Former Swindon Town favourite Paul Caddis has heaped praise on Mark Cooper for the “miraculous” job he’s done in leading the Robins to the League One Play-Off Final at Wembley on Sunday.
Town are currently putting in the hard-yards on the training ground ahead of their biggest game of the season against Preston North End at the weekend, with the prize of Championship football in 2015/16 the prize on offer for the victors.
It is perhaps fair to say that it is remarkable that the Robins have even reached Wembley, with a glut of pre-season predictions tipping Cooper’s young outfit to face a long battle against relegation.
Instead, Town spent the majority of the 2014/15 campaign inside the top six and even led the division for a short period, and they are now just one game away from making a long-awaited return to English football’s second tier.
And, Caddis – who made 88 outings for the Robins during his four-year stay at The County Ground – knows Cooper well with the two living close to each other in Birmingham and has revealed his admiration for the job the Robins’ Chief has carried out at SN1 this term.
“For myself, from a personal point of view, I would be delighted to see Swindon go up,” the Birmingham City defender told FLIC SPORT.
“I always look out for their results and Mark Cooper lives just around the corner from me, so I see Coops quite a lot and I still keep in contact with him.
“I see him quite a lot and I got on really well with Coops.
“I think what he’s done this year has been absolutely miraculous – at the start of the season they didn’t have a lot of players, they brought in a team full of young lads and I think Coops has maybe not got the praise that he deserves.
“I think a lot of people forget that. It’s easy because they’ve been up there for the majority of the season so people with their expectations expect that to happen every week, but I think sometimes you’ve just got to take a step back and look at the start of the season and look at what Coops had to play with, what they’ve had to bring in and what they’ve had to work with day by day.
“When you get a lot of young players – I know myself playing at Birmingham there is a player called Demarai Gray who is a fantastic talent, but you don’t always get the consistency from those players.
“I think Coops has managed to maintain that so I think all credit goes to Coops and obviously the players of course, but he’s the man that will take the flak if it doesn’t go well.”
Caddis scored five goals in 50 outings in all competitions as Town – under the guidance of Paolo Di Canio – stormed to the League Two title during the 2011/12 campaign.
Whilst he captained the Robins to glory in the league, the former Celtic defender did endure heartbreak as an ankle injury prevented him from leading his team out at Wembley in the JPT Final defeat to Chesterfield – experiences at either end of the spectrum that Caddis shared with FLIC SPORT.
“It was a remarkable season and it was so full of good memories, we got relegated the year before so there was a big turnover of players that year.
“(Paolo) Di Canio came in and we had a very strong squad that season, it was a real tight squad and I still talk to a lot of them off the pitch, so I think that went a long way as well.
“The first month wasn’t great but I think that was just down to us getting to know the manager and the manager getting to know us, we did a lot of work on the training field in pre-season that set the standards and results showed that in the end.
“Personally, it was a great achievement with being the captain as well for the majority of the season. It would have been easy for me to leave after we got relegated but I didn’t do that because I felt Swindon gave me a start in professional football and I wanted to stay and show that loyalty – it paid off in the end.
“The build-up (to the JPT Final Wembley) was great but at that moment in time I was just thinking about trying to get back. I tried everything – I went to oxygen chambers, I tried all sorts of treatment to try and get myself fit, I had an injection but that didn’t work so I was disappointed that I couldn’t make it.
“It would have been great to play at Wembley but I was still there on the day, I was in the dressing room and I was still 100 per cent behind the boys.
“I was hopeful that we could get a result but unfortunately we didn’t – these things happen in football, the league is your bread and butter and we managed to go on and win the league.”
Despite having not taken part in the end-of-season play-offs, Caddis is no stranger to playing in big game situations having played against Barcelona in the Champions League for Celtic and later going on to score the goal that kept Birmingham in the Championship last season.
With that experience in mind, Caddis was quick to dish out some advice to the current crop of Town players on how best to deal with the pressure of playing on a big stage.
“First and foremost I think you’ve just got to embrace it, you live to play in these big games and they go in a flash so just enjoy it whilst you can and make the most of it,” Caddis continued.
“Just enjoy the occasion and do what they’ve been doing all season – they need to do what they’ve been doing all season and I really believe that they can do it.
“It takes a couple of weeks to sink in but they will look back on it and treasure it for the rest of their lives.
“The situation is bigger but the game is still the same, you still need to put the ball in the back of the net and everything still happens.
“The manager and the people inside of the club will keep the players calm and I think that’s important.”
Finally, Caddis has admitted that he is keeping his fingers crossed that his good friend Nathan Thompson can shake off injury and lead his boyhood club out at Wembley on Sunday.
“I spoke to Wes (Foderingham) recently and I still speak to Nathan as well, so I was delighted to see the lads do well, especially the two Thompson brothers because they’ve been there from a young age and they know what it’s all about.
“I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that Nathan makes it because there is nobody that deserves to make the final as captain of the club then Nathan.
“Wes was pivotal for us that season (2011/12), he was absolutely massive for us and I always said that Wes and Paul Benson were two massive factors for us that season.
“Wes was fantastic for us and, no disrespect to Swindon, but I think Wes knows himself that he can play at a very high level.”