James Harper: Former Reading midfielder thrilled to still be part of game

James Harper
James Harper scored nine Premier League goals in two top-flight seasons with Reading

Managers will sometimes go to great lengths to seal a deal for a player they want, but knocking repeatedly on their front door until they agree might be a new one.

Admittedly, things work a little different for non-league clubs, but when Hungerford Town manager Bobby Wilkinson had the chance to sign former Reading, Hull and Doncaster midfielder James Harper, he was prepared to wear out the door bell to get his man.

Harper, now 35, made a name for himself with Reading over a nine-year spell and more than 300 appearances, including two seasons in the Premier League.

Despite Wilkinson's persistent house calls the Chelmsford-born playmaker is still hungry to play the game, even in National League South - the sixth tier.

"It's got me football, I can't let it go," he told BBC Sport.

And so it would seem.

Since dropping down from the Championship with Doncaster to join Conference side Barnet in early 2014, Harper has plied his trade for non-league Basingstoke Town and Hayes & Yeading before reuniting with former Reading team-mate Wilkinson at Hungerford.

Tackling 'the ageism stigma'

"I'm a better player now than I was five years ago," Harper claimed ahead of his Hungerford debut against Poole Town on Saturday. "I can still run about, but at 35, you get hit with the ageism stigma.

"I'm still enjoying playing and if I couldn't still do it and keep up with the pace, I'd give it up."

Harper admits a move into coaching is a possibility, but is reluctant to combine the two while still playing.

James Harper and Nicky Shorey
Former Reading team-mates Harper and Nicky Shorey have both played for Hungerford Town this season

"I've done my badges, but I'm not ready yet," he told BBC Radio Berkshire. "I need to concentrate on playing 100%.

"I've seen other people try and do half-and-half, combining coaching with playing. Generally, it's not gone well and I don't think you get the best out of either that way."

Persistence pays off

Hungerford manager Wilkinson, who also called on the services of ex-Reading and England left-back Nicky Shorey earlier this season, admits Harper brings "much-needed experience" to his squad.

"I'd been knocking on Harps' door for two to three months," Wilkinson revealed.

"I was taught when I started management that if you want someone, make sure you go round their house and keep knocking on their door until they say yes."

Media playback is not supported on this device

James Harper says he regrets his career moves after Reading, as he joins Hungerford.

Hungerford have made a steady start to their first season in National League South, hovering around the play-offs despite Saturday's last-gasp 1-0 defeat by Poole.

"He (Harper) has been a credit fitting in around the squad," Wilkinson added. "This bunch have been together for a number of years, but he's been a part of everything on and off the pitch since joining.

"I need people like James Harper to steady the ship on the pitch when he's playing, but also I need his experience off the pitch when he's not playing.

"It's great for the club, for the area and the supporters to be able to see a player of his quality, and hopefully it brings a few more through the turnstiles."

James Harper and Bobby Wilkinson were talking to BBC Radio Berkshire's Adam Whitty.