Steven Harper was born in Newcastle-Under-Lyme on the 3rd February 1969, he started his career with Port Vale graduated through the juniors to sign a professional contract under manager John Rudge in June 1987. He made thirty-three appearances in a two year spell at Vale Park, scoring two goals before being sold to Preston North End for £35,000 plus 50% of any future sales in March 1989.
Harper, had three seasons at Deepdale and was a first team regular in the division three side that were managed by former Port Vale boss John McGrath. Ironically Preston North End lost to Port Vale in the play-offs at the end of the 1988-89 season. The winger went on to make eighty-nine appearances for North End, scoring eleven goals before joining local Lancashire rivals Burnley Football Club in the summer of 1991.
Having signed for the Clarets by Frank Casper who lasted just three months before being sacked and Jimmy Mullen took charge of the team. Just like his time at Deepdale, Steven Harper was a first regular at Turf Moor under Jimmy Mullen as the club went on a long unbeaten run which lead the team winning the Fourth Division Championship with a famous 2-1 victory over York City at Bootham Crescent.
In his second and final season at Turf Moor, Harper made forty-two appearances, scoring five goals as the Clarets finished thirteenth in the new second division. At the end of the 1992-93 season following the signing of David Eyres he was given a free transfer and joined Doncaster Rovers after making ninety-one appearances for the Clarets, scoring twelve goals for the club.
Having signed for Doncaster Rovers in August 1993 he made thirty-one appearances in his first season under manager Ian Atkins, scoring three goals as “Donny” finished mid-table. The following season he was joined by former Clarets team mate Ian Measham as the club finished ninth in the league. In his final season at Belle Vue he made just one appearance finishing his spell at Doncaster with seventy-five appearances, scoring twelve goals.
Harper, then joined Mansfield Town in September 1995 for £20,000 were he spent four seasons initially under Andy King and then under new manager Steve Parkin. In the four seasons at Field Mill he made one hundred and eighty one appearances, scoring nineteen goals before joining Hull City on a free transfer in July 1999 were he played under former Clarets midfielder Warren Joyce.
After two seasons at Hull City were he made eighty appearances, scoring four goals he joined Darlington in February 2001. He left the Football League in 2002 and moved into non-league football joining Northern Premier League Kidsgrove Athletic. After making 504 football league appearances, scoring 54 goals he hung up his boots to take up coaching. Harper spent six years as a coach with Stoke City academy, before he was appointed as a first team coach at Chasetown in May 2017.
Chadwick Media this week caught up with the former Clarets winger to talk about his career and the Fourth Division Championship season under Jimmy Mullen.
Who was your biggest influence in football and why?
I would say the biggest influence on my career was probably was a guy called John Crotty, he was my coach from 12-16 and he had a lot of belief in my ability and also encouraged the athletic side of my game. He was an international triple jumper and coach but it’s fair to say he was important in my first steps with Port Vale.
What was your best football highlight?
My best football highlight was no doubt the amazing scenes at Bootham Crescent on the night we won the league with Burnley at York City. I also scored three hat tricks in my career which were special, but the night at York I just never wanted it to end.
What is your football lowlight?
I think leaving Hull City to go to Darlington Football Club, Hull City were such a big club but they fell into administration in 2001 and so the future was so uncertain. My contract was coming to an end and Darlington came in for me and I joined them for a little bit of security, but I was very happy living in and playing for Hull City.
Tell us about your Football League Debut?
So my league debut was back on the 15th August 1987 at Vale Park for Port Vale against Aldershot Town in the old third division. It was the first game of the season and we won the game 4-2 with former Wales international striker Andy Jones scoring all four goals.
Best Goal You Scored and why?
Probably the best goal I scored was for Mansfield Town at Brighton Hove Albion in 1996, I collected the ball in the left-back position and ran the full length of the pitch with the ball before tucking it into the net after nut megging the last defender.
Toughest opponent you faced and why?
My toughest opponent was possibly Didier Deschamps he was such a strong simple player with great intelligence and authority on the pitch. I played against him in the FA Cup for Hull City against Chelsea, we lost the game 6-2 that afternoon against a team that included De Goey, Leboeuf, Terry, Deschamps, Poyet, Wise, Di Matteo and Zola.
Who is the best manager you have played for and why?
The best manager I played for was Steve Parkin when I played at Mansfield Town. He was honest and fair which I respect and we were just one player missing from being a top team. Steve Parkin has gone on to manage Rochdale (twice) and Barnsley, he has also been very successful as assistant manager to Phil Parkinson at Bradford City, Bolton Wanderers, Sunderland and Wrexham.
Who was the best player you played with and why?
The best player I played with was Adrian Heath in my second year at Burnley, he had a great season scoring twenty goals, the best of which was a thirty yard effort at Bramall Lane in the FA Cup. Inchy would make an outstanding number ten in the modern game, he was an intelligent player that could spot and play a pass, he could run with the ball at his feet and he could score a goals from long or short range.
The Clarets won the 4th Division Championship whilst you were at Turf Moor what was it like to be part of that squad and to lift the trophy in front of the home supporters
The team that I played in during my first season at Burnley (Champions) was such a well balanced outfit and we had such a strong feeling between us. There was a lot of banter between us all and we were so close as a unit. To top it off we had a great leader in John Pender. There was magic between the players and the supporters which was there to see in abundance on that special night at York City.
You spent time coaching at Stoke City and Chasetown after playing how did you enjoy the role and how does it differ from playing the game?
So my coaching days took me to work with academy players at Stoke City and I really enjoyed coaching with a great deal of success both with teams and individuals. It was the next best thing to playing, but the politics within the coaching staff was a big distraction. Coaches in superior rolls saw the work I was doing and they saw me as a threat to their position. The Chasetown experience was great and should really have brought promotion but it was a little difficult adjusting to semi professional rather than professional level and dealing with the mentality of players at semi professional level.