because if you do that then Saturday takes care of itself.

Doncaster Rovers captain James Coppinger celebrates promotion back to League One in 2017Doncaster Rovers captain James Coppinger celebrates promotion back to League One in 2017
Doncaster Rovers captain James Coppinger celebrates promotion back to League One in 2017

“I think that drive was a big reason why he made me captain.

“It was something I really enjoyed and relished.”

It was the drive for high standards that won Ferguson over when it came to Coppinger.

The Scottish coach admitted he was unsure on his arrival of how much of a contribution Coppinger would be able to make - then at the age of 34.

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But his phenomenal fitness levels and undiminishing quality on the pitch put him firmly at the forefront of Ferguson’s plans. Even recently, Ferguson spoke of how he would have relished the opportunity to work with Coppinger earlier in the player’s career.

“I would have loved to have worked with him five years earlier than I did at Doncaster,” Ferguson told the Peterborough Telegraph.

“He had tremendous ability and fitness. He was just an outstanding professional footballer.”

It did not take long for the then Rovers boss to spot the significance of Coppinger’s presence within the squad too.

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Previous captain - and caretaker manager - Rob Jones was sidelined upon Ferguson’s arrival, with Coppinger handed the armband on most occasions.

And it was confirmed ahead of the Scotsman’s first full season that Coppinger would take on the role full time.

“It was an honour, like I imagine everyone would say,” the 39-year-old said.

“To captain a football club and a team is something that people aspire to do and I’m no different.

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“Being at the club that long and having that opportunity came with a lot of responsibility and that is something I felt as an older player any way, that I tried to lead by example.

“I’m not really a shouter and screamer but I’ve worked with some really good captains and I looked at what they did and how they did it.

“I tried to mould myself into my own little way of doing it rather than copying anyone else.”

He may have only been captain for two years - with Grant McCann opting to hand Tommy Rowe the armband following Ferguson’s departure - but Coppinger does hold the status of having a promotion on his CV.

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He was a key member of the side that strolled back into League One that season - one in which he passed the 500 game mark for Rovers - and led the way as skipper.

“I was fortunate enough in my first year as captain to get promoted back to League One,” he said.

“That was amazing. It was a massive driving force for me to maintain standards every day and keep things going.

“I didn’t really have to do that too much. The signing of John [Marquis] helped because he was huge and vocal about that.

“What I tried to do was create as many captains as I could.

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“We had the likes of Tommy Rowe. We had some fantastic players and knowledge in that season. Andy Williams, Andy Butler.

“It made my job a lot easier.”

The departure of Rowe last summer and a change of manager ensured another switch in captaincy at Rovers.

Darren Moore opted for a more youthful approach with the man who would lead out his side - Ben Whiteman.

The 23-year-old has stepped up to the plate superbly and looks a born leader even at this early stage of his career.

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Guiding him along the way is Coppinger, who has become a mentor figure for the midfielder since his arrival at Rovers and is a regular confidant.

“Ben does a fantastic job for someone so young but I think he’s ahead of his time,” Coppinger said.

“The way he plays football is so mature. The way he goes about his business, his stands are very high every single day.

“And that’s the same with Joe Wright too.“They demand from each other and everybody else. It’s huge.

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“It’s one of the biggest attributes you need as a professional footballer and both of them have it in abundance.”

Coppinger’s official role now is that of club captain. But regardless of job title, you can be assured he would still be driving high standards among the group.


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