Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Damned United Pales Next to Story of Magpies and Harper; Steve Harper Thought He Had Seen It All at St James's Park - Then His Golf Partner Alan Shearer Returned to Lead Newcastle's Survival Fight. Mark Douglas Reports

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

The Damned United Pales Next to Story of Magpies and Harper; Steve Harper Thought He Had Seen It All at St James's Park - Then His Golf Partner Alan Shearer Returned to Lead Newcastle's Survival Fight. Mark Douglas Reports

Article excerpt

Byline: Mark Douglas

IF Brian Clough's perfunctory spell at Leeds United is considered ripe for the big screen, then surely the celluloid version of the trials and tribulations of Newcastle United can't be too far behind.

While Clough's time at Leeds spanned just 44 days, Newcastle have been entertaining the nation - both wittingly and unwittingly - for more than a decade now.

If the Newcastle United story does ever make it to the big screen, perhaps Steve Harper, who in 17 years of diligent service to the club has seen just about everything, could provide the book to base it on.

The Damned United? Harper's take on Newcastle's recent history wouldn't need the kind of creative tweaking that was expertly applied by author David Peace in that book.

The highs and lows of the Kevin Keegan years - both instalments - the rise to the summit of the Premier League and subsequent fall to its lower reaches, the chaos of the Mike Ashley era, last week's sensational return of Alan Shearer - a 'tell all' Harper autobiography would be an eviscerating read for anyone with even a passing interest in the national game.

The Ashington-born 34-year-old takes a deep breath as he considers the prospect. "I don't think I could afford the legal fees - especially if I did a warts-and-all one. I would probably be in court for the rest of my life," he muses.

"No, I don't think I could ever do that - it would be longer than Lord of the Rings if I ever started it. No, it is a unique club - no season is the same." That he is now playing for an old friend and team-mate is another surprise for the 34-year-old, whose superb form has negated the New Year loss of Shay Given.

This, at least, is a pleasant and welcome one. "I was in a restaurant, at a friend's birthday on the Tuesday night, when I heard the news," said the goalkeeper. "I was trying not to be rude but my phone kept buzzing and then it was on the news. I was surprised, but he has done his coaching badges and has always said that management is something he would like to do. I knew he would do it at some stage, but I'm surprised that he has done it so soon.

"Do I think he's the right man? I do. The situation we are in is a very difficult one. But just look at the reaction around the place, the fans and inside the dressing room. He is a man who demands respect and high standards. And he has come in and that is what he has done. He has stamped his authority on the place and rightly so." Having worked under so many different managers - Shearer is the fourth this season - Harper is well placed to comment on his impact.

Shearer maintained last week that he could not transform the club in such a short space of time but the changes he has made have left an impression.

The players eat with each other now - a tactic borrowed from Sir Bobby Robson. …

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