Coppinger finds grass just as green while wearing red

HAPPY: Doncaster Rovers' James Coppinger, right.
HAPPY: Doncaster Rovers' James Coppinger, right.
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IT IS no surprise that after passing so many milestones in his glorious decade at Doncaster Rovers that James Coppinger is now struggling to keep up with them all.

The midfielder, who joined from Exeter in May 2004, has sampled plenty. Title success, Wembley promotion, Johnstone’s Paint Trophy glory, a thrilling League Cup run, a ground move.

You name it, he has probably done it in the red and white hoops of Rovers.

His 400th Rovers’ appearance – which will see him join a select band of players to achieve that feat – beckons, although he is not quite sure when it will be.

Records show his current total stands at 390 so, all being well, his special day will come in the game against Bolton at the Keepmoat Stadium on April 8.

His 300th league start with Rovers is also on the horizon, with the 33-year-old on 297 – that milestone could be reached in the home game with Huddersfield next month.

Coppinger, who along with Alick Jeffrey, Harry Gregg, Charlie Williams and Billy Sharp was shortlisted as the club’s greatest-ever player in a vote to mark the Football League’s 125th anniversary – said: “I know I am coming up to 400 games and that will be a massive achievement.

“It will be averaging 40 games a season over 10 years since I have been here, which is a good return from someone in my position.”

He added: “I have so many memories. I still remember the days at Belle Vue with the Portakabins at one end which were executive boxes. It was a fantastic place to play and the pitch was unbelievable.

“Before we moved, we used to do pre-season where the little mountains are next to the Keepmoat. We used to look down and Dave (Penney) used to say, ‘That’s where the new ground is going to go’. The lads would be saying, ‘Yeah, good one’.

Coppinger is one of the club’s last links from the Belle Vue days – he played in the final game there against Nottingham Forest on December 23, 2006 and the Keepmoat opener versus Huddersfield on January 1, 2007.

Yet those games do not scratch the surface regarding his joyous time at Rovers, who he joined with a bit to prove.

Coppinger, who struck twice in Saturday’s draw with Barnsley, and is seen, right, being congratulated by Chris Brown, said: “Dave Penney took the punt to sign me for £30,000 and I think at the time Jermaine McSporran was the other right-sider and he was a bit more renowned. For me, it was about rebuilding my career.

”I remember Dave put me in touch with a psychologist and it helped my career massively. I went from strength to strength individually and so did the team.“

He nurses one regret, that the side which entranced the Championship and League One with their football did not stick together to enable Rovers to potentially follow in the footsteps of Swansea and Blackpool by reaching the top flight.

On his highs, he said: “Brentford last season (the promotion clincher) was absolutely outrageous, you couldn’t write the script. Even when I watch it now, I can’t believe it happened. Like with the Leeds (play-off final)game at Wembley.

“My father-in law is a West Ham fan and to get the equaliser against them in 2012 was also a highlight, as was the play-off hat-trick against Southend in 2008.

“But I do think we could have got into the (Championship) play-offs if we’d kept our players and added a couple. We’d play some games and get clapped off the pitch. I remember beating Millwall away once and their fans gave us a standing ovation when we were warming down.

“The likes of Paul Green went and then Matt Mills, Richie (Wellens) and Jason Shackell. I speak to the lads who went and sometimes the grass isn’t greener, even though you might be getting more money and playing for a better club.

“You want to be happy and enjoying your football. Looking back, I think we didn’t realise how good we were.

“I had chances to go (permanently), but it would have been a burden to move on when I didn’t really need to.

“The club progressed with me and everything I got out of football, Doncaster could offer me.”