Doncaster Rovers: ‘Being stripped of captaincy was hard to take’ – James Coppinger on having to prove himself all over again

James Coppinger
James Coppinger

Life as a 37-year-old League One footballer means one thing for James Coppinger – constantly proving yourself.

The fact he has consistently been one of Doncaster Rovers’ top performers over the last few years has little bearing on that fact.

In typically forthright fashion, as he sat down for his latest media outing, Coppinger laid bare the challenges of continuing a Football League career long after most players hang up the boots.

Top of the list of tests according to the talismanic forward is convincing managers that you remain worthy of a place in their squads from the day they arrive at the club.

“For me, in that situation, I’m starting again,” he said.

“When you’re in your 30s and a new manager comes in, straight away you have to prove yourself. Prove that you’re fit enough and capable of competing with the younger members of the squad.

“I remember Darren Ferguson coming in and immediately saying that he wasn’t going to accept anyone over 30 that isn’t putting it in, isn't going to be fit enough. If you’re not doing it, you’re going to go was the message.

“That always stuck with me and I liked it. 

“It gave me the motivation to go and prove a point.

“I’m the only one still here who he said that to. There was five or six other players in that room and they’ve all gone.”

In terms of staying power, there are few as successful as Coppinger, who turns 38 in January.

After another superb season last term, he swept the board at the club’s awards ceremony.

But he says that meant very little when Grant McCann replaced Darren Ferguson as manager in the summer.

“When the manager came in, it was the same again,” Coppinger said.

“He stripped the captaincy off me and dropped me after the first game.

“It was hard to take because I got player of the season last season, fans’ player of the season, players’ player of the season.

“Although I am 37, that took me away from that. It was a bit judgemental.

“But I understand it because I understand that I am 37.

“He came in as new manager and I’d missed ten days of pre-season so he was probably looking at me thinking ‘he can’t do it.’

“Again, I like that because I have to prove something.

“It keeps me on my toes, it gives me motivation to say ‘you know what, I’m not finished. I’m nowhere near finished. I want to contribute and fight for my place.’

“The game after he dropped me I was back in and I think I’ve started or been involved in every game since.”

Though enjoying the task of proving himself time and again, one thing Coppinger did not appreciate was being left to wait for news of his future in the summer.

Out-of-contract, he insists he was not offered concrete terms until June, when he agreed to another season with Rovers – though it seems Coppinger’s situation and phenomenal popularity may have been used as a bargaining chip in Ferguson’s bid for a larger playing budget.

It is a scenario Coppinger hopes to avoid next summer and he has been vocal in suggesting the club hierarchy need to sort of player futures sooner rather than later.

“Last season I didn't know whether I was going to be here this year,” he said. “I didn’t play the last two or three games because I was out of contract.

“As far as I was concerned I didn’t get offered a contract until June.

“It was hard for me to take personally but I’m not going to go on about it.

“It does play a part in my life, in what I do and where I go in terms of the next step for me.”

Questions on retirement have been ever-present for Coppinger over the last few years but he currently does not see the end of his playing career coming any time soon.

After a long and successful career so far, he insists finances and job security are not his main priorities but rather the enjoyment factor – which is something he is experiencing in spades this season at Rovers.

Whether that continues, ultimately, is a decision which will be made by the club.

“It won’t be up to me,” he said, before joking: “I imagine I might get a call in June or whenever.

“It's different for me to an extent. My motivation, going over 35, isn’t about money.

“I’m not going to get more money at 37. I’m not going to get a longer contract at 37.

“By me doing well every week, the motivation isn’t for a longer contract or more money.

“It’s because I want to try to help other players. That is what motivates me really.

“My kids are a massive motivation. I love going home and talking to them about the game and I love them coming to watch me.

“Little things like that are more of a motivation.

“Contracts to an extend aren’t massive for me but they play a big part in a successful team.”