This year, despite being a superb attacking team, AFC Bournemouth have had to suffer the indignity of being labelled as easy pickings for the established Premier League giants. It’s frustrating for a soccer fan like me to see a team who were as good as Bournemouth last season automatically written off. They’ve been compared to Blackpool which I think is unfair. Ian Holloway can’t hold a candle to Eddie Howe’s achievements on the pitch and thankfully Howe talks a lot more sense off the pitch too. Bournemouth are a far better team too than Holloway’s Blackpool ever were.
In winning the title, they scored 98 goals, the second highest total in the whole of the Football League (MK Dons scored 101 despite finishing second in League One) and every time I saw them, they played with a verve and confidence that belied their lowly stature. In fact, no matter at what level I saw them perform at under Howe, in both his spells as manager, he played football the way it should be played. Fearless, effervescent and positive but let’s not tag the Cherries as the perennial “everyone’s second team” – that does them an injustice.
Bournemouth are quite unique in the fact that they’re one of those clubs that doesn’t really have a rivalry. Based in Dorset and on the South Coast of England, they find themselves smack in the middle of a football wilderness. To the East, Southampton, 35 miles away. To the West, we find one of non-leagues most famous underperforming powerhouses, Weymouth FC, a mere 32 miles away. To the North by 48 miles, Yeovil are the nearest club.
Since the 1970’s they’ve been notable for the names that either cut their teeth and started their careers there (Harry Redknapp as manager and Jaime Redknapp as a player) to players winding down their careers (Darren Anderton and Luther Blissett to name but two) as well as a lower league legend in Ted McDougall whose nine goals in an 11-1 win in the FA Cup first round against Margate in 1971 and still the English FA Cup record. Now, thanks to Howe and his new team, all that is now history.
You cannot underestimate Howe’s achievements and his story at Bournemouth, it really is like the craziest film script you can think of, and then add some extra magic. A fan favourite as a player for the Cherries, he became Redknapp’s first signing at Portsmouth in 2002 but an injury ravaged spell curtailed his time there and he returned two years later thanks to the fans raising £21,000 towards the fee. Sadly his injuries caught up with him and he had to retire aged just 29 and moved into the coaching set up.
This was when the club were financial meltdown and Bournemouth were in real danger of going bust. Hit with two successive points deficits, 10 points in the 2007-08 season, 17 the following season and being under a transfer embargo, Howe took charge on New Year’s Eve 2008 and the Cherries survived relegation by five points that season to stay in the Football League. That was just six years ago and is mind blowing to think of it.
Howe revitalised the entire club, from top to bottom and created a dynamic that saw the team win promotion the following season in second place. The 2010-11 season saw Howe’s talents spotted by Burnley and it was with much soul searching that he decided to take the up offer to become the Claret’s new manager in January 2011. His replacement, Lee Bradbury saw them finish sixth and lose in a playoff semi-final to Huddersfield after a 4-4 draw.
The following season saw the club limp to 11th and Bradbury was sacked and replaced by Paul Groves in March 2012. Groves could do nothing to stop Bournemouth’s spiral as all of Howe’s good work was coming apart and he was also removed in October 2012 with the club mired in a relegation scrap and sitting 20th. The club had won just one game in the first 11 matches of that season and the future looked bleak at best.
Now, Howe’s achievements had already made him a club legend but he hadn’t finished. Home sick and missing the family atmosphere of the South Coast club, Howe resigned as Burnley manager for personal reasons and returned to his spiritual home on October 13th. Howe’s comeback inspired an incredible 16-game unbeaten streak that saw the club shoot up the table and his first defeat was on January 19th 2013. They responded to that defeat with five successive wins, followed by five successive defeats but a further eight wins in the final nine games of the season saw them finish second and gain promotion to the Championship. All in all, Howe had lost six games in 35 matches which is an incredible return for a club seemingly destined for relegation on his return.
A solid finish of 10th surrounded by fallen giants and clubs with budgets that dwarfed Bournemouth was surely better than any Cherries fan could have hoped for but Howe wasn’t finished yet. Written off by most pundits and tipped for relegation, Bournemouth hit the ground running and never looked back and took the title in dramatic fashion in the last minute of injury time when Sheffield Wednesday equalised at Watford. For the first time in their history, they had reached the top level of English soccer.
No matter what happens to AFC Bournemouth this coming season, they won’t care. The club are about to receive so much money that they cannot possibly believe it. The Premiership money can completely revitalise a club that looked dead and buried six seasons ago. They can improve the ground, though this summer has seen them invest in strengthening the squad over adding extra seats. That’s prudent in my opinion and shows they plan to give this a real go.
Stories like Bournemouth are one of the reason I love football so much. The last 10 years has seen so much happen at this club that everything next season will seem like fantasy to some. If they stay up, which I think they will, then the story will simply become richer than and as glorious as anything that has come before it in the world of soccer.