Football: Scarecrow with a goalscoring habit

BOOK OF THE WEEK: Tales from the Boot Camps Steve Claridge with Ian Ridley
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The Independent Online
Tales from the Boot Camps Steve Claridge with Ian Ridley (Victor Gollancz, hardback, pounds 16.99)

"Worzel" has done it again, but Leicester City fans could have bet their shirts on the striker with the sartorial standards of a scarecrow scoring the extra-time winner in the Coca-Cola Cup final replay.

Stephen Edward Claridge takes pride in having given everything on the pitch during a 14-year voyage from seaside Fratton Park to landlocked Filbert Street. He has also in his time given everything to the bookies, and it is the candid disclosure of his gambling that makes the story of the player with the kit-bag stuffed with old boots and mouldy sandwiches a rivetting read.

Few professionals would admit to winning pounds 16,000 one day and losing it the next; of blowing pounds 4,500 in an afternoon and not having enough petrol money to get home; of feeding a craving that by the time he reached Birmingham in January 1994 was "draining" him to the point when he realised that he had to control the addiction.

That the penny has dropped for Claridge - a change aided by turning 30 and a determination not to darken his late, hard-won days in the Premiership sun - comes as a relief in this part biography, part autobiography written in conjunction with Ian Ridley, the football correspondent of the Independent on Sunday. Thereafter, the reader can enjoy the wit-filled, roller-coaster progress of the Portsmouth apprentice given his cards by Alan Ball.

One flutter which had nothing to do with horses was a heart problem at 12 which even now requires a tablet before every match. Having to clean 34 footballs a day while the lowest of the low at Pompey led to more palpitations before a spell on the non-League scene.

At ailing Aldershot, Claridge, whose exasperating time-keeping is as much a trademark as his rolled-down socks, joined the lower divisions' equivalent of Wimbledon's Crazy Gang, yet had the "happiest" 15 months of his career. The Shots' midfield dynamo had a disabled sticker for his car; wages went unpaid for 15 weeks and the Christmas bonus was a decomposing turkey.

The move to Cambridge United heralded two years of misery under manager John Beck, culminating in a half-time set-to which Claridge vividly describes punch by punch. Birmingham City is remembered for the Blues fan who, 10 minutes into his home debut, raced 20 yards down the stand to bellow: "Claridge, you tosser".

He repaid Leicester's pounds 1.2m gamble by scoring the goal that took them into the Premiership. That last-minute Wembley strike, and last Wednesday's winner which gave the club their first trophy in 33 years, were glorious moments for Claridge, but you can bet there will be others.

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