Last week saw the likes of Alan Shearer, David Ginola, Andrei Shevchenko, Paulo Maldini and Franco Baresi get together to celebrate Steve Harper’s career that took in 20 years at Newcastle United. First and foremost the proceeds for this testimonial went to Great North Children’s Hospital, the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and the Newcastle United Foundation, so it’s for more than worthy causes (apart from the latter one! *INSERT WINKING EMOTICON HERE*), which is the main thing. And Harper deserves one for being at the club so long.
But for a man who must have spent a massive amount of time dedicating his life to football as a kid and beyond to get anywhere near a place in Newcastle’s team, to then virtually squander a career on the bench – apart from the club’s 2009-10 Championship campaign - is pretty sad.
I don’t think it’s anybody’s business to question the ambitions of another person, whether it’s someone settling for a role at Tesco’s for life, or Matthew Le Tissier staying at Southampton when he could have joined any number of top clubs that were winning trophies. It’s up to them, but Steve Harper is a footballer, that’s what he does. He was there, he was in, he had beaten millions of people to get in that Newcastle squad (millions when you take into account how many youngsters play football dreaming of doing it for a living, whatever club it is), and for that, we should applaud him. But he didn’t make the most of it.
We all have dreams and ambitions and most of us fail at them, but Harper had both feet already in his dream world. He was working hard in training, and he could have joined a number of other clubs, but he basically had a free season ticket for Newcastle in all his time there. Most football supporters would train with the stars and sit on the bench for free, so in that sense, Harper is a winner compared to most of us football fans, but in terms of a first-team football career, his has been virtually non-existent.
Harper has said that he thought about leaving St. James’ Park under Bobby Robson, but was coaxed into staying by the former England manager who said he would give him more first team football. You can understand that being told this by Robson of all people would make him want to stay at his home town club, but how about all the years since then? (Robson departed in 2004).
He’d already been there 11 years aching his arse off on numerous benches by the end of Robson’s reign. If you take into account Manchester United’s famous Youth Cup winning side of 1992 – Giggs, Beckham, Scholes an’ all – some of those players didn’t even make it at lower level. Harper must have had something going for him considering a succession of managers at Newcastle (18 including four in an interim role) kept him at the club throughout all those years; which would indicate that if he was good enough to be a number two/number three keeper throughout that time, he undoubtedly had the ability to have had a solid career in one of the three tiers below the Premiership at least. He must feel at least a tinge of embarrassment at the fact he didn’t broaden his footballing horizons and go to a club where he would receive regular football.
Number two and three goalkeepers are vital for back-up at clubs – it’s a squad game after all – so he was needed, but they usually leave once it’s apparent they will never make that number one spot their own. If he became first choice keeper for another side then the second and third choice ones at that club would bide their time for a period, but not 20 years! They would move on because that’s the nature of football and competition.
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