I’m going to kick off this week by welcoming Steve Harper to Sunderland and wish him all the best for his future time at the club.
At the same time I’d also like to congratulate Sam Allardyce on an excellent bit of business which will pay dividends in more ways than signing extra goalkeeping cover usually would.
It may have come as a shock to some fans on both sides of the divide, but I struggle to understand why anyone would think a move like Harper’s bizarre.
Regardless of his history, what Sam has acquired is a keeper who is the model of solidity.
Google the definition of a reliable goalkeeper and Steve Harper’s face will stare back from the screen 0.45 seconds after you’ve hit the search button. A model pro whose levelheadedness is a gift only the best of keepers possess.
Loyalty, an almost mythical trait in football, has probably cost him another 400 games he’d ordinarily have played had he picked an earlier exit route away from St James’s Park.
But finding happiness and the satisfaction in sticking it out, when the patience of other players’ egos would have long run out, should be applauded.
As someone who also has experience of Shay Given’s brilliance becoming an obstacle along their career path, I can sympathise with him greatly but in the end, his persistence paid off and he won.
Putting rivalry to one side, whether you play for Sunderland or Newcastle, there are few clubs in England which are truly a step up from both.
Footballing superpowers of six Premier League sides apart, if you have the chance to stay at either of our clubs for the majority of your career, you’d do it, regardless of any sums of money thrown at you.
There will always be the critics who will claim a lack of ambition on Steve’s behalf, for him becoming part of then furniture on the other side of the Tyne.
But whenever I hear this, it makes me think back to an interview with Henrik Larsson I once saw when he was questioned why he didn’t make the move to a club like Barcelona sooner in his career than he did.
“I earn more money than I could ever spend at Celtic and every two weeks I have 60,000 people singing my name. Why would I want to go anywhere else?” was his reply.
Familiarity and warmth is more important to some people than the perceived happiness a few extra gold coins can buy.
Other than what he can bring to the team should he be needed, Steve’s experience, calmness and hard work ethic makes him the kind of role model that can only benefit the younger keepers at the club, especially Jordan Pickford.
Jordan has a bright and long future ahead of him at Sunderland, but the one inevitability in goalkeeping is that you will make an error which costs your team a win or a draw and whether it’s this month or next season, that time will arrive at some point in his career.
Having someone like Steve around to aid Adrian Tucker in the rehabilitation after the event will be vital too, as a good support network around players, no matter their age, is vital to their success and development.
I’ll be honest, there’s a part of me that’s baffled he’s here at all. Before the return of Simon Smith as goalkeeper coach, I did think Newcastle would jump at the chance of having Steve back at the club to oversee the department when I saw he was leaving Hull City at the end of last season.
It seemed to be a logical move and one I thought would give them extra cover should they need it.
As it turned out, they could have done with his steadying influence after losing Tim Krul early in the season, but their loss is Sunderland’s gain.
The rivalry between the two clubs meant there were always going to be some fans on both sides who would disgrace themselves with their opinion, I’m sure Jack Colback can testify to that, but his time by the Humber, sandwiched between his by the Tyne and the Wear, has buffered the move somewhat and it takes a special kind of idiot to want to abuse someone like Steve Harper for taking Sam up on his offer.
His loyalty to NUFC has certainly earned him exemption from any black and white critics, that’s for sure.
I’m lucky this column gives me the chance to extend my good luck wishes to Steve as it’s something most Sunderland fans have been deprived of.
I’m sure there are plenty of Sunderland fans who, given the chance, would have loved to have been able to do the same, but I fully understand why he’d want to spare himself from the poisonous few by suspending his Twitter account. Some people don’t deserve the internet. Really, they don’t.
I know I’ve gushed about Harps here, but it’s not like his arrival at the Stadium of Light is good news for everyone.
The last time I spoke to him was right after we’d been playing against one another and I’d shipped six goals at St James’s Park while I was at Barnsley.
A painful experience which ranks highly in my worst ever experiences in football, not just because of the defeat itself, but obviously the surroundings within which it took.
I was glad of the arm around me coming off the pitch that day. You might say it’s easy to be magnanimous when you’re on the right end of that kind of scoreline, but that just summed up the man that he is; genuine and an asset to any club he works for.