As Newcastle prepare to face Arsenal this afternoon, Vincent Ralph turns the spotlight on the 'keeper making his last appearance for the Magpies.
Sometimes it is written. Today is one of those times.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. The 38-year-old was supposed to bow out quietly, retiring at the end of a season in which even his status as custodian of the back-up gloves was usurped. And yet following an injury to Tim Krul and a suspension for Rob Elliot, Harper will take his place between the sticks in this afternoon’s match at home to Arsenal.
For a time it was seen as the game that would define their season – as the Magpies slipped perilously close to the relegation zone. And yet today’s match is now only of real significance to the visitors.
For the Gunners, a win will see them secure a Champions League place next season. Should Harper keep them out, a Tottenham victory over Sunderland will see Spurs leapfrog their great rivals.
It is a battle Harper will surely relish.
In a game where players swap clubs the way I once swapped football stickers, it is refreshing to see a player commit his entire professional career to one side. And yet it is also confusing, because had he moved on, Harper would no doubt have finished his career with far more than the frustrating and yet poetic figure of 199 club appearances.
While six loan spells have seen him temporarily spread his wings, St James’ Park is clearly his home. A home he will bid a fitting farewell to this afternoon, on a day when many legacies are coming to an end.
Perhaps Alan Pardew would have called on him anyway, at least for a time. But as fate decreed, the manager has no choice. It is to Harper he turns this afternoon, just as it should be.
The Magpies fans will give him a fitting send-off. As with players past and those yet to come, the Newcastle faithful recognise and celebrate loyalty.
Should he keep a clean-sheet this afternoon, it will end his legacy in the perfect way. It could also have quite an impact – for Arsenal and Tottenham at least – on both this campaign and the one to follow.
What are your memories of Harper? And what does his future hold?
image: © mikebrown59