By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter
As soon as Tommy Wright saw a teenage Steve Harper in action at the old Benwell training ground, the Northern Irishman knew that the fresh-faced young goalkeeper from Easington had a chance of making it at Newcastle United.
That hunch proved to be correct and only now, more than two decades later, is Harper's association with the Magpies coming to an end after 199 appearances in all competitions - including an FA Cup final and Champions League matches - as it was confirmed on Thursday that the 38-year-old had moved on.
Wright had two spells at St. James' Park - the first between 1988 and 1993 and the second on loan during 1999 - and so worked with Harper during very different periods of his career, first as a teen trialist and then as an established first-teamer.
"I remember him coming in training when he was still at school," Wright told nufc.co.uk as he paid tribute to the departing keeper, one of a whole host of former Newcastle number ones to speak to the Club's official website about Harper. "It's over 20 years ago, obviously, but I remember that he had really good qualities.
"He worked extremely hard on his game when he was younger and it's shown because he certainly made the most of his ability and proved to be a top class goalkeeper.
"What impressed me about him as a kid was that he was quite assured and confident in his own ability. I thought 'he's got a chance'. In a position like goalkeeper when you're part of a team but very much on your own a lot of the time, I thought something like that would stand him in good stead."
Having helped Newcastle gain promotion back into the Premier League, Wright left for Nottingham Forest and then joined Manchester City but an injury crisis saw the Belfast-born keeper return for three games in the late '90s.
Wright remembered: "There was about seven goalkeepers at the time; Steve, Shay (Given), Lionel Perez, John Karelse - four first-team keepers - but Shay was injured, Steve was injured, Ruud Gullit didn't fancy Perez - he was way out of the picture - and John he dropped.
"Harps was coming back from injury when I went back there but after that he got back in the team when Sir Bobby Robson came in."
Recently appointed as manager of Scottish Premier League side St. Johnstone, Wright knows how Harper must have felt when he was kept out of the side by Given and then Tim Krul. During a 13-year career in England, Wright only made 164 league appearances but unlike Harper, they were spread between several different teams.
"You've just got to admire his loyalty to stay at one Club for that length of time," Wright said. "It speaks volumes for him. He could so easily have left. There were obviously periods when he was on the bench quite a lot but when he did get a chance he never let Newcastle down.
"I'm sure he would have liked to have played more games but I think he was quoted as saying he played in front of 50,000 Geordies 199 times - and anybody would want to do that. It's similar to when I was there; I would have liked to play more games but I still cherish every one and I'm sure he'll look back on his career with some satisfaction.
"He's been at the Club long time and there's been many times in his career when he could have possibly moved on but stayed loyal to the Club, so it's no surprise that the fans recognised that and gave him a tremendous send-off in his final game."