Benwell Lad Posted February 16, 2009 Share Posted February 16, 2009 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/premier_league/newcastle/article5740488.ece Sixteen years in the making, this is an interview with Steve Harper who, for the first time since joining Newcastle United as a teenager, can view himself as the club’s No 1 goalkeeper; no nagging fear, no dispute, no looming disappointment. His has been a peculiar career — almost played out backwards — that has encompassed much and yet is only just beginning. A rare sort of footballer; able and erudite, passionate about his heritage, a qualified referee, trainee coach, well-read and informed, Harper’s greatest professional misfortune has also been a blessing. Intense competition with Shay Given was mirrored by a close, enduring friendship, but his rival has now departed for Manchester City. This is Harper’s story, relayed over a cappuccino and a muffin at a café inside St James’ Park last week. It had been another relentless few days at Newcastle, a pivotal victory over West Bromwich Albion followed by the distressing news that Joe Kinnear, the club’s second manager this season, required heart surgery. It is a familiar Geordie maelstrom. Welcome to the asylum “If a Martian landed and I had to explain what this club was all about, I’d say ‘jump on the rollercoaster and enjoy the ride’,” Harper, 33, said. “There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground — you are either at the top of the slope or at the bottom of the dip and we need to aim for the middle ground for a bit. “This season the circumstances have been different, but you get the feeling it’s all happened before; when things pick up, there’s a built-in self-destruct button. It needs eradicating. But I wake up every morning and tell myself, ‘when this place is right, it’ll take off’.” Half player, half quiz question Harper has appeared in the top five divisions in English football (either for Newcastle or on loan at Hartlepool United, Huddersfield Town, Bradford City and Gateshead), graced the Champions League, the Uefa Cup, the Intertoto Cup, the Carling Cup and an FA Cup Final. “I could chuck in Seaham Red Star in the Northern League, too,” he said. He made his league debut at Valley Parade in 1995. “I was 20, but the television commentator referred to me as ‘25-year-old Steve Parker’.” All this time later, he has started only 111 league games. “I’m 34 next month, but I’m like a low-mileage car,” he said. “No previous owner, plenty of petrol left in the tank.” Black and white and read all over A place studying sports science at Liverpool’s John Moores University was deferred when Newcastle first offered Harper a contract. Family commitments later curtailed an Open University course. He is a voracious reader. “Autobiographies mainly,” he said. “I read Barack Obama’s Audacity of Hope. I’m not hugely political, but the world feels like a safer place.” A future in management does not appeal. Yet. “I’m a thinker,” he said, “I’d find it hard to switch off. I’d be scared of it enveloping me.” But he, Given and Michael Owen recently completed their Level 2 coaching qualification and he will begin his Uefa B badge in September. He has co-commentated adroitly for Radio 5 Live. Until a few years ago, he refereed on Sunday mornings. A brief snatch of conversation, last Wednesday evening Question: Do you ever watch England and think ‘that could be me?’ Answer: “Everybody dreams of playing for their country, but I can’t see it happening,” Harper said. “David James has the shirt and he’s the only one around who’s older than me. I’m not in the system. Somebody said I was 9-2 or 3-1 to play for England. I’d give you 300-1.” A former England manager responds Sir Bobby Robson, yesterday, said: “Steve is streets ahead of most other Englishmen in his position. “He’s a good man, a North East man and he loves Newcastle. ” A miner’s son, a nurse’s son “I’m an Easington lad and proud,” Harper said. “I lived there until I was 23 and I still visit my mum and dad most weekends. I pop into the local pub now and again. Easington gets tarred with the brush of poverty and unemployment, but when the main industry is ripped out of a town, it’s going to struggle. “My dad was a miner, a fitter on the trains until the pit closed \. I remember waiting outside the colliery gates for him to finish his shift and then walking home. I remember the miners’ strike, how tough it was for everyone. But my parents were fantastic. My mum worked two nights a week; I was an only child and never wanted for anything.” A County Durham town, Easington has divided loyalties: Sunderland and Newcastle. As a boy, Harper watched both, interspersed with trips to Hartlepool, but followed Liverpool. “Barry, my cousin, is a passionate Newcastle supporter,” he said. “Fanatical, travels home and away, has ‘NUFC’ tattooed inside his bottom lip.” Black night, white light “I had three or four wilderness years, when I hardly played and that was the hardest point of my career,” Harper said. “It was a dark, difficult time and I really struggled. You doubt yourself, you forget what it’s like to play, you get stuck in a rut. It all turned around in horrible circumstances, when Shay was injured in a challenge with Marlon Harewood at Upton Park \, but it gave me an opportunity and I played 25 games that season.” One accusation that rankles? The ambition thing. “Ask any of the managers who have been here in my time — and there’s been about 100 — and they’ll all tell you that I’ve always knocked on the door and asked to play,” Harper said. “But I haven’t done it publicly, I haven’t slagged anybody off or started fights in training.” Should I stay or should I go? “My contract was up at the end of this season and after Kevin Keegan left, talks about a new one dried up,” Harper said. “Bosman transfers are fantastic if you’re young and playing regularly, but if you’re 33, have a family and a mortgage and haven’t played a lot of football, you’re conscious of injury and being in the pool of unemployed players. There was speculation about Shay and I wanted to see what happened in January. Tottenham offered half a million for me, which was flattering, but as it turned out, I signed my deal, Shay left and I’m still here.” Back to the future “I’d never take anything for granted, but hopefully this is my time. It’s up to me to grasp the moment, to play as many games as possible between now and the end of my career. This is all I’ve ever wanted.” (Goal)keeper of the flame Like Alan Shearer, like Given, Harper is intertwined with Newcastle’s soul. “I have seen it all here,” he said. “It’s a special place, with special fans. We’ve got to stay up and then start again. Stability and Newcastle aren’t words that go together, but it’s what we’re crying out for.” Amid all the mayhem, the club nestles in safe hands. Link to post Share on other sites More sharing options...
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