Paul Barron and Steve Harper

By Dan King - Newcastle United Club Reporter

Steve Harper worked with several goalkeeping coaches during his long association with Newcastle United but enjoyed perhaps the best time of his Magpies career under Paul Barron.

The former Crystal Palace and Queens Park Rangers keeper - now part of the backroom staff at Nottingham Forest - was at St. James' Park during the 2009/10 season, when Chris Hughton's team won the Coca-Cola Championship title with Harper a virtual ever-present.

And although the black and whites roared back into the Premier League with 102 points following relegation the previous season, they owed much of that to a fine defensive record and some outstanding saves from Harper.

He broke the Club record for the most clean sheets in a season - 21 in all - and while each of Harper's other coaches can extol the virtues of his patience and loyalty when not in the team, Barron saw him play week in, week out for two years after Shay Given left for Manchester City.

"What a fantastic servant to Newcastle," he told as it was confirmed on Thursday that Harper had left the Club after 20 years. "He's become part of the furniture there so it'll be a massive wrench for him to leave.

"When you've been somewhere as long as that, your car will go there naturally every day - it'll be like Lewis Hamilton when he stopped in the wrong pit a few months ago. It'll be a big change in his life.

"I had a great time working with him. He was a super professional. Every day he was spot on. When he got his run in the side he did extremely well and broke the record for clean sheets in a season.

"That season we got promoted, he was absolutely on fire. He wasn't overworked but you know how difficult it is when you're not getting a lot to do. His levels of cross collection were incredible and when we did need him, he was always there.

"One game in particular which springs to mind was Sheffield United away when we didn't play very well at all. It was on TV and Ryan Taylor scored with a deflected shot which might well have been the only shot we had in the game. Then in injury time, Steve made two incredible saves which gave us a win that by rights we had no business getting.

"I think the thing that surprised me most about Steve when I got to work with him every day was what an athlete he is in terms of how quick and how good he is all round. I always used to say to him that I had nothing to say about his goalkeeping because that was spot on. The only thing I used to say to him was 'show people how quick you are' and really that was the focus of everything we did.

"When he got a run in the team, that's what I felt he did and you couldn't ask for more than he did, really."

Barron has many happy memories of Harper and can't speak highly enough of his professionalism, but his favourite recollection involves a few drinks after United sealed the Championship title in Devon in April 2010.

"We played Plymouth away and we won the Championship on that night," he said. "I had a conversation with Steve when we were back at the hotel and it was just a classic conversation. I think he'd had a little too much Guinness on the night to speak properly so my abiding memory of him is the state he was in after we won the Championship.

"He and the rest of them were a sorry state on the coach journey back the next day. Because of the ash cloud disruption, we had to get the bus down and the bus back so they had plenty of time to think about the state they were in on the way back.

"That's a really happy memory for me. We won 2-0 that night, Steve had another good game, another clean sheet, and then a fantastic celebration afterwards. And I'll tell you what - if ever a team or a player deserved a celebration, they certainly got what they deserved that night."