James Coppinger recounts drinking and gambling issues which threatened his career before Doncaster Rovers arrival
Watching James Coppinger now, it is almost impossible to imagine there ever being a period when a long and successful career could easily have slipped away.
His 39th birthday will come next month, and is only four matches shy of his 650th appearance for Rovers.
Coppinger’s running stats in both training and on matchdays continue to confound expectation and logic, even before his contribution to Rovers’ attacking play is taken into consideration.
But his career in league football would almost certainly have been over a long time ago had he continued down the destructive path he was on after joining Exeter City from Newcastle United in 2002.
Coppinger first laid bare the struggles of his early professional career in an interview with the Free Press last year.
Speaking to The Sun this week, Coppinger again recounted how he fell into a pattern of drinking and gambling as he adjusted to life at the other end of the country from where he had grown up.
“I used to do the maximum £500 stakes, hefty amounts,” he said, describing the use of gambling machines in bookmakers shops.
“It all started when one of the lads and I went into a bookie. He had two pound coins on him, put them in and won £90. We were thinking, ‘This is unbelievable’ and spent an entire afternoon there. Then we went in the following day and it became a regular thing. We were hooked.
“We started with £2, then £10, £50, £100 and finally the maximum £500.”
When it came to drinking, it was a similarly innocuous slide out of control for Coppinger.
He said: “We’d train then go out for a meal because, back then, we didn’t get fed at the training ground.
“The boys would go into town to eat and, before you know it, it turned into a night out.
“You would end up going into training the next day not feeling great. It got out of hand. I was a professional athlete and was living a student lifestyle. I ended up calling my mum to tell her what happened. It was a rough time for me and I had no support.”
On his time with Newcastle – which saw him handed a single Premier League appearance under Sir Bobby Robson – Coppinger feels he failed to acknowledge the tremendous opportunity he had been given.
“I was too young and naive to appreciate where I was at that time,” he said. “I almost didn’t believe I should be there. It wasn’t real for me. I was just playing football. I didn’t see it as a job. I never applied myself as well as I should have.”