A coaching life could begin at 40 for former Newcastle goalkeeper Steve Harper

Newcastle United's Steve Harper
Newcastle United's Steve Harper

STEVE Harper has passed a few milestones on the pitch.

And the goalkeeper is set to reach another milestone off the field.

Harper turns 40 on Saturday.

It’s 22 years since Harper, then a teenager, was signed by Newcastle United from Seaham Red Star by then manager Kevin Keegan.

Back then, his career was in its infancy.

Now, it’s nearing its end.

The focus in the short term is to try and keep Hull in the Premier League. I’m 40 on Saturday. I do enjoy the coaching at Newcastle School for Boys, and I’ll look to go into that in the future.

Steve Harper

Easington-born Harper’s immediate focus is on helping Hull City stay in the Premier League.

Beyond that, Harper – who was back at Newcastle’s training ground this week to present a donation to Ballboys, a testicular cancer charity, from his Oddballs firm – isn’t sure if he’ll play on, with a new career in coaching beckoning, though he won’t be short of offers if he wants to extend his playing career.

“I’ve had a few calls from interested parties all over the world,” he said.

“We’ll see. It’s not like I’m 30 and my contract is running out. I’m pretty relaxed about it and what the future might hold.

“The focus in the short term is to try and keep Hull in the Premier League for the second successive year.

“I’m 40 on Saturday, and I’ve got my level four (UEFA A Licence) now.

“I do enjoy the coaching at Newcastle School for Boys, and I’ll look to go into that in the future.”

Harper was taken to Hull by Steve Bruce after reluctantly calling time on his long Newcastle career two years ago.

However, his opportunities at the KC Stadium, where Allan McGregor is Bruce’s No1 goalkeeper, have been limited this season.

“It was great playing 19 games and the FA Cup semi-final last year,” said Harper, who made 199 appearances for United.

“It’s been 24 games to date which I probably wouldn’t have got here (at Newcastle), so it’s been good in that respect.

“It’s been tougher this year, only playing the five games, but if I can help keep Hull in the Premier League, I’ll enjoy my summer holidays and see what the future brings.”

Harper already has a sideline in underwear, having set up Oddballs with a group of friends.

The firm donates 10 per cent of the sale price of its boxers to Ballboys.

United winger Jonas Gutierrez – who made his playing comeback last week after being given the all-clear following treatment for cancer late last year – accepted a £2,500 cheque on behalf of the charity.

“Sadly, cancer touches too many families, and you hear that you need a positive attitude to beat it,” said Harper.

“In all 22 years of being a pro, I can’t think of many people with a more positive attitude than Jonas.

“Even when he was back home (in Argentina) fighting it, you saw that big smiles on his face.

“He has a very infectious laugh which fills the dressing room. I’m sure it continues to do so to this day.

“He’s a larger than life character.

“I was there on Wednesday, and I had a tear in my eye when he came on. He got a fantastic reception, and rightly so. It was great to see him back.”

Retired footballers used to open pubs, but Harper doesn’t see himself having a future as a publican.

“I certainly won’t be opening a pub, but I might have a career in coaching,” said Harper, who had a loan spell at Hartlepool United early in his career.

“I don’t have a reputation for being a funky design type of man, but when they’re underneath your jeans, you can be a little bit different.

“It’s been good. It’s hard work, but it’s up and running now.

“We wanted to give 10 per cent of the proceeds not just to any charity, but to one where it would be particularly effective. We’re fortunate that we’re able to do that.

“When the name oddballs came up, we were looking at male-specific charities. We thought long and hard. We wanted to really make an impact by focusing on a smaller charity, and with testicular cancer in particular.

“Jonas has shown a real character and determination to come through it.

“Jonas was only too happy to come along, and we’re very grateful for his fantastic recovery and for coming to collect the money on their behalf.”

Oddballs, in Harper’s view, is a fitting brand name for a firm set up by a goalkeeper.

Harper, succeeded as United No1 by Tim Krul, acknowledges that the game’s custodians are “a bit different” to their outfield colleagues.

However, the kinship between them – the “goalkeepers’ union” – is special, as Harper discovered in his early years at St James’s Park, when he was mentored by Pavel Srnicek.

“I know it’s the name of the brand, but they say goalkeepers are oddballs,” he said. “You’ve got to be a bit different to be a goalkeeper.

“When I first came as a youngster, Pavel Srnicek was unbelievable with me.

“Pav was incredible with me back in the day, and for the first- team keeper at the time to put that much time into me, it just felt natural to do the same.

“I probably overly did it to my own detriment, but I wouldn’t change that.

“Hopefully, I did the same with Tim and Fraser (Forster).

“My son said to me a few years ago ‘is Tim going to let you play the last game of the season because you let him do that in the Championship?’.

“That was a good idea! But that was just me, and I wouldn’t change that.”

Goalkeeping, it seems, is in the family’s blood.

“My son is doing all right,” said Harper. “I need to order a paternity test because he’s an athlete, a proper flying machine! He’s like his mum. He’s a winger or a striker. He’s doing alright.

“My four-year-old wants to be a goalie so that’s the worry.”

n For more information, or to buy Oddsballs boxer shorts, go to myoddballs.com.

Twitter: @milesstarforth