To mark the end of long service/suffering for the club, a Newcastle Eleven are inviting a AC Milan side for Steve Harper's testimonial this Wednesday. Kick off is at 7pm and proceeds are donated to great three local causes: Newcastle United Foundation, Great North Children’s Hospital and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.
Born in 1975 in Easington, Harper's career begun at Seaham Red Star. Following this non-professional trajectory he gained a place at Liverpool John Moores University. However, this was soon postponed as he was offered terms by Newcastle in 1993. Subsequently he was sent out on loan with Bradford City, 'Heed, Stockport, 'Pools and Huddersfield making 52 appearances.
Finally he made his debut as a substitute on 29th November 1998 in a 3 - 1 victory over Wimbeldon, replacing an injured Shay Given. This became a pattern for his career, stepping in to replace the first team keeper, often his friend and rival Given. Despite this status he made 157 appearances for Newcastle. In the Championship season of 2009/10, he surpassed Willie McFaul's record for clean sheets in a season with 21.
After a brief loan spell with Brighton in 2011 and increasingly sparse appearances, it was announced he would leave on a free this summer, only to be snapped up by newly promoted Hull. A local player who stayed at the club for such a long time, he has been cited as a great influence on the dressing room. This is particularly true with Tim Krul, helping him progress from youth prospect to firm No. 1. Tim paid tribute to Steve:
"I was 17 when I first met Harps and he's been fantastic with me from day one. I was just a young boy, a baby back then, in a new country and away from home for the first time and I think Steve still sees me as his student now. But he's taught me so much and I owe a massive amount to him. He's been a great teacher. He's worked with me on a lot of things and helped me to improve. He's a great guy and a great keeper and he's always been supportive. Even more recently, when I've been in the team, knowing that a great keeper like that was breathing down my neck certainly kept me on my toes."
Over 40,000 tickets have already been sold and this match could approach a sellout. Tickets are £5,10 for concessions and adults respectively. Limited Cash Turnstiles will have been confirmed, opening from 5.30pm at turnstiles 75, 76. At time of writing, there are no plans to televise the game.
The strength of squads on offer pay testament to the respect Steve garners amongst fellow pros. This includes long journeys for messrs Asprilla and Solano and appearances by current pros Barton and Nolan. Specific team news is scant, although it would appear that the once frightening partnership of Shearer and Ferdinand will be re-united at kick off.
The AC side will be captained by Franco Baresi, the 53 year old Milan player of the century having visited Newcastle last week to publicise the match. Amongst many big names, standouts include the evergreen Maldini, clean playing Van Bommel and brilliantly named Zvonimir Boban. One player making the short journey from Wearside to be sure of a warm welcome is Paolo Di Canio, a classy act by the Italian.
Mark Clattenburg will referee this match. His last testimonial at this ground resulted in a controversial late penalty that many have suggested was soft.
In His own words
“To have secured the players we have is a real coup for us. It’s fantastic to have big, high-profile names supporting the charities we are raising money for and we’re very grateful to have Milan Glorie and some of the biggest names in world football flying in from Italy.
“The Newcastle United Foundation, Great North Children’s Hospital and the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation are incredible causes in their own right and we’re very fortunate to have them on our doorstep in Newcastle.
"Every penny raised from the game will go towards boosting their vital contributions to the North East.”
"I remember when Shay arrived. He was a year younger and came into training and it was "phew, this has gone up a level. This is where you have got to be."
"But it was great. We worked very well together, bounced off each other. He helped me and I’d like to think I helped him."
"He is a great guy, and a fantastic goalkeeper. I did enjoy those years. It would just have been nice if I had got a bit more of it."
"If I could speak to myself ten years ago I would do it differently. Shay and I were neck and neck, then he kicked on for four years and I played about six matches."
I played the first game of the season under Graeme Souness in Slovenia and I never played again that season. That just is not right. I should have done more about it at the time."
"I probably blame Sir Bobby. I rapped on his door many times, asked for a move and he said `I need you, Shay might get injured’. He had that persuasive loveable thing when you entered the room like a bear with a sore head and left it giving him a hug."