The ex-Pompey boss using success to alter football’s perception

Steve Claridge is now manager of Wessex League premier division leaders Salisbury
Steve Claridge is now manager of Wessex League premier division leaders Salisbury

For Steve Claridge, the Wessex League premier division doesn’t offer redemption.

Merely the precious opportunity to amend perceptions and realign opinion surrounding a character bristling at the injustice.

The 49-year-old’s craving for a management role brought him to the ninth tier English football’s pyramid with the reformed Salisbury.

Before, there was a 137-day spell in charge at Pompey, 36 days at Millwall and a season at Weymouth, unfulfilling in so many ways for Claridge.

Nomadic spells hamstrung by difficult chairmen and changes in ownership leave a stubborn stain on the footballing curriculum vitae.

Now the Raymond McEnhill Stadium has offered the chance. At last.

Last weekend table-topping Salisbury took their goal tally to 102 for the season in all competitions, following the 6-0 demolition of Fareham.

A side assembled from scratch by Claridge since July, after the club rose from the ashes of the liquidated Salisbury City.

The Wembley match-winner with Leicester City is currently locking horns with the likes of Folland Sports, Bemerton Heath Harlequins, Blackfield & Langley and Team Solent.

Yet the opposition remains irrelevant when the outcome is being allowed to demonstrate managerial talents left for so long untapped.

‘I don’t look on this as redemption because I haven’t messed up where I’ve been before. I’ve just not had the opportunity to do the job properly,’ said Claridge.

‘With all due respect, the level I’ve played at and the amount of games amassed, I am looking at other managers thinking you didn’t love the game, you didn’t even want to play the game, yet you’ve got a job.

‘I deserve a job more than anybody I know and should have a job. It’s not that I can’t do the job, it is about perception.

‘I have to break down the barriers. I am one of those that people have a preconceived idea about, the perception is I mess about, blah, blah, blah. It is only when people meet me that they ask me “Why aren’t you a manager?”, such is the difference between reality and hearsay.

‘People need to cut me a bit of slack. I am one of those who makes a mistake and everybody remembers it for the next 10 years. Other people make a mistake and it’s forgotten in two weeks.

‘That can only be the reason why I haven’t got a job because I have never let anyone down. I have never, ever given less than 100 per cent.

‘I would like to think I am honest, hard working, I played the way I am, and more than 1,000 games will back that up.

‘Another thing I have got to break is the media tag. People just think I am media-orientated and that’s it, but I am not. People ask if I enjoy it but it sustains, it doesn’t satisfy.

‘It is a great job, don’t get me wrong, but I have come from playing football – a position you can’t replicate working in the media.

‘For me, it never has and never will give the same buzz, although I hope no-one from the BBC reads this!’

Following their reformation, Salisbury have been forced to compete four divisions below their previous Conference Premier surroundings.

Presently, they top the Wessex League premier division on goal difference ahead of Horndean.

Their goal difference is plus 52, while, defensively, have conceded eight times in 17 league matches.

Among the key performers is George Colson – a central midfielder converted into a right-back, who made one Pompey appearance under Michael Appleton.

And Claridge’s troops are marching forwards at pace.

He added: ‘In July we didn’t have a player, so built the team off the back of two trial games and three friendlies, putting in hard work and seeing things in players that others hadn’t.

‘Our budget is nowhere near the biggest, there would be one or two clubs with much bigger ones. Three or four of us are likely to be between £1,000 and £1,200 a week.

‘These teams also have squads they kept from last year, whereas we had nothing. It was completely from scratch.

‘About four weeks ago we had a bit of a cull, getting rid of five who weren’t good enough. Yet we had to sign 15 players at the start of the season to just have a team!

‘Promotion is the goal. It wasn’t always the case, you cannot set a promotion goal when you haven’t got a player. So the aim was to get a team started – and then see how far we can go over a period of time.

‘They are a great bunch, tremendous characters who want to win, and we play quite an expansive game, I like us to get at teams.

‘Recently, I had an offer from League Two but turned it down because I am really proud of what I have achieved at Salisbury so far.’

Claridge’s first job at the helm was at Pompey in October 2000 as a player-manager, spanning 24 matches.

More than 15 years later he is at last sensing progression.

‘At Weymouth we were in the Conference and went from 17th to second in one year – four games later I left the club,’ added Claridge.

‘I was player-manager at Pompey for four months and at Millwall got caught between Jeff Burnige and Theo Paphitis. I was later told by Jeff that whoever he had employed Theo would have got rid of, such was the animosity between the two.

‘Suffice to say, Milan Mandaric and Paphitis were not easy people to work with.

‘I think now I am ready, I have proven I can do the job. Anyone else would be saying “I need 18 months to mold a team together”, I hear this all the time and think it is total fallacy.

‘I have proven you don’t, whatever you say it is a decent level, with good players and I have put that together in two months from nothing.

‘This has been my chance.’