Steve Harper, Newcastle Stalwart

Steve Harper - Number 1 - Laurence Griffiths

After 20 years of service to the black and white cause, Steve Harper will start his final, competitive game for Newcastle United.

Steve Harper has been a Newcastle player longer than I've been a fan; he was a Newcastle player before I was even born. He was on the bench at my first ever match, against Barcelona in 2003. Sadly, that's where most of his career was spent. When called upon he did his job to the best of his ability, and for that, he'll not be forgotten by the Newcastle faithful. Had he not been so loyal, he could have had a very different career path. Many think that if he were a first choice 'keeper at club level, he would of almost certainly have an England cap to his name.

With Newcastle, it seems a lot of things are 'written in the stars' and this must go down as one of those things. Tim Krul is out injured and then Rob Elliot is suspended, thus allowing Harper to make his 199th appearance in what will be his last part of a match day squad. Wearing the number 37 jersey nowadays, he admits the squad owe the fans a performance, and no doubt he'll make sure they know it. This week he spoke of his 'darkest days' in which he turned to counseling in order to get over his depression.

He's a character who is hard not to admire, having become a part of the furniture at Newcastle and stuck by us, even when suffering with depression. He was probably just as unlucky as he was loyal. Goalkeeping is a department Newcastle have never been short in. Over the years, ahead of him in the pecking order have been: Pavel Srnicek, Shay Given and most recently, Tim Krul. Three mighty fine goalkeepers, all given a run for their money by Harper. Under Sir Bobby Robson, Harper and Given had many tussles over the number 1 jersey, with Harper beating him in some cases, and getting an FA Cup final to his name.

Loan spells have taken him to Gateshead, Hartlepool and even as far as Brighton. But ultimately St James' Park was his home. The 38 year old is sure this isn't the end of his playing days. He claims to have had 'a few football league clubs on the phone', and has even been linked with the vacant Hartlepool job. Wherever he ends up, that club will not only be getting a good goalkeeper, but also a great man, and an excellent professional.

If this season isn't a reason to stay for the team's lap of honour on Sunday, saying goodbye to Steve Harper is reason enough.

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