On watching James Coppinger
Some thoughts and words on what James Coppinger means to me, on the day he becomes Doncaster Rovers all-time record appearance holder.
It’s a tough ask. To sum up what your favourite footballer means to you in a few hundred words or so.
Perhaps the simple fact that I can have a favourite footballer at all at the age of thirty-two says much in itself. Favourite footballers, much like favourite colours or favourite Power Rangers, are things you’re supposed to grow out of; left behind on the playground like a forgotten jumper for a goalpost. But that hasn’t happened. Instead, even now, if asked who my favourite player is the answer, in a heartbeat, is James Coppinger.
I’ve been watching Coppinger for a more than a third of my life; a factor more constant to me than home, or employment or relationships. Ten addresses, eight jobs, three girlfriends; but wherever life has taken me, from LN6 to SE4 and everything in between, there has always been the same number 26. Of course familiarity can breed fondness of its own, but Coppinger has always offered much more than just a regular fixture.
There are great noises in football. The collective ‘GOO-ARN’ when an old school winger gets beyond his full-back is one; the deep throated booming roar that greets a vital goal (both of which are evident in this clip), or the ‘WHEY’ that can’t be helped when a ballboy falls over, or a fan heads the ball back. My favourite though, is the inexorable crowd-wide ‘AAHHH’ that greats a perfectly executed bit of skill. The footwork of Coppinger has instigated that noise more than any other player in my Rovers supporting life-time. Just think about the times he has effortlessly cushioned a ball as it drops from a typically stratospheric third tier clearance, or left players trailing in his wake with one simple side-step. Coppinger has, and I make no exaggeration here, the best touch of any footballer outside the top flight.
Of course people have complained that he hasn’t always followed those touches with the perfect cross, or the telling finish – indeed I’ve even joked about it myself. But if he did, and every game for Coppinger had been like that night against Southend, then we’d have seen him in a Rovers shirt about 400-less times than we have. Perhaps he could have been more, perhaps he could’ve played higher if he wanted to, but as Rovers fans we should all be hugely grateful that he hasn’t. In my time watching Rovers there have only been a handful of players who I’ve been desperate to see given chance to do something. Players where, the moment the ball falls at their feet, I’ve found myself intrinsically craning forward on a terrace, or leaning forward in my seat in eager anticipation of what they will do next. Billy Sharp in his first spell was one, Michael McIndoe another, Franny Tierney too and to an extent Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, but chief among them always and now is James Coppinger.
It dawned on me last summer, when it was suggested that he might move on, that I would be more crestfallen by the prospect of not seeing Coppinger in a Rovers shirt again, than I had been about Rovers’ relegation to League One.
Following football, I find, is an increasingly staid pastime. So great has become the emphasis on finance and achievement that the joy and nonsense of it all, that first hooked me in, seemingly fade further away each time I step through the turnstile. Coppinger, thankfully, keeps that joy alive. A talented yet humble player who gets what it’s all about, this football thing, for you as much as for him. And a player whose mere presence on a football pitch is enough to have me beaming like my six-year-old self being told it’s chips for tea.
by Glen Wilson