The long-serving Newcastle keeper talks Colin Young through replacing 'Wolfie' at Seaham Red Star, ditching university for football, his struggle to depose Shay Given and losing a great mentor in Sir Bobby Robson
Growing up in Easington Every school holiday and weekend was spent outdoors. Breakfast, then straight down the beach to play football; only going home when you're filthy or starving. Eat, get changed and then back out, until it's dark. I knocked around with my older cousin Barry and his mates and they'd say, 'Stick the young lad in goal'. I loved diving about.
At 15 the school keeper broke his leg, I went in, we had a few good results. We drew 2-2 in a cup semi-final, the last goal was my fault and I said I would never play in goal again. I played up front against a German touring side, scored a hat-trick and was invited down to Ipswich for a trial. For some reason, I said no and went back in goal.
My Seaham Red Star days Their keeper 'Wolfie' got injured, so at 16 I played against Maine Road in an FA Cup qualifying round, second replay, in Moss Side. Pretty intimidating. We won 5-0.
I played a dozen games in the Northern League, a tough league with some good players but a learning experience for a young lad. I was spotted by Peter Kirtley and asked to play for Newcastle's youth team.
Burnley offered me schoolboy forms, but then decided I was too small so I went to Peterlee College. I shot up and Burnley and Newcastle offered me a second year. My dad said I should finish my A-levels in geography and communication studies. I started French but foolishly gave it up, the only lad in a class of 24. If only I could talk to that 18-year-old now I combined studies with games for the reserves and youth team, and was regularly called out of the library for a waiting taxi to play in an emergency.
I had a place at John Moores University to study sports science, visited the campus and halls but Newcastle offered a one-year contract so I deferred university for a year and I am still here. They can't get rid of me.
Read more: How being Given's understudy at Newcastle for four years made Harper stronger
Kids' stuff: Harper after winning the treble with Easington Colliery Junior School as a central midfielder
Hard yards with Budgie JohnBurridge was a workhorse. My first day at 18 with Budgie, I thought Iwas going to die. He called it 'ground familiarisation'. It was up anddown, up and down, for what seemed like hours. I thought, 'How on earthdo people do this?' Terry Gennoe, Simon Smith, Eric Steele, and nowAndy Woodman has come in. His sessions are very good. Paul Barron mademe realise it was the four corners of goalkeeping: tactical, technical,emotional and mental. He made me see the whole picture.
Six and out at Rotherham The shortest loan in history was to Rotherham. I signed the day before the deadline, went to my digs, got a call the next morning to say I was their sixth loan signing, clubs are only allowed five, so thanks very much but you can go. I drove to Millmoor, picked up my expenses and drove home, listening to the deadline signings on the radio.
I played three months at Hartlepool, then in 1997 Peter Jackson, larger than life, took me to Huddersfield, who were bottom of the Championship. We finished 17th. They called it the Great Escape.
I got a fantastic reception when we played them in pre-season and I keep an eye on their results, especially with Lee Clark and Terry McDermott there.
Full stretch: Steve Harper dives to save Xabi Alonso's strike against Liverpool at Anfield
HARPER FACTFILEAge 35Born Easington, Co DurhamHeight. 6ftWeight 13st
Club career1993-Newcastle175 apps (10 as sub)1995-96Bradford (loan) 11996Gateshead (loan). 121997Hartlepool (loan). 181997-98Huddersfield (loan) 26
My Newcastle debut Wimbledon,1998. Nice easy game. I didn't have time to get nervous. Shay Givencame in injured at half-time and it was just, 'Get out there, you'reneeded'. They put in an early cross, I came, caught it and got a bigroar off the crowd. I was pretty well protected and didn't have much todo after that. We won 3-1.
Shaka Hislop and Pavel Srnicek left so I thought it would be me andShay but Kenny Dalglish brought in Lionel Perez. When Dalglish wassacked in August 1998 I went to see the new boss, Ruud Gullit. 'Ideserve to be in the first-team squad.' I've been there ever since.
Shay and I shared it initially but Shay kicked on to a phenomenal level and was outstanding every week. Those three or four years were fantastic for the club, reaching the Champions League, but it was very hard for me.
I never put in a transfer request but they were the dark days. Ihadn't played enough games for anyone to buy me and Shay was playing sowell. I loved Sir Bobby Robson. He was very persuasive although it wasa few months before he stopped calling me Paul! I couldn't dislike him,but he would not let me go.
I still quote him every day, still hear his voice echoing round the training ground. John Carver is back here now and has already done sessions that remind me of Sir Bobby. I still picture him out there in his 70s, tracksuit on, showing us how it should be done.
An FA Cup Final I would rather forget It was 1999 and only my eighth start for Newcastle, incredible really. You never knew with Ruud Gullit. It was the main speculation of the week. Shay was an international and the favourite but I'd played the last few games.
I can't remember the day, probably because we were beaten 2-0 by Manchester United and it's shut away. It was great to play at Wembley but we lost, so forget about it. There was a reception at the team hotel and Ruud made a speech, saying he wasn't used to losing cup finals. It set off a few grumbles.
Wembley woe: Manchester United's Teddy Sheringham scores past Harper in the 1999 FA Cup final
Goosebumps for Juve Sir Bobby pulled me in and said I would be playing on Wednesday, which was great, until I remembered we were facing Juventus.
I did the press conference next to him and he said, 'Steve knows if he makes a mistake it'll be fatal for us'.
That was him. He knew his players. He knew who needed a kick up thebackside, an arm round the shoulder and a bit of pressure. I was satthere thinking, 'Cheers, gaffer'.
It was amazing. From the reserves at Kingston Park and the 40-wattbulbs in the corners, to playing Juve in the Champions League.
It's the music. When you walk out,they wave the big thing on the centre circle, you line up, take in thecrowd and walk down the row of players. I look up and there are Buffon,Nedved, Di Vaio, Cannavaro, Del Piero. It still gives me goosebumpsthinking about it.
We won 1-0, Andy Griffin scored, then we beat Dynamo Kiev and Feyenoord to make the knockouts, despite losing our first three.
I got two PlayStations for playingin the Champions League and gave them away. I don't do computers. Iplayed the bairn, he was 4-0 up at half-time and said, 'Daddy, you'rerubbish'. I turned it off in a strop. Never played him since.
An assist against Celtic Big Sam likes his players straight in the ice bath in pre-season, so when someone got injured late on, I looked along the bench and there was no one left. I looked at Sam, and he said 'Yes'. Celtic weren't happy, thought it was insulting, but it wasn't planned.
I ran to the dressing room like a bairn at Christmas, the kit man printed me a 'Harper 13' outfield shirt and I went straight on, loved it. Seven touches, seven completed passes and an assist, so not bad.
Like all good target men, I held the ball up. I played a one-two with James Milner and he went on and scored just inside the post. I was even there for the rebound. Mind, I was breathing heavily after my 13 minutes and needed an ice bath myself.
Blinded by the light: Harper strains to see the action against Aston Villa in 2009
Sir Bobby's deathI took my son along to his benefit game. Sir Bobby was there in hiswheelchair and told me to bring him over to meet him. He was poorly,but still had that twinkle in his eye, that way of speaking to people.All my son talked about for days was meeting the great Sir Bobby Robson.
I'd just done the school run, sat having a cuppa, when it came on theTV that Sir Bobby had passed away. The lads could see I was reallyupset. The club came up with a fitting tribute at the ground.
Steven Taylor and I led the squadto put a wreath in the centre circle. We had a minute's silence whichwas very emotional. Favourite Bobby story? We were training atChester-le-Street and a guy was trying to land a helicopter on a newlyseeded pitch.
Sir Bobby was underneath theblades, whirling round three feet over his head, shouting, 'What youdoing, what you doing?' pointing him back over the fence. He was nearlydecapitated, protecting the grass as if he had paid for every seed.
Down day at Villa Park Awful. It was in the script we were going down. Everything that went off around the club, even missing out by one point, makes me believe we were destined to be relegated. It didn't just happen at Villa, it was the whole season. Damien Duff 's own goal was more evidence it was just going to happen.
Losing 6-0 at Orient and putting things right That's mine: Harper is finally established as Newcastle's No 1
I was at Newcastle races so I missed the pre-season friendly at Orient, but I spoke to one or two as they were heading home. I said, 'We need to address this'.
A spirit was being formed among a core of players and it was obvious some didn't want to play in the Championship. We had a meeting. 'Who's in? Who's out?'
There was no animosity, but if they weren't fully on board they were not going to be any use to us. You could see in their eyes who was up for the challenge and so it proved. Because we won the league by 11 points, people think it was comfortable. It was far from that. It's a very tough league. You need steel, experience, spirit and character and I have to pay tribute to the role Chris Hughton, Colin Calderwood and Paul Barron played.
The rise of Carroll He probably benefited from our relegation, got his chance and was a key part of us getting promoted. He had an unbelievable 2010. I've known him since he was 6ft 3in. We knew there was a player waiting to develop who could become a real handful. Great lad, keen, works hard on the training ground, and he was settling down under Kevin Nolan.
He has a fantastic opportunity at Liverpool and a manager who will nurture and help him, as Dalglish did with a young Alan Shearer.
It was very disappointing how he was sold and we didn't have the opportunity to replace him. But hopefully the money will be wisely spent and it will prove a good bit of business for us - ?35million is an incredible amount of money and time will tell.
My coaching manual I've always taken notes in an A4 folder. If I don't like a session, I'll always jokingly say, 'I won't be writing this one down'. I have a stockpile of information that I hope to tap into.
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Explore more:People: Shay Given, Chris Hughton, Peter Jackson, Lee Clark, Kenny Dalglish, Andy Griffin, Simon Smith, Damien Duff, Bobby Robson, Steven Taylor, James Milner, John Carver, Alan Shearer, Colin Calderwood Places: Liverpool, Newcastle