THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

by Steve Claridge with Ian Ridley
Orion, £18.99
Reviewed by Pete Green
From WSC 271 September 2009 

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One book was never going to be enough for Steve Claridge. While his well-received earlier volume Tales From the Boot Camps told an enjoyable if fairly standard tale of a mostly lower-division pro enjoying glimpses of the big time, this follow-up finds the archetypal journeyman scurrying around the leagues in his late 30s to extend an already epic CV. With some brief but eventful stints in management and a burgeoning media career, there is masses of raw material, and with his co-author and friend Ian Ridley, Claridge has crafted it into another decent read.

There’s little in the way of jaw-dropping revelation – Claridge declines to name the manager who requests a £25,000 bung on a player sale – but some of our suspicions are confirmed about the mentality of rich chairmen who come late to football. It is the author’s experiences as a manager that provide the most telling insights here, as he suffers three absurd sackings at the hands of antsy chairmen with apparently little grasp of the bigger picture. The unacceptable face of capitalism looks a lot like Theo Paphitis, and it’s no Dragons’ Den persona: much to Millwall’s and Claridge’s misfortune, he seems to be like that all the time.

Football autobiographies always tempt the author to settle scores at the expense of a fluent story. While the disillusion that seeps in here offers respite from the sometimes wearying parade of great blokes and smashing lads Claridge encountered earlier in his career, and he clearly has a strong case against Paphitis, he is guilty of forgetting his wider audience when he opts to rebut his former chairman’s accusations using a bullet point list. The reader’s most generous possible response is that at least he spares us a Powerpoint presentation.

Rather than play the ghost writer’s role conventionally, Ian Ridley adds a chapter in his own voice here and there. While his praise for Claridge is sometimes cloying (“generous of spirit, he ends up enhancing the lives of those he comes into contact with”), these interludes add perspective – not just from Ridley but with quotes from former teammates. They speak with one voice, though, on the matter of Claridge’s idiosyncratic nature.

This is fitting because, as interesting as his narrow scrape with an angry mob of Southampton fans is, this is a football story driven not by anecdotes but by the author’s own personality. Claridge seems to be widely regarded in the game as something of a “character” – brimming with the sort of eccentricity that football lore typically imputes to goalkeepers – on the basis of little more than a big bag of mucky boots and an occasional tendency for lateness. (Ridley, for his part, buys into rather than refutes this myth; in the earlier book, as proof of his friend’s insurmountable weirdness, he cites an incident in which Claridge cooked him roast chicken without gravy.) Football must be a very dull place on the inside. But while we might struggle to see Claridge as the footballing Frank Zappa suggested by his peers, he emerges from Beyond The Boot Camps a likeable figure whose ample self-belief never inflates into arrogance. Given the depths of public contempt that prominent footballers have sunk to in recent times, this might well rank as the greatest achievement of a long career.

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