Claridge’s final dramatic chapter keeps us smiling

Steve Claridge scores an injury-time equaliser for Gosport. Picture: Steve Reid
Steve Claridge scores an injury-time equaliser for Gosport. Picture: Steve Reid
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In a campaign shrouded in negativity, a little late-season light has emerged from the most surprising source.

It took a 46-year-old Pompey hero to roll back the years in the most thrilling fashion to ensure that was the case.

Steve Claridge has always had an impeccable sense of dramatic timing.

But even he was stretching the Roy of the Rovers stuff when adding one final enthralling chapter to his career at Poole Town on Monday afternoon.

With 14 minutes left on the clock and his Gosport Borough side trailing their rivals in the play-off final – a place in the Southern League premier division up for grabs – the man who has made more than 800 senior appearances was summoned from the bench.

He then left it until the very death before grabbing a leveller which took the game to extra-time.

Not content with that, Mr Have Boots, Will-Travel added another strike in the additional period to spark jubilant scenes as Borough secured promotion in the most enthralling fashion.

In a final twist, Claridge then announced he was calling time on one of the most colourful careers the game has ever seen.

Sixteen years on from firing Leicester City to the Premier League – and 29 years after his release from Pompey saw him join Fareham Town – Claridge has decided to hang up his odd boots.

But what a way to go out.

While Pompey, the club Claridge loves, continue to lurch from one crisis to the next, it was gladdening to see one of the Blues’ more modest neighbours giving the local football scene a reason to smile.

Victory for Gosport saw them return to the seventh tier of the English game for the first time since 1991.

And just what that meant to their loyal band of fans and staff was evident from the scenes at the final whistle.

It was heart-warming to see manager Alex Pike’s sprint to the directors’ box where he embraced chairman Mark Hook, pictured on the page on the right.

Pike, never the shy-and-retiring type, then led the celebrations before being dragged backwards across the penalty area by his players.

Gosport have found themselves plunged into the spotlight by their success this season.

And the heat was ramped up in the build-up to the game as the tension mounted between the promotion hopefuls.

Poole Town defender Michael Walker taunted Borough goal-king Justin Bennett and Claridge on the eve of the game.

Walker was then given the runaround by 42-goal marksman Bennett and his whipper-snapper strike-partner for his troubles, as they got Gosport’s goals.

Borough didn’t hold back in a tasty tie which had it’s fill of full-blooded tackles to add to a lively narrative.

It was an unsung name who turned the game for Gosport, though, as George Way’s introduction saw Pike’s side get a foothold.

His calm and effective use of the ball made all the difference, as Borough went on to deliver a win their manager described as his greatest achievement.

The future now looks bright for a club which was founded a couple of weeks after the D-Day landings in 1944.

A few jokers would suggest that was around the same time Claridge was making his professional debut.

Now he has finally decided to send those lily-white legs and rolled-down socks into retirement, it is a fitting way for one of football’s most enduring characters to say goodbye.