Harte chases fairytale return to big time
when Reading arrive at Wembley for their Championship play-off final against Swansea this afternoon, a fond memory will stir for one of their players and then be consigned to the back of his mind.
A decade ago, Irish defender Ian Harte was one round away from playing in club football's biggest game. He did not make it, Leeds United's remarkable European run ended in the semi-final against Valencia, sparking the financial implosion which plunged the club into the third tier.
Undaunted, Harte went into Europe alone, playing for Levante in Spain for three years, but found it tough re-establishing himself in the domestic game when he returned.
So much so, that a year ago he was playing in League One with Carlisle United -- and grateful to be doing so.
Into his 30s, the big occasions seemed behind him.
But Harte prospered at Carlisle, scoring 18 goals from left-back and winning selection in the PFA's divisional team of the season. It was enough to persuade Reading managerBrian McDermott to take a punt.
"He has given me the opportunity to play Championship football which the majority of other managers didn't," said Harte, "I'd like to try and repay him."
Prior to Carlisle, Harte spent a miserable season at Sunderland, when his old international team-mate Roy Keane played him just eight times, followed by a soul-destroying traipse round clubs looking for a contract.
Wolves, then in the Championship, at least offered a monthly deal; Charlton, Blackpool and Norwegian club Valerenga did not.
"I did think I was banging my head against a brick wall," said Harte.
"You beat yourself up. You take it out on your loved ones. You go home, you're frustrated.
"You're thinking that other players are getting opportunities, but you have to keep telling yourself you will get that chance, thankfully I did."
League One was an eye-opener.
"It's a million miles away from the Premier League," he said.
"People ask, are you still hungry? Of course I'm hungry. Robbie Savage said he'd never drop down the leagues, but I think you've got to play football as long as you can.
"When I played at Leeds, I wasn't the quickest in the world and nowadays managers (at this level) look for machines that get up and down the pitch. They are not too bothered if they can play.
"When I was younger I used to run around like a headless chicken, but you learn with experience."
That experience will be invaluable today in a match worth e69m to the winners. (© Independent News Service)
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