For Joe Harper, scoring goals in his native Scotland came as naturally as breathing. In England, as with so many Scottish players who try their luck down south, it was a different story. A spell with Huddersfield Town during the late-1960s ended with a swift return to his homeland. There, with Morton and Aberdeen, he rehabilitated his reputation, finishing third top league scorer in all of Europe in the 1971/72 season, also earning a Scotland call up.
Scouts flooded to Pittordie, but it was Harry Catterick who got his man, concluding a club record £180,000 deal in December 1972. For the Everton manager it was a last throw of the managerial dice, but in hindsight was to demonstrate once more how his once astute judgement of players had lapsed.
Harper was the archetypal goal-poacher, a great opportunist who was at his best in the six yard box. The Scottish football journalist, Paul Forsyth, recorded that he was ‘An instinctive player, he believed that the brain was quicker than the feet, that his meaty thighs need only be used to feed on scraps in and around the box. A bit of a chancer, he used to grab defenders by the testicles to gain half a yard, but it worked…’
On his debut against Tottenham, Harper set the tone of his Everton career with a missed penalty. Although he scored in Everton’s two subsequent games, it was a tough time for a new player to settle as Catterick’s reign flickered to its disappointing conclusion. As Everton languished, too often he would go missing. Harper nevertheless finished the 1972/73 season Everton’s top scorer with eight goals.
Harper continued to partner Joe Royle or Mick Lyons in attack following Billy Bingham’s arrival as manager in the summer of 1973. But the goals did not come, and the Everton manager concluded he needed a more reliable alternative. In February 1974 he cut Everton’s losses, selling Harper to Hibernian for £120,000. Soon after Bingham made Bob Latchford a British transfer record signing.
In Scotland the goals flowed once more, and after returning to Pittordie in 1976 the striker wrote himself into club lore with his scoring exploits.