Steve Harper's big night may have to wait until next season

STEVE Harper is hoping to organise a Newcastle United testimonial against Rangers – but the veteran goalkeeper might have to wait until next season for it.

Newcastle United goalkeeper Steve Harper

STEVE Harper is hoping to organise a Newcastle United testimonial against Rangers – but the veteran goalkeeper might have to wait until next season for it.

The 38-year-old is in the final weeks of his 20th and last season as a Magpies player.

Friends, led by former England cricketer Stephen Harmison, have asked for Harper to be granted a testimonial in recognition of the loyalty he has shown the club in that time. The Magpies are receptive to the idea but doubt whether they will be able to fit it into their pre-season plans.

It means Harper (pictured right) could have to wait until one of next season’s international breaks to hold the game.

Newcastle have not announced their plans for the summer and are unlikely to be able to finalise them until they know for sure what division they will be playing in next season.

Four points from their final two games of the campaign will guarantee their Premier League status.

However, leading top-flight clubs tend to restrict themselves to one or two high-profile home matches per pre-season.

Last year Newcastle did not have one at all, because St James’ Park was being used for the Olympic football tournament. Granting Harper a July or August testimonial might prevent the club hosting a money-spinning friendly.

Fiorentina, PSV Eindhoven (twice), Valencia, Sampdoria, Villarreal, Deportivo La Coruña, Sporting Lisbon and Bayern Munich have all visited Tyneside in the last decade.

The short notice would make an end-of-season game impractical.

Testimonials are rarely written into player’s contracts nowadays as doing so makes them liable to tax. If not, they have to be requested in writing on the player’s behalf. Harmison did that in

March after it was announced Harper’s contract would not be renewed at the end of the season.

Rangers are Harper’s preferred opponents for any game.

Having been demoted to this season’s Scottish Division Three over financial irregularities, Rangers have lost much of their glamour and all their high-profile players.

However, they still commanded average crowds of over 45,000 this season and, like their Glasgow neighbours Celtic, are virtually guaranteed to bring a heavy presence to any friendly against English opposition.

Alan Shearer was the last player to be awarded a Newcastle testimonial in 2006.

Harper has made 267 appearances for the Magpies since joining from Seaham Red Star in 1993.

He had loan spells at Bradford City, Gateshead, Stockport County, Hartlepool United, Huddersfield Town and Brighton and Hove Albion but his refusal to leave the club despite numerous attractive offers cost him plenty of playing time and more than likely a few England caps.

He was Ruud Gullit’s choice to keep goal in the 1999 FA Cup final, but soon found himself firmly entrenched behind Shay Given in the Newcastle pecking order.

As he used to ruefully joke at the time, the Irishman was virtually immune to injury.

Only when Given left for Manchester City in January 2009 did Harper finally become the club’s first-choice goalkeeper.

It was short-lived, Tim Krul usurping him in 2011.

Shola Ameobi is a doubt for Sunday’s crucial trip to Queens Park Rangers with a foot injury.

His absence could see younger brother Sammy return to the first-team set-up for the first time since January’s humiliating FA Cup exit in Brighton.

Ameobi left Upton Park on crutches on Saturday.

Without him, the untested Adam Campbell would be Alan Pardew’s only forward option from the bench but for the fact Ameobi junior has just returned from a loan at Middlesbrough.

He scored in Tuesday’s under-21 play-off at Everton and declared himself ready if called upon.

He said: “I’m improving fitness-wise and confidence-wise. I needed a string of games.”

 
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