A Love Letter To…one of football media’s unsung heroes, and a fella who would probably still turn up for kickabout if your club needs a striker. That’ll be Steve Claridge, then.
Why the love?
The very definition of a journeyman footballer having turned out for every single club in Britain. Twice. Or at least about 27 of them. Currently manager and director at Salisbury in the Southern League Division One South & West and doing rather well.
Although only 52, he often feels as if Steve is from an entirely different era. Has the sort of beaky, lean, low body fat percentage look and unreconstructed working class accent of a fingersmith in a Dickens novel, someone who is a bit of a rogue but has a heart of gold.
Very much an everyman, he was possibly the last ever footballer for whom “socks-down” was a defining look. It’s probably illegal to have your socks rolled down now. Seriously, it probably is. Poor Jack Grealish.
His stint working on the BBC Football League Show is very fondly remembered and it was something he was very good at, having a deep knowledge of lower league football. He doesn’t seem to have done much TV since.
For many seasons he was a regular on 5 live’s Monday Night Club where he would get himself into a bit of a lather over a manager’s inability to organise a team. Indeed, at times, it seemed that the sole cause of a side’s ills was due to “not being set up right” which, for all I know, may well be correct. I recall he was especially critical of Fabio Capello for this reason. Not a fan of square pegs in round holes.
He’s always good value as a co-comm. I think what we all love about Steve is that he feels like one of us. He really doesn’t seem to tailor his comments for the media he’s working in. He just calls it as he sees it and, like many good co-comms, it just feels like he’s your mate, sitting next to you, passing comment on the action. Some pundits and co-comms are trying to Be Something. Trying to have An Identity. And to become A Brand. That’s not the Claridge gig at all and one would imagine he’d give a sideways, narrow-eyed sneer to those who hold such ambitions.
A Portsmouth lad, to my northern ears he sounds more south London, but that may just be my ignorance of the native Portsmouth tongue. Has a rather light voice. Hardly basso profundo anyway. And in moments of high excitement or maximum incredulity, it can go very squeaky and high-pitched indeed, which is endearing because it feels so natural and unrestrained and uncool. And as everyone knows, the only cool people are those who are not trying to be cool. Indeed, many fans have commented that there’s no side to him at all. He was on one of 5 live’s always enjoyable ‘Round-the-Grounds’ show on Wednesday night, dipping in and out of reports from games in between discussing various issues, and he just comes across as very down-to-earth, unpretentious and honest.
He has a pleasingly and thoroughly unreconstructed voice too, not a hint of any modern inflections or linguistic fads, such as starting every sentence with “so” or deploying the rising inflection, making everything you say sound like a question. Nor that increasingly widespread habit of making the last word of each sentence drop down, so it sounds like you’re bored of your own words. No. Steve speaks like an Englishman born in the ’60s and seems determined not to change with the times. Good on him for that.
One of his roles when on the radio is to be the butt of jokes from the likes of Mark Chapman and to be fair to him, he plays the role of the slightly hurt underdog who is getting picked on by the bigger boys very well. At times adopts a genuinely injured tone during some of the more egregious ribbing, but one suspects, as a listener, that this is only happening because all concerned know he’s taking it in good humour and that it is born out of affection and respect.
Comes over as just a very intelligent, self-educated, sharp, working-class bloke. As the manager of Salisbury for the last three years, he’s done really well and in some ways, it’s no surprise. I’d imagine he’d be a very good boss to play for. A mix of old school directness and modern ideas.
Surely must be very conscious of making sure he couldn’t be accused of not “setting the side up right”.
Has a very distinctive hairline which comes to a bit of a point in the middle, and puts me in mind of Ray Reardon’s vampiric tendencies (one for the kids there!)
Oft favours the skinhead crop and he suits it too, looking like a member of a 2-Tone band from Coventry in the early ’80s. But he does grow it out sometimes and when he does, as per below, it invests him with a somewhat rugged, windswept handsomeness. If you like that sort of thing.
Research hasn’t uncovered any interest whatsoever in clothes, fashionable or otherwise. Very much from the plain menswear school but clearly cares little for such matters.
For some reason, I can imagine him going on holiday with his clothes in a carrier bag. And rightly so.
What the people say
Steve is one of those media performers who flies under the radar a little. Doesn’t seem to be one for pushing hard for TV or radio gigs. I say that because if he was, I’d imagine he’d get a lot more because he’s a distinctive voice. These days, bossing Salisbury is obviously his first priority but he has a legion of people who have always enjoyed his work, some of whom got in touch to celebrate him. First up, 5 live commentator and major dude, Ian Dennis:
“First worked with Steve during the 2002 World Cup for BBC interactive. It was an alternative commentary service but we were told, in a complementary way, we were like two blokes chatting in the pub. Easy to get on with but boy, he can moan…last season he had a right go because my coat was too big and he claimed he couldn’t sit on his seat!
“I love working with him. He’s a real character, loves his football, mischievous but doesn’t take himself too seriously either. Done well with Salisbury, two promotions in three seasons, which means we don’t work with him very often but when we do, he just slots back into the routine. A veteran of the Monday Night Club – I always enjoy hearing him whether alongside or as a listener.”
‘He is one of a kind. Love listening to him on the radio but beyond that he once turned up to a golf day with no trousers, no shoes and no clubs… and won. Remarkable scenes’ – Dan Walker.
‘I had a chat with Claridge once and we talked about a former player. I said that we Spurs fans are very fond of this man because he broke another specific player’s leg. I expected a backlash about the disrespect shown to a professional. Instead he just said “live by the sword, die by the sword”. Superb.’
‘Is passionate in what he says and very self deprecating. His resigned, seen it all/heard it all match summaries are a thing of wonder – he loves it when the football is good and makes you care that it should be.’
‘Always enjoyed him on the Football League Show with so much insight into the life and mindset of a lower league player. Probably had represented half the clubs! Seems to know every manager and chairman out there.’
‘He takes a joke about his playing career from a presenter in good humour.’
‘Had the pleasure of meeting Steve on a night out in Newquay. Top bloke, spent a fair bit of time chatting, even entertaining my drunken story about how he ruined my life temporarily given his goal in the ’97 cup replay beat us. Good man who could throw a few shapes too!
‘I read that as a player he used to get a skinhead then leave it to grow until it got in his eyes. Then he’d get another skinhead. If true, what a star.’
‘One of the best lower league understandings in the business, which is highlighted when you have to sit watching the excruciating discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the lower league team MOTD has chosen to feature in its FA Cup coverage by its usual pundits.’
‘Sometimes he sounds like somebody doing a parody of Steve Claridge. There’s a subtle element of Roland Rat about his rambling speak-first-think-later delivery. Fantastic chap.’
‘One of the pundits who manages to convey just how much they love football – all football – which is very endearing. Especially when he gets excited and goes full squeak. Big fan of his work.’
‘When he gets really excited only dogs can hear him.’
‘Difficult for a Palace fan to forgive him for that ‘shinner’ in 1996 play-off final but have met him few times coincidentally at play-off finals and has always been very generous with his time. As a pundit very down-to-earth and offers insight of a player with limited abilities.’
‘The thing I like about Steve is he speaks his mind and doesn’t care if that goes against the accepted grain. He used to wind me up because of it but I realise I was misguided – now I always listen when he’s on. BBCs go to man for non-glamorous clubs.’
‘Love how moany he is sometimes, to the brink of complete exasperation when co-commentating on 5 live. I like the fact that despite his strong Pompey connections, he is fair with Southampton.’
‘Always had an image of him (unfairly I am sure) preparing for training with a dog eared copy of the Racing Post, half eaten bacon butty and mug of tea. His co-comms work and other work for 5 live has matured into some very good stuff. Still has the capacity to go hyper in a game!’
‘I imagine he has his socks rolled down during commentary.’
Maybe he’ll keep managing in the lower reaches. I hope so, but I also hope he doesn’t neglect his media work, because he’s very good at it. His life’s route through football is one which invests his views with an especially informed flavour. He’s walked a long road from the old school world of brutal early ’80s lower league football to the very different 21st century. Much like his socks, he’s had a lot of ups and downs. There have been the gambling issues and the odd speeding conviction, but every time he’s in the studio, you know you’re in a for a few laughs – mostly at Steve’s expense, it has to be said. He paints with his own unique colour and in a crowded market, that surely is a major asset for any broadcaster.
I shall leave the final words to Mark Chapman. They stand as a fine tribute to a fine fella.
“Before I even did the MNC, I stood in on The Football League Show. He was so helpful and knowledgeable and put me at ease. He is just a genuinely nice guy. He was a huge part of the success of the MNC. Funny and argumentative and self deprecating. He can take it but also gives it out. And I put it that way round because I think it’s important the pundits give it back at the host.
“His appearances have been less not because he’s crap but because he’s making a success of management. Didn’t know that? Well that’s because he never shouts about it! I am very proud of him for what he has done with Salisbury because I know how much he wanted to go into management. I know how much he has prepared for other jobs and sometimes the clubs have been so rude they didn’t even turn up to the meeting.
“Despite him doing well though, he will always be the man who makes me laugh when he’s on with Jonathan Pearce and always be the man who would often do the MNC surrounded by bags because he often used to do the weekly shop before coming on air. Another one I deeply love working with but could never tell him!”
John Nicholson – why not peruse his t-shirt wares?