Steve Harper has announced that he will be leaving Newcastle United this summer after spending 20 years at the club he supports.
It must not have been easy for him to decide to leave but he has fallen further down the pecking order this season, with both Tim Krul and Rob Elliott starting more matches. But he will always be remembered by the Newcastle fans as one of their own because he was always ready to play whenever he was needed and never let the club down. Also off the pitch he was someone that the rest of the players could look up to as he never moaned that he wasn’t playing and was the perfect professional under a lot of different managers.
Some will say that he lacked ambition, not leaving Newcastle earlier even though he was always considered second choice, particularly when Shay Given was around but to me personally he made Given a better goalkeeper simply because Harper was too good to be a number two and no manager would have been afraid to drop the Irishman as they had a fantastic replacement. When Newcastle were regularly finishing in the top five of the Premier League, Harper was arguably better than most other first choice keepers in the league and could easily have left and played first choice. But, Newcastle are his club and he will now, if he wasn’t already, be considered a cult hero, everything he did benefitted the club in some way and when a lot of other players did not want to stay around and fight and get the club back to where it belongs, he showed everyone his loyalty and commitment not to the board or to the manager but to the shirt that he was wearing and to the fans that had continually supported him.
His greatest moments would have been in the Championship winning season where he was first choice and helped them secure promotion straight back to the Premier League. In doing this he also set a new club record in keeping the most clean sheets in a season, he kept 21 in total and in some games was phenomenal, especially in a game against Sheffield United where he pulled off a number of fantastic saves. He kept his place for a while when they got promoted back to the Premier League but suffered an injury and has never been able to regain his first team spot afterwards.
He has had a good career, and some highlights along the way, a lot of people forget he actually did start the 1999 FA Cup final, so he came very close to winning a trophy at the club. But other great memories fans may have of him are not even to do with his goalkeeping and they include his famous elbow drop celebration after Cheick Tiote scored the equaliser in the 4-4 draw against Arsenal and having a spell upfront in a friendly game against Celtic.
Steve Harper will always be a legend to Newcastle fans and in my opinion was good enough to be in some England squads but it will be interesting to see what he does in the summer as he does also have his refereeing badges.