ALMOST five months after Steve Harper left the field at St James’s Park with a tear in his eye, the goalkeeper’s preparing to return to the stadium.
Not once, but twice. Harper will lead out a Newcastle United XI in Wednesday night’s 20 Years Charity Match.
And the 38-year-old will be back with Hull City 10 days later for a Premier League game.
Harper’s appearance against Arsenal in May was the 199th – and last – of a two-decade career at the club.
Since then he’s been adjusting to life away from Newcastle at Hull – and working on his testimonial against AC Milan Glorie, which is raising money for the Newcastle United Foundation, the Great North Children’s Hospital and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.
Ticket sales for the game are approaching the 40,000-mark.
The likes of Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Peter Beardsley, Andy Cole, Faustino Asprilla, David Ginola and Joey Barton will turn out for United, while Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio will share a visiting dressing room with legends like Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini.
It promises to be quite a night on Tyneside.
And Easington-born Harper is relishing the game – and Hull’s visit on September 21.
“It’s going to be a contrasting 10 days,” Harper said. “September 11 is hopefully going to be a very special night.
“I know there’ll be a full house on the 21st when Hull come up here.
“It’s going to be strange coming out of the tunnel and turning left.
“Knowing the Newcastle fans as well as I do, I’ll probably get a decent reception beforehand for the warm-up, and as soon as I touch the ball I’ll get slaughtered! I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
If ticket sales are anything to go by, the game has caught the imagination of Newcastle supporters.
“To see the likes of Shearer, Cole, Beardsley, Ferdinand and Ginola back will be fantastic,” said Harper.
“Pavel Srnicek’s coming back. He was a hero of mine.
“They’ll be against Baresi, Maldini and so on – it’ll be a very special night.
“Every single penny will go to those fantastic local causes.
“It would be fantastic if the people of the region buy into it and bring their kids to see some of the best players to have played for this football club.
“I have to thank the fans group for putting it forward to the club, and the club for granting me this incredible opportunity.
“I had that incredible send-off against Arsenal which me and my family will never forget.
“It’s important people realise this game is not about me – it’s about using my time served here to hopefully raise a lot of money for some of the fantastic facilities we’re fortunate to have on our doorstep.”
Harper admits it was a strange experience signing for Hull, having spent his entire career, bar a few loan spells, at St James’s Park.
He made his debut in the club’s Capital One Cup win over Leyton Orient late last month. Typically, Harper kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 win at Brisbane Road.
And he’s relishing his new “lease of life” at the KC Stadium.
“It’s been great – they’re a great bunch of lads,” he said.
“It was a feeling I’d never had before – it was special. Signing for a different club was very exciting.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. It’s a new lease of life. Not many people wait 20 years for a transfer.
“I’m really enjoying it. It’s a Premier League club, and a good opportunity to keep playing at the highest level.
“It ticked all the boxes, and I’m loving every minute of it.
“I knew a few of the staff. I had a few opportunities. There were a couple of enquiries from Scotland, and one from a lot further south.
“The Hull opportunity came up. Obviously, it’s Premier League, and I have a good chance of playing some games. It’s not a million miles away. They’re a great bunch of lads. There’s a lot of banter flying around.
“It’s a good place to be. I’m loving it. Allan McGregor’s obviously a very good goalkeeper, a Scottish international. He hadn’t played Premier League football, so it’s a good opportunity.
“It’s going to be a tough season, but we’re looking forward to it.”
n Tickets for the Steve Harper 20 Years Charity Match are on sale from.nufc.co.uk at £10 for adults and £5 for children and concessions.