STEVE Harper has paid an emotional tribute to Newcastle United’s fans for packing out St James’s Park for his charity game.
A crowd of 50,793 watched a Newcastle XI played the AC Milan Glorie team last night.
The game – which was raising money for North East-based charities – was decided in the visiting team’s favour by a penalty shootout after it ended goalless.
And goalkeeper Harper – who left Newcastle in the summer after a 20-year career at the club – was humbled by the response from supporters.
“It was brilliant,” Harper said.
“I can’t thank the fans enough for buying into the concept of what we wanted to do.
“I’d love to thank each and every fan.
“And I can’t thank Milan enough for their help, and the lads from my 20 years coming back. The problem was getting them all on the pitch. We managed to do that.
“I thought the tempo of the game got better as the game went on. The oldies weren’t too happy kicking up the hill in the first half.
“Barring a couple of fantastic saves from (Sebastiano) Rossi and (Massimo) Taibi, we might have won the game.
“But sadly the Invincibles came out on top of the Entertainers in a very impromptu penalty shootout.”
Easington-born Harper – who made his 199th and final competitive appearance for United against Arsenal in May – said the match was arguably the most memorable of his long career.
“That would be the best,” added Harper, now at Hull City.
“To be stuck on 199 games after the Arsenal...I’m claiming that as my 200th. That was a fitting way to end.
“I had my farewell against Arsenal. This was me using my time served here to say thank you to the people of region. I can’t thank them enough.”
One of the game’s biggest talking points was the appearance of Paolo Di Canio for Sunderland.
Di Canio – whose every touch was booed by Newcastle fans – was upended by former United midfielder Joey Barton in the second half.
But he shrugged off the clumsy tackle and finished the game.
“Huge credit to him (Di Canio),” said Harper.
“One of the beneficiaries is the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, and Bobby would have loved that.
“He was a big fan of North-East football.
“Paolo came here and played the whole game. It looked like he enjoyed every minute.
“He got his penalty, and got too close to Joey at one point. Huge credit to him. He certainly helped raise some money for those wonderful causes.”
Harper will be back at St James’s Park with Hull on September 21.