By Connor Steel
FLEETLANDS FC have announced that Steve Claridge will join the club as first team manager with immediate effect at Lederle Lane; the local footballing ‘legend’ hoping to lead the Coptermen to Wessex Premier Division One promotion in their 2023-24 campaign after concluding his brilliant seven season leadership of Salisbury FC in early November 2022.
Claridge has been given this opportunity following discussions with the chairman and continues his forty-year career in football across a variety of roles; starting with his first club Fareham Town in 1983. He also spent time playing for other clubs across the south coast; including Portsmouth, AFC Bournemouth, Weymouth, Brighton and Gosport before 2007.
He formally retired in 2007 and soon progressed into media work at the BBC as a football pundit; appearing in multiple shows including Football Focus and Final Score on a weekly basis. Claridge also featured in semi-professional games covering several non-league divisions, including making eleven appearances and scoring twice for Gosport in 2011-12.
In-between playing and punditry, Claridge also gained management experience at three teams in the early 2000s. This began with a spell at Portsmouth as player-manager in 2000-01 before spending two separate years at Millwall; joining Weymouth in 2005 and narrowly missed out on promotion to the ‘Conference League’ that season as he left soon after.
Salisbury FC secured his services as both first team manager and director in 2015 in deals that helped create the club; immediately winning promotion from the Wessex League Premier in the first season. This team won another promotion as runners-up in the Southern League South and West Division; settling in the Southern Premier where they are today.
Claridge enjoyed several rivalries with clubs during this tenure including with Gosport, which flared up during a big FA Trophy encounter at Privett Park that saw three red cards and multiple retrospective punishments. There was further a tense feel to a match on New Year’s Day in 2022 between the two teams; Gosport securing their huge five-nil success.
His tenure at Salisbury came to a conclusion during November last year with the team sitting fifth after 10 matches and facing a play-off push; although they had crashed out of the FA Cup and Trophy respectively with defeats. This caused the club to take a different direction and a nine month spell of non-management for Claridge was concluded this week.
His 1st ever tie in charge of Fleetlands is due to be held this Saturday; the Coptermen scheduled to host another local team in AFC Portchester for a pre-season friendly. The first official match under Claridge’s leadership will be a FA Cup extra preliminary round on August 5; although their opponents are not yet confirmed until later Friday morning (July 7).
PICTURED BY ALAMY (EX843X): Steve Claridge watches purposely from empty stadium stand at game during 2015.