Sporting view: Steve Harper

County Durham-born Steve Harper reflects on his return to top flight football by signing for Sunderland AFC, in addition to coaching the U13 team at Middlesbrough FC

It’d be quite an understatement to say that I’ve had a busy month since my last column.

Like most people in early January, I felt like upping the gym visits was a good idea, without realising what good timing it was when two and a half weeks later a phone call from a former manager would get me out of ‘almost-retirement’.

Having played the last seven games of last season at Hull City (keeping three clean sheets in the process, I might add) I’d felt reluctant to officially call it a day.

August had brought me close to moves to both Tottenham Hotspur and QPR and, because of this, I felt like I had unfinished business with the game.

Offers from India, Denmark, League One and the Northern League were all considered to varying degrees due to my reluctance to hang up the gloves.

Having spent 20 years at Newcastle United and also being a very well-qualified coach, previous indications from officials at the club were that there may be a coaching role there after my time at Hull City. It would certainly have been a natural progression, but it didn’t materialise.

Then, when the call came from Sam Allardyce to “come in for a chat” at Sunderland AFC, I didn’t hesitate. I know the gaffer from our time together at Newcastle United and after a mentally challenging six months out of football for me, the opportunity to get back into the full-time professional game was something I simply couldn’t turn down.

Arriving at Sunderland AFC’s training ground after my medical, I walked over to the edge of the pitches thinking to myself, “you’re a long time retired”.

I looked at the goals in the corner of the training ground and I thought to myself that, as I approach 41, I can still do this. From that moment, my decision to join Sunderland AFC was made.

I know that I’m at the club to provide some insurance to the goalkeeping department as a number three. I can also hopefully pass on some of my vast experience to the young goalkeepers and help them in their careers as I did with Tim Krul and Fraser Forster, who have gone on to great things.

And the welcome from everyone at Sunderland has been fantastic.

I knew there would be a social media reaction about joining Sunderland AFC and therefore I de-activated my Twitter account to avoid seeing any vitriol.

Thankfully, every single message I’ve had from friends, ex-colleagues and many hard-core and genuine Newcastle fans has been positive and supportive. For this, I’m hugely grateful.

I’m not the first and certainly won’t be the last to play for both Newcastle and Sunderland clubs and bigger names than I have done it without any issues.

Admittedly, Newcastle fans obviously excluded any good wishes from a certain upcoming encounter on March 20.

As a region, we can struggle to attract top players and someone reading or hearing any of the nonsense that was supposedly aired on social media about my signing to Sunderland may think twice about coming to the North East, therefore denying the fantastic football fans up here the chance to see them week in, week out.

I’m proud to be from the North East and I’ve always been very supportive of the whole region, having played for clubs in Gateshead, Hartlepool, Newcastle and, now, Sunderland.

I also have to thank Middlesbrough Football Club for giving me the opportunity to get back into football in December as I’m now coaching the under-13 team at its fantastic academy.

I’m sure that all true North East football fans like myself would love to see our three big clubs all competing in the Premier League next season as the Derby days are all special occasions on the calendar and the more there are of them, the better.

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