FIVE months ago, Jon Harley scored for Portsmouth at Stevenage.
It could turn out to be his final goal in professional football because tomorrow, when Danny Wilson’s side visit the Lamex Stadium, the former Sheffield United defender will be entering the busiest and most exciting chapter of what has already been an eventful footballing career.
“I’m coaching at Chelsea’s academy now,” Harley told The Star last night. “And I’m enjoying myself so much it’s going to take a pretty special offer for me to leave.
“I’ve signed for Maidstone to help a mate out and might be playing for them against Chipstead on Saturday. But I’ll have to dash to the ground because I’m working with the youngsters in the morning.
“I never thought I’d want to stay in the game for the rest of my life but I’ve changed my mind now. I’m loving every minute of coaching and this is what I want to do.”
Harley, who made over 70 appearances for United before joining Burnley eight years ago, left Fratton Park in January. Like staff at Shirecliffe, where David Unsworth and Jamie Hoyland have recently accepted positions on United’s youth programme, their counterparts in the capital are also encouraging ex-players to help groom Stamford Bridge’s emerging talent.
“I came through the ranks with Chelsea and I’m doing sessions with Tore Andre Flo,” Harley, who also represented Fulahm, Rotherham and Notts County, said. “It’s good to hear that United are doing the same because I think getting old players on board helps create an identity and reminds me of Liverpool’s bootroom a bit.”
On paper, the 44th match of United’s season appears a formality. In practice, it will be anything but.
The visitors, second in the table and unbeaten in seven games, travel south this afternoon emboldened by the knowledge their defence has not been breached since Stephen McGinn scored a consolation for Shrewsbury Town nearly 10 footballing hours ago.
Stevenage might be 16th after losing nine of their last 10 outings but their solitary win during that miserable run was against high-flying Brentford. Indeed, Gary Smith’s side boast a better record against opposition in the top-half of the rankings than those battling relegation.
Dani Lopez and Bondz N’Gala have been recalled from loan spells with Barnet to bolster Smith’s options. Anthony Jeffrey’s presence after agreeing a temporary transfer from Arsenal means, at least according to a member of the Londoners’ backroom staff, that Stevenage can also call upon the services of a winger “blessed with searing pace.”
“Stevenage’s ground might not be the biggest,” Harley said. “But creates one of the best atmospheres because of that.”
Should leaders Portsmouth beat leaders Doncaster Rovers, then United’s superior goal difference means a victory over Stevenage would see them climb above their South Yorkshire rivals. However with only seven points separating the top seven teams, a defeat or draw could see them sucked back into the pack if the likes of Tranmere, Bournemouth and Uwe Rosler’s charges win. Yeovil Town and Swindon, sixth and fourth respectively, meet next week.
“I had a great time at United,” Harley said. “I really hope they go up.”