Darlington away, 3 January 2009. Not my first away game as an AFC Bournemouth fan (far from it!), but it seems like the most appropriate place to start this modern day football fairy tale, which is as much about Eddie Howe as it is about the Club itself.
Having been part of Jimmy Quinn’s Coaching Staff, Eddie Howe replaced Quinn as Manager following his sacking on New Years Eve 2008. The game itself ended in a 2-1 defeat with the heartache of conceding a last minute penalty. The result left Bournemouth 23rd in the League 2 table on minus 10 points and needing a miracle to preserve their Football League status with 22 games remaining.
Bournemouth started that season on minus 17 points and were subject to an ongoing transfer embargo lasting nearly 18 months, having been in Administration the previous season (which saw them deducted 10 points and ultimately relegated to League 2 despite a brave fight which went to the final game of that season). That season the Club were minutes away from Liquidation when Chairman Jeff Mostyn put his hand in his pocket and paid the Administrator £100,000 to enable the Club to trade on until a buyer was found.
Prior to the above mentioned Administration, the Club went into Administrative Receivership in 1997, which is when I first showed an interest. I coincidently worked with one of the player’s wives at the time and could see first hand what impact the insolvency was having on those connected to the Club. There was plenty of local media courage and fans were encouraged to attend what was being billed as potentially the Club’s last ever game. I therefore went along, stood on the South Stand, put my loose change in the collection buckets and watched a goalless draw against Blackpool. The atmosphere and community sprint that day was incredible and made me want to go back, so I did for another goalless draw against Stockport County! However, I was hooked and have barely missed a home game since and travel away as often as I can.
During the Receivership, a Supporters’ Trust Fund was set up, but despite thousands of pounds being raised, the Club was reportedly 15 minutes from closing. With no benefactor on the horizon, Chairman Trevor Watkins announced that he was going to take the Club over in his capacity as head of the Community Trust. As a result, the Club became Europe’s first ever Community Club and was able to resolve its financial affairs in time for the start of the 1997/98 season. The Club also entered into a 10 year Company Voluntary Arrangement at that time.
The 1997 / 98 season happened to be an unforgettable one which saw the Club play at the old Wembley Stadium for the only time in its history with 34,000 fans enjoying a day out under the old twin towers. Relegation followed a few seasons later and then the Club enjoyed one of it’s greatest days with promotion back to the third tier in the then Division 3 Playoff Final – a 5-2 victory over Lincoln City at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
Back to 2009 and the Club were staring non-league football in the face and needed to find promotion winning form to have any hope of avoiding the drop. The transfer embargo was eventually lifted and Howe made his first singing, bringing back Club legend Steve Fletcher from Crawley Town. His presence gave the Club and the fans the lift they so desperately needed and the fighting sprit returned. The Club went on to win 10 and draw 3 of their remaining games, securing their League 2 status on the final home game of the season with a 2-1 win over Grimsby – Steve Fletcher scoring the winning goal. Up until the events of last week, this was by far my favourite moment as a fan. Steve Fletcher went on to have Dean Court’s North Stand named after him as a result.
The following season saw local businessman and property developer Eddie Mitchell take over as Chairman. However, the Club still had legacy debts, a further transfer embargo to contend with and a squad of just 19 players. Against all odds, Eddie Howe masterminded automatic promotion back to League 1.
The first season back in League 1 saw the Club punch above its weight and draw unwanted attention from rival clubs for the services of manager Eddie Howe. After turning down a number of high profile jobs, Howe and assistant Jason Tindall eventually made the move to Burnley in the Championship. Players Lee Bradbury and Steve Fletcher took over the management and the Club made it into the playoffs for only the second time in its history. An enthralling encounter with Huddersfield saw the Club beaten on penalties in the Semi-Finals having drawn 4-4 on aggregate. The second leg, a 3-3 draw up at Huddersfield, is considered by many to be one of the greatest play-off matches ever seen and certainly a game I’ll never forget attending despite the result.
Following defeat in the play-offs the squad was decimated with departures and went through a transitional period in 2011/12 with Lee Bradbury being sacked and replaced by Paul Groves as manager. However, one the key moments that season took place off the pitch and saw the arrival of Russian millionaire Maxim Demin as a shareholder. It is said that Maxim Demin was looking to purchase a property in Sandbanks and got in touch with Eddie Mitchell. After discussing football with Mitchell, Demin ended up acquiring an initial 50% stake in the Club and the rest is history.
Groves was sacked two months into the 2012/13 season due to a woeful start which left the Club near the bottom of the League 1 table. Unbelievably, Eddie Howe returned to South Coast following a family bereavement and in his first month back won the League 1 Manager of the Month award. The Club went from strength to strength as the season went on and deservedly secured promotion to the Football League Championship for only the second time in its history. Maxim Denim also took full control of the Club that season, buying out Eddie Mitchell and reinstating fans’ favourite Jeff Mostyn as Chairman.
The first season back in the Championship saw the Club and Howe rewrite the record books by securing a top ten finish, the highest in the Club’s history and narrowly miss out on the playoffs. At the same time, the Club’s reputation for fluid attacking football was growing with each game and Howe had become one of the most respected managers amongst his peers. Cherries fans would be forgiven for pinching themselves; however, the best was still to come.
The Club started the 2014/15 season where they left off winning 4-0 away at Huddersfield in the opening game of the season and immediately went top of the league, a position which they held more than every other team all season. The records books were rewritten again when the Club won 8-0 at Birmingham City. It was the first time that the Club had ever scored eight goals in a league game and they recorded their biggest winning margin in a league fixture. A League Cup run saw the Club reach the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time in their history, narrowly losing to Liverpool. After a dip in form in February, the Club went on a 13 game unbeaten run to secure promotion to the Premier League for the first time in their history with a 3-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers at Dean Court. On the final day of the season Bournemouth won comfortably at Charlton Athletic, but needed Watford to drop points at home to Sheffield Wednesday to win the league. With added time being played at Vicarage Road there was to be a twist in the tale as Sheffield Wednesday scored an equaliser resulting in Bournemouth being promoted as champions. A fairly tale ending to an unbelievable season.
Howe was deservedly named Manager of the Decade at the Football League Awards and few would bet against him being named the LMA Manager of the Season, with many thinking he has the calibre to become a future England manager. I was lucky enough to be in attendance at a Dorset Chamber of Commerce event earlier in the season at which Eddie Howe and Jason Tindall were the after dinner speakers. They talked about how to transfer football management skills to the business world. Eddie’s passion for the game and the Club was evident and, whilst it may sound a little cliché, he struck a chord when talking about the extra one percents, the need for attention to detail and the fine margins that are required to be successful.
Critics will say that the Club has brought its success, but in reality the core of the this season’s promotion winning squad were present in League 1 and have stepped up to the plate under the guidance of one of the most exciting managerial prospects in the country. Players were of course signed, but some were also sold and the Club managed to operate within the strict provisions of the Financial Fair Play Regulations. The most significant change at the Club in my opinion was the ability to retain players for once and move away from being known as a “selling club”. Maxim Denim has undoubtedly transformed the Club and he deserves credit for taking a back seat. Too many times have we seen Clubs across the football pyramid being ruined by rich owners with massive egos who think they are bigger than their club, but Bournemouth fortunately have a silent owner at helm who justifiably puts his faith in Chairman Jeff Mostyn and Eddie Howe to run the Club the right way.
The Club’s motto is “together anything is possible” and who knows what the premier league and all that comes with it will bring. Surely few football fans would begrudge the Club their £130m payday amongst Football’s elite.
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