ALAN Shearer says Steve Harper’s loyalty to the Newcastle United cause has been rightly recognised by the Tyneside public.
The goalkeeper left the club in the summer after a 20-year career on Tyneside.
And a crowd approaching 50,000 is expected at St James’s Park tonight for the Steve Harper 20 Years Charity Match (7pm kick-off), which will see a Newcastle XI take on the AC Milan Glorie team.
The game is raising money for North East-based charities.
Shearer - United’s legendary all-time record goalscorer - shared a dressing room with Harper for a decade.
Had it not been for the form of Shay Given - the club’s No1 for 12 years - Easington-born Harper would have undoubtedly played many more than 199 games for Newcastle - and possibly even represented England.
But the 38-year-old, now at Hull City, stayed loyal to United, and went on to become the longest-serving player in the club’s history.
“It’s remarkable, and very rare,” Shearer said.
“But it’s what he wanted to do. I think everyone respected him for that.
“You’ll see by the turnout what people think of him.
“It’ll be a brilliant turnout. There’ll be fans coming over from Milan, and there are players coming from all over the world. You can see how highly Harps is thought of.
“He was just one of the guys. He was normal in the dressing room.
“He didn’t have any airs or graces as you can imagine with where he’s from. He got on well with everyone.”
Harper once went a frustrating three seasons without playing a Premier League game, and he has since admitted he was talked into staying by then-manager Sir Bobby Robson.
After Given’s departure, Harper went on to become a hugely influential figure - on and off the field - in the club’s revival in the wake of relegation to the Championship.
“Even by his own admission, he could have and maybe should have moved on,” added Shearer.
“I think he had opportunities from some big clubs, but he loved Newcastle, and wanted to stay and play. There were big barriers at time, and in particular Shay Given - he’s a top-class goalkeeper.”
Harper - who had a number of loan spells early in his United career - has an impressive CV, having played at every level of the game from the Football Conference to the Champions League.
“He’s played in every league,” said Shearer. “He’s played in the Champions League, Europa League, UEFA Cup and cup finals.
“So he’s played at every level. I know he maybe hasn’t played as many games as he’d have liked, but he’s played in some big and important games.”
Shearer’s on-pitch meeting with AC Milan legend Franco Baresi is one of the many sub-plots to the game, which will see the likes of Les Ferdinand, Peter Beardsley, Faustino Asprilla, Joey Barton and Kevin Nolan again pull on black and white shirts.
Harper revealed on Twitter the costs of the squads in today’s prices is more than £700m.
He tweeted: “£725m is the total value of both squads for Wednesday at todays valuations apparently (inc. me for free in July 1993)!!”
Shearer - who had a memorable testimonial against Celtic in 2006 - is looking forward to the game, if not the inevitable aches and pains he and his team-mates will experience tomorrow morning.
He said: “I’m not looking forward to Thursday morning - I’ll have a few aches and pains! But because it’s Harps, it’s worthwhile.”
On Baresi, Shearer added: “I’m sure that’s got the fans talking, but I’m not sure how long we’ll be on the pitch.
“It’ll be nice to see all the Newcastle guys back and share some good memories with them. It’ll also be nice to share the pitch with some greats from Milan.
“You’re talking about huge, huge names who have been massively successful around the world. God knows what the line up, or array of talent, from both teams would be worth.
“It’s scary to think with the prices of today.”