Newcastle goalie Steve Harper deserves swansong

END OF AN ERA ... Steve Harper.
END OF AN ERA ... Steve Harper.

INEVITABLY, all good things come to an end.

Steve Harper admitted it himself after making an unexpected 198th appearance for Newcastle United against Queens Park Rangers last weekend.

Harper’s 20-year career at the club will end against Arsenal at St James’s Park on Sunday.

It’ll be an emotional moment for the 38-year-old goalkeeper, the longest-serving player in the club’s history.

Fittingly, Harper, an influential figure on and off the field in United’s renaissance in the wake of relegation four years ago, was on the field at Loftus Road when Newcastle secured their Premier League status.

Harper had come on after Rob Elliot’s dismissal for a second bookable offence.

The Easington-born player – who joined United from Seaham Red Star in 1993 – felt for Elliot, believing he hadn’t handled outside the box, despite standing to benefit from his red card.

Harper said after the game goalkeeping coach Andy Woodman had told him to turn on his “auto-pilot” as he prepared to go on to the pitch.

Certainly, his calmness was welcome as Alan Pardew’s nervous side battled to hold on to their 2-1 advantage in the dying minutes.

“That’s years of experience at playing a lot of levels,” Woodman said.

“I’ve always said that Steve’s got that ability to be thrown into any situation, and not let anyone down.

“I thought that was as good a time as ever, as it was all helter skelter at that particular time. We needed a calmness, and he was as calm as anyone.”

Woodman went on: “I don’t think Harps would have wanted it in these circumstances. It’s the same for all of us.

“You want to get in and play, but you hope not to the detriment of someone else.

“It’s great for Harps to be playing the last game of the season.”

Players come and go more than ever in the modern game, but even in the post-war years – and the decades that followed – it was rare to see a player spend so long at one club.

And Woodman – whose own playing career took him to more than a dozen clubs – doesn’t believe too many will emulate the feat in the decades to come.

Harper’s experienced highs and lows, almost in equal measure. He’s been a constant in an ever-changing landscape at St James’s Park.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” added Woodman. “You might not ever see it again after (Liverpool’s Steven) Gerrard and Harps.

“I don’t think we’ll see too many more situations like this. Harps and Gerrard are of a dying breed, that’s for sure.”

Woodman likens the relationship between Harper and United to a “marriage”. And a happy one, at that.

“He’s been a fantastic servant,” said Woodman, who joined Newcastle in December 2010 after the appointment of Pardew, who he’d worked with at Charlton Athletic.

“I think it’s been a perfect marriage, to be fair.

“Newcastle, and Newcastle fans, have been good to Steve Harper, and vice versa. Harps has been fantastic for Newcastle.

“It’s been a fantastic marriage over the years. I don’t think you could have asked for any more from both parties.

“Steve has given a lot of time for this football club on and off the pitch way before I was here.

“Newcastle have been brilliant to Steve as well. It’s really like a marriage. After he finishes his playing career, this place will just be ingrained in him.”

It won’t just be Harper’s safe hands which United will have to do without. His presence in the dressing room will also be missed over the coming years.

“He’s a great character,” added Woodman. “In the modern game, people are saying there aren’t any characters. I’m not sure about that.

“He’s been a big character in his time here.”