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Steve Harper waxes lyrical about Kevin Keegan, Sir Bobby Robson and the Newcastle United fans

4 weeks ago
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Steve Harper recently left his coaching position at Newcastle United but he remains just as passionate about the football club.

Newcastle take on Brighton this weekend and whilst he spent a couple of decades at St James Park as a player, he actually also spent a month with the Seagulls as well.

That was on loan from Newcastle back in 2011, when Gus Poyet was managing Brighton.

Speaking to the official Brighton website, Steve Harper only has good things to say about his brief time on the south coast but it is his comments about Newcastle United that obviously catch the eye.

The former keeper declaring; ‘It’s a great place (St James Park) to play, with 52,000 people roaring you on. And when it’s a united football club and the team are on the front foot and the fans get behind them, they are not just a 12th man, they are a 13th and a 14th man as well. Of course, when things aren’t going so well and the fans are frustrated, then it takes a special character and a thick skin to play out there.’

This season could prove to be a big test of the character of this team and of course whether they have that ‘thick skin’ to get through the tough times.

Looking back at happier times, Steve Harper waxes lyrical about Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Robson: ‘Keegan and Robson were both brilliant man managers. Keegan just made you feel ten feet tall. I always say that after ten minutes talking to Kevin Keegan, the world is a better place and the same with Sir Bobby. He was so enthusiastic, with a passion for everything, not just football. He’d talk about a beautiful door frame for ten minutes!’

Steve Harper talking to the official Brighton site:

“It’s a great place (St James Park) to play, with 52,000 people roaring you on.

“And when it’s a united football club and the team are on the front foot and the fans get behind them, they are not just a 12th man, they are a 13th and a 14th man as well.

“Of course, when things aren’t going so well and the fans are frustrated, then it takes a special character and a thick skin to play out there. All I ever said to new signings was: ‘These people would love to swap places with you. All they want to see is you giving one hundred percent and showing pride in wearing the shirt. Then they’ll support you all day long.’

“I was fortunate enough to play at St James Park on some Champions League nights and in the iconic 4-4 draw with Arsenal. We were 4-0 down after 25 minutes and the fans were rightly upset with what they were seeing. But to be able to turn that round, 4-1, 4-2 and finally 4-4 and get them behind you and see the effect that has on the opposition, that was the emotional roller-coaster of being a footballer for Newcastle United all in 90 minutes.

“The FA Cup finals of 1998 and 99 were symptomatic of Newcastle’s luck, in 98 they came up against Arsenal going for the double and then Manchester United in 99 as they went for an unprecedented treble. The Keegan years were as close as they got to winning the Premier League and people concentrate on the great entertainers blowing it, but they forget what an unbelievable run Manchester United went on.

“Times have changed since then, with billionaires coming in and buying clubs and investing hundreds of millions of pounds and distorting the playing field but it is important to carry on the dream that the club can get back to the top table, which is what all supporters hope for. Leicester have shown that it is still possible.

“I think the world of Chris Hughton.

“He came in at an incredibly difficult, turbulent time after relegation. It was a fractured club and he was the perfect man for the job, very respectful, but a very good, tactically astute football man and he made some big decisions that year. At times he left out Kevin Nolan, Alan Smith, Joey Barton, Nicky Butt. There was a myth at the time that the players were picking the team but that was complete nonsense. Chris was the man at the centre of a perfect storm who steered us through some very choppy waters. He did a wonderful job and I don’t think he got enough credit. It was no surprise to me to see him go on to do an excellent job at Birmingham City and then at Brighton.

“Keegan and Robson were both brilliant man managers. Keegan just made you feel ten feet tall. I always say that after ten minutes talking to Kevin Keegan, the world is a better place and the same with Sir Bobby. He was so enthusiastic, with a passion for everything, not just football. He’d talk about a beautiful door frame for ten minutes! He had a zest for life and an infectious personality. They both revitalised the club at different times. We were a game away from going down to the third tier when Keegan took over and bottom of the Premier League when Sir Bobby came in and we finished fourth, third and fifth and played in the Champions League. That shows you the effect that both had, men you’d run through brick walls for.”

Steve also went into coaching and is Northern Ireland’s goalkeeping coach after recently leaving a similar post with Newcastle’s academy for family reasons. “I was lead academy goalkeeping coach but my son is there now as an under-9 goalkeeper so I wanted to give him some space, give him the best opportunity to succeed without me being there as a coach. I didn’t think that would be fair. So now I am the Northern Ireland goalkeeping coach and that is brilliant. We have started the Euro 2020 campaign well in an incredibly difficult group with Germany and Holland in there too. I’m really enjoying that and also work for the Premier League as a match delegate.”

As a proud son of the North-East, Steve is also willing to rule on a topic that has recently been debated on Albion fan message boards: which is the better away trip, Manchester or Newcastle? “I have just finished a Master’s degree in Manchester so I have been there on and off over the last two and a half years and I know what a wonderful city Manchester is,” Steve says. “But there is no comparison with Newcastle, sorry.

“I’m sure every fan of a Premier League club looks for the date of their fixture away to Newcastle and says: ‘We have to go.’ And of course that’s not just for the match and the stadium but the wonderful hospitality and atmosphere around a night out in Newcastle.

“Of course, when I was a player I would rarely go out but I recently had to pick someone up there and saw some of the sights and heard some of the sounds of what goes on at The Quayside and in the city centre on a weekend. And I’m sure the Brighton fans won’t be disappointed.”

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