Harper’s Testimonial Lifts the Tyneside Mood
It was like Disneyland - the great and good of Newcastle United coming together on a special night to pay tribute to a goalkeeper who remained loyal to the black and white cause. Thank you Steve Harper.
September 13th, 2013
When the transfer window closed ten days ago there was real doom and gloom on Tyneside. It was more disappointment for fans under the Mike Ashley regime, with the inevitable failure of Director of Football Joe Kinnear to bring in much-needed reinforcements. On Wednesday night however, fans were given a reminder of the good times. The likes of Shearer, Ferdinand, Cole, Asprilla, Beardsley, Ginola, Nolan and Barton turned out to face an AC Milan Glorie XI led by Italy legend Franco Baresi, and featuring Sunderland manager Paulo Di Canio. No sign of Ashley or Kinnear in the crowd, but more than 50,000 Toon fans did their bit for charity by turning up for Harper’s testimonial. It was a fantastic occasion – an evening where the current plight of the club was forgotten to hail heroes from the past.
So, how will Newcastle fans remember Steve Harper? Well, for the majority he will go down as a good guy. Harper spent 20 years at the club and played around 180 games. He was desperately unlucky not to play more often with Pavel Srníček, Shaka Hislop, Shay Given and Tim Krul keeping hold of the number one jersey. However, Harps deputised well, and put in a real shift when he was called upon. His affinity for the club cannot be questioned. He has the respect of fans and fellow professionals as one of football’s nice guys. The fact that he brought together such an array of talent – Toon players past and present from around the world on one stage for a charity match says it all about the 38-year-old.
A minority of fans, however, will always ask questions. Why didn’t Harper leave for first team football? Was he too comfortable? Was he ever good enough to be a number one at another big club? Harper can’t win. The fans love loyalty, yet question the motives of a player who has sacrificed his career for the club. On the eve of Harper’s testimonial, one such fan said to me that if Harper was foreign we would describe him a “mercenary”. However, because he’s from the North East and “robbed the club of a living” we prefer to use the word “loyal”. I think that’s harsh. Harper himself had the opportunity to leave the Tyneside club on several occasions but was told by managers to stay because he was needed. I think it’s important to appreciate the player’s impact both on and off the field. Several managers down the years have hailed the leadership qualities of Harper. He may not have been our best goalkeeper, but having someone of his experience around the place clearly meant something to his bosses.
The morning after the testimonial it was back to reality. This is Ashley’s Newcastle United, with Kinnear as Director of Football and Alan Pardew as manager. Our wafer-thin squad is vulnerable to injuries and the owner doesn’t feel the need to spend, nor show any ambition. It’s a sad state of affairs, but a reality all Toon fans must accept. The show must go on. Aston Villa are the hosts on Saturday and thankfully it looks like our only signing of the window – Loic Remy – will start. The start to the season has been stable, even if unconvincing. Here’s hoping for a positive performance and result at Villa Park. Howay NUFC.
Umar Farooq, Editor – NUFCfans.co.uk