Steve Harper’s Send Off – You Had To Be There
Last night saw SJP rammed to the hilt to give our recently departed stalwart Steve Harper a fitting send off.
Even the wife wanted to come to this one (probably something to do with stalking Rob Lee!) but I think that’s how most people felt – they had to be there.
Seeing the lads even warming up pre-match was great, I was grinning like the Joker on medication – but I am a bit of a soft touch for nights like this.
Aye, the lads may be a bit greyer, balder, wider and slower, but they too felt the need to be there. They were loving it, the familiar grins apparent. As were the warm-ups, seeing the lads in their groups, you could have been transported back a decade or two.
The squads were both really strong and were going hopefully to showcase their talent and bag a hatful of goals at either end, sending the stadium wild. Well that was supposedly the script, aye?
The two squads were slowly introduced to the field – firstly AC Milan – one by one, politely applauded to the field amidst 4 nuclear Bunsen burners belching fire into the night sky!
Hopefully they too would have been impressed by their welcome I thought, until it dawned on me that Paolo Di Canio was going to get the same personal introduction! Oh dear.
Enter the pantomime villain for the night and on cue he was roundly booed. From a personal point of view I think it was really big of him to turn out and he took his booing in good humour.
Then like entering Noah’s Ark, the NUFC players entered the field two-by-two, to thunderous applause. With obvious fan favourites getting some big cheers – Shearer, Tino and funnily enough Barton and Nolan getting some love from the stands. Stevie Harper getting the biggest, after all it was his night. Well it was at that point.
It then took the teams nearly 15 minutes to shake hands, Christ, I thought if it’s taking the lads that long to walk the line – how are they going to run around the field?!
AC Milan started the game well and were using the width of the pitch extremely well, raiding down the flanks and pushing Bez and Nobby back.
Newcastle unfortunately were not showing any of the old entertainer swagger and were struggling to get around the pitch. Ginola hit an extravagant shot which flew into level 7 of the Leazes!
The best player on the pitch? Probably Di Canio, he was popping up all over and with every touch it was greeted with a boo – which frankly really started to grind my gears as he was having so many touches!
They created a few chances and one scorcher was palmed out by Harps to great applause.
After 20 mins, the running was finished for the night from the starting Toon XI and the changes began in earnest. I will not even begin to start writing who came on, who came off as I lost the plot with all the subs.
Tino came on and tried an acrobatic side on volley, which only Tino would attempt with his geet rubber legs. This temporarily woke a few from their slumbers, for cries of TINO, TINO, TINO.
The atmosphere became muted, due to a lack of any real goal action – hampered by an overly keen linesman. Flagging for offsides here there and everywhere – like seriously man, what was he playing at?
I joked with a lad in front that it should be no offsides, fog man back (rush goalie) and playing in skins. As much goal mooching as you like.
This was meant to be fun but sadly it was a bit of a turgid affair. Brilliant seeing everyone, scratch that – amazing seeing everyone, but like I say the script had seemed to have been forgotten.
Half time whistle went, undoubtedly to the delight to some of the aching frames zimmering about the pitch!
Weirdly, dotted around the crowd fans began shining their mobiles and waving them around their heads like they were at some sort of concert. I didn’t dig that, I am obviously not down with the kids!
Half-time saw a mini NUFC team of youngsters take on a much older looking AC team in a penalty shoot-out versus Monty Magpie in nets. I said to the Mrs. “If they cannot beat Monty Magpie from 12 yards, they need to retire now!”. A returned scowl suggested I take these things too seriously!!
Steve Harper’s son was the final taker in what was a nice thing for the bairns. I was actually pretty bloody jealous! If only the seniors had been on the pitch, they could have taken some tips for later!
Second-half saw more intent from Newcastle and a few fresh legs, Gillespie came on and looked very lively. Credit where credit is due, the player who had excelled all night for the Toon was our very own long lost Greek – Nicos Dabizas. The lantern jawed Centre-half had been solid, blocking shots, passing well and bringing the ball out from the back. The Mediterranean diet had looked after him, he didn’t look a day older.
It also saw the introduction of Gary Speed’s two sons, a truly heartwarming gesture for a sadly absent United great.
Newcastle had started with some concerted pressure, Gillespie whipped a ball to the near post and Tino nodded in, the Barcelona connection all over again! Did I mention the linesman earlier?
Up popped the flag like a toaster on steroids, howay man! It’s a bloody testimonial!
This Stadium is built for the sound of fans celebrating goals and the home fans were out in abundance to soak some of that much needed celebration up. After all it’s been on bleeding short supply! But the lino was not for turning.
Beardsley and Cole teamed up (what a pair they were) and looked sharp. Beardo was picking some good (and bad passes). Coley looked sharp, culminating in a strike against the post.
Even the posts didn’t know the script.
Then in steps Massimo Taibi, the man everyone will remember for letting the ball through his legs for Man Utd, tipping over a stunning save which was destined for the top corner.
Everyone could see the stalemate coming and to the relief of all the game ended.
Penalties would decide the outcome.
Up steps Pedro. Remember Chelsea at home in the League cup I said… On cue saved.
Up steps Tino, walking to the spot like one of those dancing flowerpot toys from the 80s.
Saved. Ref decides he feels sorry for us. Saved again.
Up steps Harper for his big moment of keeping NUFC in the shootout. The Milan keeper stands with his hands behind his back! Harper hits an exocet missile straight at the keeper’s knees which then balloons away to safety. Oh dear.
Milan pen saved.
Up steps the night’s darling for the crowd, one Joseph Barton. After all he gave Di Canio a booting after coming on, which possibly earned the biggest cheer of the night.
Saved and onto the post. Oh dear, oh dear. Oh well, the script was well and truly ripped to pieces. Ripped to pieces, then set on fire. Then urinated on to quell the flames.
Harps then said a quick few words to thank everyone for coming. It was his night and he was roundly applauded.
The turnout showed sheer class from our fans again. Everyone stayed until the bitter end. It would have been nice to have some goals and excitement, but hey – that’s NUFC for you!
Anyway, Steve being part of the goalkeepers Union, he might have had a little grin that it ended with two clean sheets and a goalkeeper being the hero!
Thanks again Stevie. You did us proud, hopefully we did you proud mate.
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