Coping beyond James Coppinger's final season at Doncaster Rovers - part one

There are certainties in life, aren’t there?

Saturday, 8th May 2021, 12:08 pm
James Coppinger , pictured in action for Doncaster Rovers in 2009. Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Fish and chips taste better at the seaside. You can count on somebody to yell “get yourself to Specsavers ref!” at every football match. James Coppinger will be playing for the Rovers at the weekend.

These certainties of life provide me with security and comfort. They are my currency in a mental bartering between the things I don’t love to do and the things I do love to do, allowing my mind to make peace with the upcoming few days.

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Yes, you said you’d help the in-laws tidy their garden this weekend but at least you can watch Coppinger on Saturday afternoon.

However, as the season which Coppinger has stated will be his last goes on, I am becoming all the more aware that my currency shall soon be devalued.

Slowly but surely, I am coming to terms with the idea that over the last 17 seasons I’ve become so accustomed to seeing Coppinger’s name on the Rovers teamsheet that my mind now considers it a certainty of life when in fact it never was.

Like many a helpless defender, I was sure Coppinger was always going to be there only to find that he isn’t.

Liverpool fans, what did you do when Gerrard called it a day? Ultras of Roma, how did you adapt when Totti retired? Is there a sort of group therapy we can attend, surely there’s at least a pamphlet?

Presuming there isn’t, maybe now is a good time to prepare, to reflect on Coppinger and the Rovers’ love affair, what Coppinger will leave behind and how lucky we have been to have a player that was once signed by Kenny Dalglish and given his Premier League debut by Sir Bobby Robson represent the Rovers over 650 times.

It didn’t begin glamorously.

Coppinger was signed in 2004 for £30,000 from non-league Exeter.

Rovers signed Coppinger as an understudy to our marquee signing Jermaine McSporran (at the time there was a rumour amongst the terraces that McSporran was faster than Thierry Henry, the only actual resemblance to Henry was the speed at which his Rovers career burnt out).

Wrapped up in the hysteria of whether we’ve just signed Henry’s League One equivalent, Coppinger’s arrival barely registered with me.

What I didn’t know at the time was that amongst the big shop, Rovers had just picked up the Wonka Bar with the golden ticket.

But it wasn’t love at first sight.

It seemed to take Coppinger a couple of seasons to win the Rovers faithful over.

Coppinger offered glimpses of what was to come but not consistently. A moment of magic followed by an apparent lack of concentration.

Patience was a requirement for the love to blossom. It was worth it.

Before Coppinger (BC) I’d spent my entire youth with my neck craned in the air as Rovers players paid no regard to gravity or the turf they were playing on, playing a sort of ‘hoof it tennis’ with the opposition back four.

With Coppinger at Doncaster (AD) I was now witnessing something completely alien.

Coppinger, with the help of Jamie Paterson and Michael McIndoe, was suddenly paying as much attention to gravity Isaac Newton.

Coppinger was now caressing passes to teammates, treating the Belle Vue turf like his grandmother’s carpet and putting chiropractors in the Doncaster area out of pocket.

Under Sean O’Driscoll, the Rovers and Coppinger evolved to provide one of the greatest eras in our recent history. O’Driscoll seemed to earmark Coppinger as the blueprint of his sharp, fluid philosophy and brought in players that complimented him perfectly.

Thinking back to the O’Driscoll era it was as though Coppinger, Richie Wellens and Brian Stock were communicating on a different wavelength to everybody else, tessellating the ball to one another in tight triangles, playing football as though they were raised together from birth.

Pre-game, the referees gave regular instructions to 19 of the 22 players. To Coppinger, Wellens and Stock it was two touches maximum, a third and you’ll be in the book son.

Throughout the O’Driscoll era there was a confidence I have not experienced before or afterwards watching the Rovers.

A confidence exerted to me and presumably others in the Keepmoat crowd, confidence that we will win today and that even if we don’t, we will certainly have played the better football.

The culmination of the O’Driscoll era with Coppinger at the helm would provide the most memorable day in recent Rovers history as Rovers beat Leeds in the play-off final before experiencing four consecutive years in the second tier of English football.

John met Paul and changed musical history forever, O’Driscoll met Coppinger and changed the Rovers.

Read part two HERE