Steve Harper

By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter

The 2005/2006 season was perhaps Shay Given's best for Newcastle as he was named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year. "Like a human octopus," is how former goalkeeping coach Roy Tunks described him.

Understandably, that made it difficult for Steve Harper to force his way into the team but Tunks knew that on the rare occasions that Given was unavailable, Harper was capable of coming in and performing just as well as the Irishman.

And during that particular period, there really was no higher praise - something that Tunks recognised when he paid tribute to Harper as it was confirmed that he would be leaving St. James' Park after 20 years.

"Steve knew that Shay was playing out of his skin, playing at the top of his game - and Steve played the game that he was really good at which was being patient," Tunks, now a coach at Manchester City, told nufc.co.uk.

"Shay got in the PFA side and everything that season. He was like a human octopus at times and Steve recognised how well Shay was playing and that his route in at that moment in time was being blocked by someone who was playing so well. He wouldn't have expected Shay to have been dropped.

"It might have been different if Shay had been having a rough time or something like that because I think Steve had enough ambition - in fact I know he had enough ambition - in him to want to be in the side.

"And when Steve came in nobody was like 'oh bloody hell, Shay's not playing this week.' Being the top professional he is, he put in performances which belied the fact that he hadn't been playing regularly.

"His preparation was exactly the same each week. It's just the big game atmosphere and getting out there and the smell of hotdogs in the air which affects people. But it didn't seem to affect Steve whatsoever - he just put in the top class, solid performance that you would expect.

"To be honest it's a very difficult thing to do and it's a bit of a rarity - and a blessing - to have a keeper that can come in without playing a lot of games and be up to match pace."

Tunks, who made over 850 appearances in his own playing career, followed Graeme Souness from Blackburn to Newcastle in 2004 and left the Club in February 2006 but thoroughly enjoyed working with Harper.

"When I came in, he really opened up," he said. "He and the other keepers were willing to listen to a different voice and see if I had anything to add to their already massive experience of working with different people.

"It wasn't a closed shop and Steve was like that. He was always open to something. Nobody knows everything and his attitude was always 'what have you got for me?'"

It is a mindset which will serve Harper well as he embarks upon the next chapter in his career.