The phrase; a great servant to the club, is firmly cemented into the football cliché phrasebook. However, with player loyalty playing a diminishing role in the modern game, it’s not too often it can be applied to a footballer as comfortably as Steve Harper.
Now, the naysayers will inevitably ask why a player with so little playing time in such a long spell at one club deserves a testimonial, all the adulation which followed, and that the glorified benchwarmer is simply feeding his egotistical professional footballer-self. These people need to have a quiet word with themselves. After stating a need for first team action on a number of occasions, Harper battled for a starting spot throughout his tenure, while competing with some of the best keepers the North East has seen. Not only is there one less Englishmen in the dressing room, but a passionate NUFC fan who understands and appreciates fully what it means to play for Newcastle. Whether you want to question Harper’s ambition and beliefs is your own choice. However, to grace St James’ every fortnight for two decades isn’t the ultimate kop out. If raising over half a million for three vital North East charities in one night is egotistical, then we should blow more smoke up player’s arses, staging testimonials annually.
In such turbulent times on Tyneside, a welcome return of the Entertainers, along with additional fan favourites, gave St James’ a refreshing atmosphere. The lack of Anti-Ashley barricade gave last night a relaxed and entertaining climate. No nail biting. No chair kicking. No mind-numbing tension. The lifted pressure allowed the fans to once again show their passion as a humble Harper was paid his respects. The inclusion of the Gary Speed’s sons, Tommy and Ed, onto the pitch their late father so often graced further epitomised the passion and togetherness of the NUFC family. A great gesture from the organisers. Pay attention, MA.
A tale of two Paolos, the game may have not offered up many golden chances (unsurprisingly with Franco Baresi and Maldini on show), yet had the near sell out crowd entertained throughout.
As the fanfare of the testimonial came to end, the occasion served as a chilling reminder of the past. With the three stooges nowhere to be seen, focus of current affairs were brushed aside as the Entertainers (however rusty) rolled back the years and sent memories flooding through St James’. Maybe one day we will see a side who can match, if not better, the almost glory days and lift the club back to where it belongs.
From away days on the Costa Brava, to the Costa del Plymouth, the second comings of Keegan and the slightly less popular resurrection of JFK, to tales of working under Sir Bobby. Harps could write best selling biographies, rammed with anecdotes which would have Magpies crying out for more. He may not hold the glory and silverware his fellow Milan stalwarts he shared last night’s stage with, however Steve Harper can boast a whole host of invaluable memories on Tyneside spanning two decades. Well, at least it hasn’t been a dull 20 years.