James Coppinger interview: 'Doncaster is my second home, it means everything'
Saying goodbye was never going to be easy in the case of James Coppinger and Doncaster Rovers.
A 17 year career, packed with moments of glory and triumph over adversity will be brought to an end on Sunday afternoon. The day that all associated with the club have been dreading for a long time.
Circumstances have dictated that the house will not be anywhere near as full as it should be, but there will still not be a dry eye in the Keepmoat as the club’s all time record appearance maker bids farewell to a truly iconic playing career.
The thought of the end has brought emotional outpouring from supporters, and Coppinger himself in particular.
“It’s an emotional thing,” he told the Free Press this week. “I’ve done this since I left school at 16 so for it to end, I don’t mind getting emotional.
“It’s not something you can switch on and off.
“It’s tough. It’s been my life for so long and I don’t really talk about the end and what it’s going to look like or feel like.
“When you start talking about it and envisaging it, it’s tough, as much as I am excited about the next stage.
“I’ve loved football and I’ve loved winning, the competing, the disappointments.
“I’ve loved getting through disappointments, setbacks, challenges - I’ve loved it all.”
Coppinger’s career at Rovers is never likely to be matched. In modern football, tenures of even half of 17 years are incredibly rare.
And there are the promotions, the relegations, cup runs, triumphs, surviving ill-fated ‘experiments’ and always, in the end, proving himself to be one of the most vital cogs in the Rovers machine.
Summing up the tenure is never going to be easy. But Coppinger says the adversity he has experienced has been as important for him as the success.
“It’s really tough to sum up that many memories,” he said. “I’ve played with so many good players and managers, coaches.
“It’s been a journey. It’s not all been good. There have been relegations, albeit bouncing back. I think the first two at the first time of asking and that for me defines how successful you can be,
“I had an opportunity when I first came to Doncaster to leave because I wasn’t performing, just before the Man City game [Carling Cup in 2005].
“I could have gone to Rotherham on loan.
“I dug in and I made sure I found a way of getting in the team.
“And I feel like whenever that has been thrust upon me or I’ve had a setback or difficulties, I’ve been able to use my mentality and make sure I get through it.
“It’s a big thing for me. People always talk about the memories and the good times but I’ve had some down times, some frustrating times and disappointing times.
“I like to think I’ve found a way of getting through them and making myself a better person.
“It’s been an up and down process but one I’ll never forget.
“Doncaster is my second home.”
It will be a fact of life for Coppinger that he will forever be associated with Rovers. Arguably only the name of Alick Jeffrey brings as much of an affiliation with the club.
He has worked here for the best part of two decades but he has also lived here and made connections both personal and symbolic that will last beyond his own lifetime.
“It means everything - 17 years is a long, long time,” he said.
“I’ve absolutely loved being part of the club. The values and the way it goes about its business is exactly the way I live my life.
“What they’ve done in and for the community in all the time I’ve been there is massive.
“The difference you can make in people’s lives, the loyal, local supporters who are there week in and week out, it’s their life as much as it is my life.
“I’ve had a huge connection with those people. That is what football is about.
“It’s not just what you see on the pitch. It’s all through the week and how you can inspire young kids and young players.
“I go on Zoom calls with young fans and I genuinely enjoy it because the club means so much to me and I can see how much it does for them.
“I want to inspire and get it out there and how good the club is. I like to think that people can see that and I’m not putting it on, or just saying it.
“It’s difficult to sum it up. It’s more than just football is how I’d sum it up.”
The major absence from Sunday’s send off will be supporters, with Covid-19 restrictions denying those that have sung his name one last chance to do so in a competitive game, and Coppinger admits it will be disappointing and frustrating for them to be absent.
The tears will no doubt flow either way. But despite admitting he has wobbled several times on his retirement decision in the last 12 months, Coppinger is at peace with the end of his playing career.
“I feel good,” he said. “I feel excited for the next chapter and the next part of my life.
“I am feeling more excited than disappointed or sad.
“I almost couldn’t have timed it any better.
“It’d have been nice to have the fans there but it is what it is and I cannot control that.
“At the start of the season I genuinely thought they would be back by January.
“It’s a little bit frustrating but for me personally the time is right.”