HE’S become the face and voice of late-night Saturday TV.
Steve Claridge is the long-distance journeyman footballer and no-nonsense analyst whose intensity and enthusiasm have helped millions stay awake long enough to see their team on The Football League Show.
He talks a good game but so he should - he’s played in more than 1,000 of them.
Claridge, aged 45 and still playing, is uniquely placed to spot the nuances of the ‘beautiful’ game from the BBC studio alongside Manish Bhasin.
Yet he was one of the scruffiest players you ever saw on the pitch. Minutes after kick off his socks would be round his ankles and his shirt billowing as if several sizes too big.
But Claridge, the face and voice of BBC’S Football League coverage, enjoys speaking his mind.
A passionate, intelligent and articulate individual, Claridge certainly does not have a problem expressing his opinions.
As a player he had no great pace but he had ‘quick feet’ and a nimble mind: opposing supporters learned to fear this urchin-like figure who would invariably pop up with a goal.
Given how much Claridge has travelled the country, it is a surprise to discover that he has never played for a proper Yorkshire team – five goals in a short spell for Bradford City back in 2005 really don’t count!
The closest Claridge came to joining a South Yorkshire club was seven years ago when he had a two-day trial with the Owls. Boss Paul Sturrock played him in a reserve match but he was not offered a deal.
“I like Sheffield because it is a proper football city,” he said.
“ It has knowledgeable fans. You go to some areas and fans will clap and you think what have they clapped for?
“Here, they understand football because they have seen good players. It is always nice when you play in front of knowledgeable fans and you’ve got that passion in the city. It is a place where you always like to come and play your football because there is always a bit of an edge.
“There is always a bit of passion, rivalry, grudging respect for good players. You know you are going to get a bit of stick and banter here but that’s because they will respect you.”
If the striker, who represented 19 league clubs in his illustrious career, is not on the Football League Show on a Saturday night, he’s probably holding court on BBC Radio 5 Live. Claridge is an unashamed media junkie.
Oozing charm and self confidence, he tackles the big issues in the lower leagues with the same enthusiasm he demonstrated as a player.
Of his punditry style, Claridge, in his book, Beyond the Boot Camps, said: “I think I get too technical at times because I am very into the tactics and strategy of the game, which you need to be as an expert summariser, both on radio and TV.
“I like to explain why certain formations work for certain teams, why this player is good in such a role, what his strengths and weaknesses are. I think what people like, or at least they say to me they do, is that when I say something, I give an explanation for it.
“If something is wrong, I say why. People also like a bit of humour, a bit of lightness amid the lesson if you like, and I think I can deliver that.”
Claridge began his professional career at Bournemouth in 1984.
His other clubs included Aldershot, Birmingham, Bradford, Brentford, Brighton, Cambridge United, Crystal Palace, Leicester, Luton, Millwall, Portsmouth, Walsall, Wycombe and Wolves.
He later rejoined the Cherries and marked his 1000th game as a professional with a 4-0 defeat by Port Vale.
His golden years were 1994 to 2001 when he plundered over 100 goals for Birmingham, Leicester and Portsmouth. He is perhaps best known for hitting the goal which helped Martin O’Neill’s Leicester City gain promotion, via the play-offs, to the top flight in 1996.
A year later he grabbed the winner for the Foxes in the League Cup final replay victory over Middlesbrough at Hillsborough.
Claridge rates his goal at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground as the second best of his career.
“I wouldn’t change a spot in the Premier League for a goal in the cup final,” he said. “It is life-changing. All of a sudden, it takes you to a whole new world.
“Everything changes in regards to your lifestyle, wages, the places you go to, the fans you play in front of so it would be second to that. I’ve scored a winner in a cup final and it is not my number one goal; it can’t be bad can it?”
Claridge is no stranger to the dugout either, having had short spells as manager or player-manager at Portsmouth, Weymouth and Millwall. The Dragon, Theo Paphitis, told him he was ‘out’ after 36 days at Millwall, Milan Mandaric, now Owls chairman, gave him four months at Pompey and his stay at Weymouth lasted nearly a year.
Whenever his media commitments allow, Claridge still pulls on his boots for Southern League side Gosport Borough as a player-coach and he - naturally - found the net on his debut before Christmas.
Claridge continues to re-invent himself and retirement seems a long way off.