Premier League Sunday morning flashbacks and the insanity of Steve Claridge

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It seems that while I have been away the world of football has developed something of a retro Sunday morning feel to it.

We’ve had crazy Hackney Marshes-style scorelines in the Premier League, a 15 year old getting booked for celebrating his first goal with his parents, and let’s not forget the allegations of racist abuse rearing their ugly head yet again (presumably after the two players had clashed over match subs, and who sat in the front on the way to the game).

Of course I’m being flippant, and the alleged abuse, if proven, is depressing in the extreme, particularly following on from the Suarez-Evra clash a few weeks ago. I was actually out of the country (more on that later) when the latest incident happened, yet the presence of TV cameras, You Tube, and the England captain, meant every necessary box was ticked in terms of gaining attention worldwide.

Of course, like religion, race is a topic that we’re never fully comfortable talking about. I do not feel I’m straying too far from accepted wisdom in saying that, at least in its most overt form, racist abuse has largely been eradicated from the terraces.

I still remember making my debut in 1989, and being made to feel, shall we say, less than welcome at a number of grounds. Thankfully, due to the good work of the football authorities, widespread abuse from the terraces is now largely a thing of the past, and we can be justifiably proud of the progress made, particularly in comparison to some other European countries.

But that just makes these latest allegations – and we should stress that this is all they are at this stage - doubly depressing. I think for all the time and effort that’s been invested over the years by many people in the game, the wider football public deserve better than to trawl through it all again. When the dust eventually settles, the only lingering hope is that it strengthens the collective resolve for a zero tolerance approach to any aspect of it.

It’s at times like this that you have to feel for the England manager. I’m sure Fabio Capello must often shake his head in disbelief at the situations thrown at him. He presumably thought when he accepted the post that it would simply be a case of selecting the best players, finding a system and getting some decent results. Right now a career in politics, perhaps sorting out the financial problems of the Eurozone, seems like less hassle.

Meanwhile, Yours Truly had the pleasure of helping deliver the Premier league’s Premier Skills programme in Malaysia (I know what you’re thinking, tough gig, right?).
It is a joint initiative with the British Council delivering coaching programmes to aspiring community coaches overseas. So, after casting a critical eye over a feisty West Midlands derby between Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion, I made the short dash to Birmingham airport for the long haul flight to Kuala Lumpur.

We were well received there for the six-day course, and the input of the guys over there was excellent. Perhaps the only downside was an ill-advised hour-long game of football with all the coaches on one particularly humid evening. There were one or two stellar performers from some of the local fraternity and some can look back with a certain pride in their performance. However, the famous Onuora knees - that I already knew had seen better days - took quite a battering. I was certainly feeling the effects the morning after!

All of which leads me nicely on to a sober consideration of Steve Claridge’s decision to roll back the years and turn out for Evo-Stik League side, Gosport Borough, at the age of 45. And I have just one question for him: ARE YOU INSANE, MAN?!

I have met Steve on several occasions, and during my blink-and-you’ll-miss-it spell as Swindon manager back in 2005 I made an approach to sign him on Transfer Deadline day. Though the move never materialised what struck me was his obvious intelligence - both in a football sense and otherwise - despite that slightly shambolic, Columbo-esque appearance.

So what could possibly possess him to return to the fray? I saw an interview with him last week that posed that very question. His reply had me torn between admiration for a weekly training regime an athlete half his age would baulk at, and confusion over at what stage you say ‘enough is enough’, as far as your own career is concerned.

I am passing no judgement on Steve, as he seems perfectly happy and most importantly fit enough to carry on regardless, but the thought did occur to me that there’s barely a player alive who hasn’t struggled to make the adjustment to life after football, and perhaps he is yet to shake the bug. I’m not sure giving up is a decision you make yourself, rather one that is made for you.

This is fascinating pseudo psychological stuff to me at any rate, but ultimately hats off to him, I say.

His dedication to the craft and graft involved in making a career as a professional is a great example to younger players. It certainly puts my “comfort zone”, twice weekly appearance at my local gym into perspective. However, I do still have a sliver of cartilage left in my knees, and for that I am very grateful!

See you soon!