It's fair to say that Kevin Harper never quite lived up to the high expectations of the Hibs fans who saw him make his debut as a 17 year old, but he did play 116 games for the club, scoring 18 goals.
Kevin would leave Easter Road for a successful career in England where he won Championship medals with Portsmouth and Norwich and also promotion with Walsall.
Before heading south however, he did provide Hibs' fans with some never to be forgotten moments of magic in the green and white jersey, particularly in games against Hearts.
Born in Oldham on 15 January 1976, Kevin was brought up in the tough Possilpark area of Glasgow where he attended St Theresa's primary school and St Augustine's secondary. Each Sunday the devout catholic attended St Theresa's Church in Saracen Street, but every other spare minute was devoted to honing his football skills, which brought him to the attention of Hutchison Vale Boys Club in Edinburgh, and subsequently Hibs for whom he signed in August 1992.
After winning the Skol League Cup, Hibs manager Alex Miller was determined to gradually improve the squad, bringing players of quality such as Darren Jackson, Michael O'Neil, Kevin McAllister and Jim Leighton. Those 'in the know' however were convinced that the jewel in the crown was already at Easter Road, serving his apprenticeship. Kevin's performances in the reserves earned rave reviews, and it was only a matter of time before he featured in the first team.
Sure enough, on 18th September 1993 Kevin made his debut in a 3-1 victory away to St Johnstone, aged 17 years and 246 days. He was used sparingly by Alex Miller, who to be fair, was not short of firepower up front, and it took almost eleven months before Kevin found the net in a 5-0 win over Dundee United at Easter Road.
Kevin quickly became a fans' favourite, especially as he seemed to reserve his best performances for the Edinburgh derbies. Alex Miller's tenure at Easter Road was marred by a dismal record against Hearts, and from 1989 to 1994, Hibs had gone an astonishing 22 games without a win. On 27August 1994, Kevin made his derby debut at Tynecastle and played his part in ending the unwanted record, winning the corner from which Gordon Hunter scored the only goal of the game, thereby lifting a great weight from the shoulders of everyone connected with the club.
On 6th May 1995, Kevin came on as an inspired second half substitute at Easter Road with Hearts leading one-nil. He made an immediate impact, sending in a superb cross for Mickey Weir who equalised with a rare header. Within seven minutes, Keith Wright had added a second and Kevin a third to secure a famous victory, although unfortunately, due to refurbishment at Easter Road only 7140 fans had the privilege of witnessing his performance.
Naturally his form brought him to the attention of Scotland Under 21 manager Tommy Craig, and in September that year he scored a hat-trick in the 5-0 win over Finland in Cumbernauld. The result was a record score-line for the team and also ensured a place in the European Championship Quarter Finals. The following months, whilst still a teenager, Kevin was capped for Scotland B in their 2-1 win against Sweden. He would go on to make seven appearances in total for the Under 21s, scoring four goals, and three appearances for the 'B' team, featuring against Turkey and Germany in the Futures Cup in 2002/03.
On New Years' Day 1996, few gave Hibs a chance after Hearts' full back Neil Pointing opened the scoring early in the first half. Morale in the Hibs' camp was low as two days earlier, Hibs had suffered their biggest ever league defeat, losing 7-0 at Ibrox in a game best remembered for referee Willie Young booking Paul Gascoigne after the Rangers midfielder had jokingly shown him a yellow card. A Michael O'Neil header from a Kevin McAllister cross levelled the scoring, and with four minutes of the first half remaining, Keith Wright got on the end of a Darren Jackson cross, and his header fell to Kevin who produced a sensational left foot volley which flew into the Hearts' net, for what would be the eventual winner.
His next derby however would end in controversy when Kevin was racially abused both on and off the field, and despite incriminating video evidence, no action was taken by the SFA, a decision which left him feeling let down by the governing body. Sometime later however he got his chance of revenge and grabbed it with both hands.
On 11th April 1998, Hibs sat bottom of the league needing a miracle to avoid relegation, and to make matters worse, city rivals Hearts were involved in a three horse race for the title, along with Rangers and Celtic. After a fiercely fought first half, Barry Lavety shocked the travelling support by giving Hibs the lead, but as the fans celebrated, the sight of John Robertson warming up did little to ease the nerves.
Sure enough, 'Robbo' scored his 27th derby goal to equalise, and it seemed just a matter of time before Hearts grabbed the points, but with ten minutes remaining, Kevin took matters into his own hands with one of the finest goals ever seen at Easter Road. There appeared little danger when he picked up the ball inside his own half, but a stunning first touch saw him leave two Hearts defenders in his wake. Full back Gary Naysmith was outpaced as he tried to cover, and as Kevin reached the edge of the box, he curled an exquisite 18 yarder low to Giles Rousset's right into the net in front of the Famous Five Stand, sending three quarters of the stadium into delirium.
That victory ended Hearts title ambitions; however the points were not enough to save Hibs from relegation.
As Alex McLeish built his own side to win promotion, he accepted a bid of £300,000 from Premier League side Derby County, then managed by 'Bald Eagle' Jim Smith, who persuaded Kevin to move to the Midlands. Typically he left with a parting gift; a goal against Clydebank in a 2-1 win.
The early signs were encouraging and Kevin's first Derby County goal came in a 2-1 win in front of the Kop at Anfield, but he struggled to get a starting place with most of his appearances for the club coming from the bench. Midway through his second season, Kevin left Pride Park to join Division One side Walsall on loan, and his performances there caught the eye of Pompey manager Tony Pullis, who convinced Chairman Milan Mandaric to part with £300,000 to take him to Fratton Park in March 2000 on a three-year contract.
A day after signing, Kevin was handed his debut in a defeat at Birmingham, however he played a major role for the remainder of the season as Pompey went on to lose just three more games in the final eleven that season. He scored his first goal in his third appearance against Crewe before going on to add another before the season was out.
The following season, manager Pullis was replaced by future Hearts' manager Graham Rix, and whilst Kevin was plagued by injury, he did manage to score in the final game against Barnsley, which resulted in Portsmouth escaping relegation. The poor form shown throughout that season however saw Chairman Mandaric threaten to withhold players' wages after a string of defeats, although this was thankfully resolved.
Another poor campaign saw Rix replaced by Harry Redknapp, sparking off a fantastic period for Kevin and the club, culminating with a Coca-Cola Championship title win.
On a personal note, Kevin was selected by Berti Vogts for the Scotland Squad for a Euro 2004 qualifying match against the Faroe Islands, although he never featured in the game. Had he done so, he would have become the first black player in over 100 years to play for Scotland. Ironically, Portsmouth team-mate Nigel Quashie, an Englishman with a Glasgow-born grandfather, made the historic step two years later. (Andrew Watson, of Queen's Park, was the first black player to represent Scotland when he won three caps back in the 1881/82 season.)
Kevin's performances at right wing back earned him a new two year contract, but promotion to the Premier League meant that Kevin, and plenty of other players that helped Pompey out of Division One, saw their opportunities limited. After just one late substitute appearance against Man City at the end of August Kevin joined Norwich City on loan, coincidentally joining up with former team-mate Peter Crouch, and won second successive Coca-Cola Championship winner's medal in 2004.
He returned to Fratton Park and made a further eight more League and Cup appearances but the following season he was off on loan to Leicester City, however injury saw him to return to the south coast where he made his only appearance in a League Cup quarter final defeat to Watford.
With his contract drawing to an end, Tony Pullis paid an undisclosed fee to take him to Stoke City in February 2005, but once again injuries hindered his progress at the Britannia Stadium, and he completed two loan deals, firstly to Carlisle United then Walsall where he scored twice on his debut and helped them return to League One, scoring the opening goal in a 2-1 victory over Notts County which secured promotion.
Unsurprisingly, Kevin was released by Stoke at the end of his contract and although a return to Walsall was expected, he decided to head north of the border and signed for Dunfermline. Once again, injuries blighted his career, although he did manage a hat-trick against Stirling Albion, and also played in the club's UEFA cup tie against Swedish side BK Hacken.
After retiring from the game, Kevin was back at Easter Road as a salesman for Rainbow Communications who sponsored the South (Away) Stand.
Despite a career hampered by injuries, Kevin played almost 400 first team games on both sides of the border, and can count household names such as Peter Crouch, Darren Huckerby, Shaka Hislop, Paul Merson, Yakubu, Tim Sherwood and Gianluca Festa amongst his team-mates, and Harry Redknapp, Tony Pullis, Alex McLeish and Jim Smith amongst his managers.