FAN PANEL: 'Copps, you became one of us. You will always be one of us' - Daniel Nice
They say you always remember the first time. It was the August Bank Holiday of 2004 when I first saw James Coppinger in the red and white.
Little did I know what was to follow. Blonde flowing locks and silky skills down the right wing, he looked a player that could bring a smile and win us some tight games such as that one, a 2-1 win against Huddersfield Town.
But I was actually witnessing someone who would become one of our all-time greats; wonderfully capable on the ball but also a hard-working, dedicated footballer who would get close to both 700 appearances and 100 goals and be a key part of the greatest era in the club’s history under Sean O’Driscoll.
A supremely gifted player who would grace a brand new stadium as we moved on from dear old Belle Vue. Someone who would be part of three promotions and stick with us after the relegations.
Now the sad reality as I type is that the finishing line is in sight. When you look at it rationally, it had to stop at some point. However, when you’re still chopping unsuspecting full backs, still bending in 25-yard free-kicks, appear to be the head of your own ‘One More Year’ committee, and when you also consider football at this level is as much about the heart as the head, we thought it would never come to an end.
But like all good things, it must.
As Glen Wilson from Popular Stand fanzine once put it, when you look at all of those big moments over the last couple of decades, you’ll see Coppinger in the frame.
The James Hayter Wembley winner, Graeme Lee’s bullet header in Cardiff, the Southend hat-trick, Andy Butler at the back post at The Valley, that Brentford goal. Oh THAT Brentford goal.
Copps has become synonymous with success at Doncaster Rovers but so much more than that as well.
When you support a club like Donny it simply has to go beyond winning and losing on a Saturday afternoon or Tuesday evening. It has to be about the people of the town, the community work, the school visits, having a sense of team spirit and the right attitude.
It is about perspiration as much as inspiration; running that extra yard to help a teammate, battling on the freezing December afternoons like it’s the first sunny Saturday.
It is about playing your last minute for the club in May 2021 like it was your first in August 2004.
It is about the representation of our people on the pitch. Copps, you became one of us. You will always be one of us.
We have run out of superlatives and there are few words that remain unsaid. It has been a privilege to watch. It has been our pleasure.
You will mean more to us than you’ll ever know. You will always be my favourite player, you will always be our number twenty-six.
You will never be far away from conversations about Doncaster Rovers. When a good friend of mine asks, as he always does: ‘How are Donny doing – is James Coppinger still playing?’ I will, with a heavy heart, have to say no for the first time.
They say you always remember the first time. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for all of the memories.