Coping beyond James Coppinger's final season at Doncaster Rovers - part two
James Coppinger’s place in Doncaster Rovers’ history is tangible.
The eras, the appearances, goals and records can all be measured.
But what about the intangibles?
The things we can’t measure, the feelings that Coppinger exudes to the Rovers crowd each time he puts on the red and white, the individual memories Coppinger has given to each Rovers fan.
Those small, and sometimes insignificant to the result, moments of awe that make you look at the stranger next to you and make the universal facial expression of ‘did you just see that?!’.
The Southend hat-trick.
The Brentford winner.
Amongst my favourites stand out two moments.
Coppinger scored the leveller against Rotherham in the last South Yorkshire derby at the Keepmoat in 2019.
Although the goal wasn’t Coppinger’s cleanest connection with the ball, you couldn’t find a single Donny fan that didn’t feel connected to one another as the stadium erupted, but it was Coppinger’s celebration that stuck with me.
Fate hasn’t allowed Rovers and Rotherham to cross paths too many times in Coppinger’s career.
As the ball bobbled over the line in front of the South Stand you could almost feel that Coppinger knew a derby leveller was one of the few milestones he was yet to reach in a Rovers shirt.
Adrenaline flowing and arms spread wide, Coppinger began to race over to the away end to celebrate and duly become the bullseye of every Rotherham fans’ dartboard.
However, the south goal to the away end is a fair distance and before Coppinger had even reached the halfway line he came to an abrupt stop.
I like to think that as Coppinger’s adrenaline wore off, his class kicked in and he thought twice about rubbing the Rotherham fans’ noses in it.
Passion accompanied with dignity. A small embodiment of Coppinger’s long Rovers career.
My second most cherished memory came against Burton last season.
Rovers goalkeeper Seny Dieng rushed out from his goal to clear a loose ball and prevent a Burton attack.
Dieng thumped the ball clear but caught it too cleanly and the ball was travelling fast, low and seemingly forever parallel to the earth’s surface at knee height, on course for either Coppinger or a Burton attacker to pounce upon in the Doncaster half.
Dieng far from his goal, there was an obvious sense of panic in the air at the Keepmoat.
Coppinger, with a Burton attacker breathing down his neck and a ball soaring towards him like a bullet, managed in one David Blaine-esque touch to stop the bullet mid-flight as he controlled the ball and clipped it over the Burton attacker.
The ball, confused as to why all the g-force has suddenly dissipated, arched over the Burton player through the air and, as Coppinger pirouetted 180 degrees on one of the many sixpences he presumably spreads across the Keepmoat turf before each game, landed gracefully on his toe.
Coppinger then calmly strode forward and played a trademark measured through ball as butterflies appeared and birdsong was heard in what now appeared to be a different universe to the panicked Keepmoat of a few seconds before.
Once I’d picked my jaw out of my Bovril, I was left thinking what an injustice it is that these moments of awe that Coppinger regularly leaves behind to us lucky few are not filmed at every angle, compilated and posted on YouTube for us all to watch and re-watch.
For my money, if that particular moment was captured, it would rival any clip of the world’s biggest stars.
Beyond the eras he has helped define and beyond the memories, there also lies what Coppinger has come to represent for Doncaster Rovers. Our identity.
Being a Rovers fan, we’ve always felt a bit different to the others.
Our identity has always seemed unique. We were the laughing stock of the country. Then we were the pub team having a laugh. We became the Arsenal of the North.
For the last decade, I have identified the Rovers with being the club that defies modern football, the club that evokes old fashioned values of heritage and loyalty. Coppinger’s club.
There are certainties in life, aren’t there?
As his final season draws out, Coppinger’s involvement at the Keepmoat on a Saturday afternoon may be becoming less certain.
But what is certain is his place in our history, the identity he has helped form, the many memories that are destined to become folklore, to be passed down by Rovers old timers in rocking chairs to kids and grandkids.
‘Did you just see that?’ Yes, we are the lucky ones that did.
What are your best memories of James Coppinger? Do you think he should play on for one more season? And how do you think Doncaster Rovers should honour him once he hangs up his boots?
Get involved in the conversation and let us know your thoughts. Email [email protected]