It would be fair to say that five years ago only a few knew that there were three clubs from the South Coast of England and a club called ‘Bournemouth’ actually existed. Portsmouth’s abrupt decline and journey to the fourth division of English football had coincided with the revival of Southampton, who managed to finish 14th in their return to the Premier League in 2012. At that point in time, this club called Bournemouth had assumed the form of being a mid-table third division club, with little hopes of reaching the Championship, let alone the Premier League. This was the same Bournemouth side that could probably have dropped out of League Two in 2009, when it once fell to 23rd position and signs of survival were bleak.
Cherries’ fans, as things stand, surely find it hard to believe that they are an established mid-table club right now. Although, the recent defeat to Southampton was disappointing, but it’s nothing compared to what this small club from Dorset has endured in the past. And for them, being where they are would have been a dream when they were languishing in the fourth division of English football.
It’s under Eddie Howe that the team has become one that can pull off anything, even when you least expect it to do so. While Howe may be one of the best young gaffers in the world right now, his entrance to the managerial spot in 2008 seems like a far cry, considering that the Cherries didn’t have a proper stadium to play in and were in administration at that time. And much like Bournemouth themselves, Howe was never meant to be where he is right now.
Administration in 2008 had meant that ten points were deducted from their tally of points in League One, while debts of around £4 million had threatened the very existence of the club. But the club still managed to stand on its feet, but couldn’t prevent relegation to League Two that season. And the problems didn’t go away with the drop as the FA sought to deny Bournemouth’s participation in the league that season, due to administration and financial problems. Somehow though, Bournemouth were allowed to take part in the league, but had to deal with a 17-point deduction, after having failed to comply with the rules of insolvency.
After Kevin Bond was sacked and Jimmy Quinn resigned from his post, it was Howe who was appointed as the caretaker boss. Despite losing his first two games in-charge, the then 31-year-old was handed the job on a permanent basis.
Mark Molesley, a player who featured during Howe’s first game in charge, a 2-1 loss to Darlington, has revealed that there were times when the players and Howe weren’t paid wages by the club. And all this was happening when a strictest level transfer embargo was imposed on the club.
“We were lucky to be training because most days the ground got padlocked by the administrators. Some weeks we didn’t get paid and the club was under a transfer embargo so couldn’t sign anyone either.”
Not just that, but due to a scarcity of financial resources, the players and Howe hardly had anything to eat after training and sometimes, even following games. And the situation was so adverse that Howe had to beg for free food from an Italian restaurant called La Piccola.
Molesley says: “(But)Eddie came in and galvanised the team straight away. It was the tiny things that made the difference — he begged and borrowed what he could. He went cap in hand to the local Italian pizza place — La Piccola — asking if they’d provide the team with a free lunch on.”
Despite all the troubles and deficiencies that this club was forced to grapple with, Howe helped Bournemouth avoid relegation. A Steve Fletcher goal minutes before full time against Grimsby Town at home had done enough to spark celebrations in the town, which had heaved a massive sigh of relief that day. And many dubbed this recovery from doom as ‘The Great Escape’, as the club had again managed to defy the odds and cling onto it’s Football League status. And their biggest win in over 30 years came during the last game of the season at Morecambe, as the spirit Cherries ran out 4-0 winners over the Shrimps.
At the end of the season, a takeover by Adam Murry, Steve Sly and current Chairman Jeff Mostyn among others, was announced by the club. And it’s their investment and willingness to invest in a floundering company that laid down the foundation of what the club is today.
Bournemouth finished second in League Two the next season, as many thought that it could probably spark a new beginning. Light at the end of a dark tunnel. But Howe’s departure for Burnley at the end of the season proved that maybe, darker times were yet to engulf the club. The appointment of another former Bournemouth player in Lee Bradbury did dispel the gloom around Dean Court and Bradbury did his best to achieve another promotion. But, a loss in the penalty shoot-outs to Huddersfield in the play-off semi-finals meant that the miniature dream of playing in the Championship went bust.
After Bradbury’s sacking following a series of bad results, Paul Groves – the youth team coach – was handed the reins on a temporary basis. Howe’s return came following the sacking of Groves, whose tenure left the club in the relegation spots. And the Englishman didn’t just steer the club clear of the relegation, but helped Bournemouth earn promotion to the Championship for the first time since 1990.
The successes of the Cherries since times of crisis isn’t just down to a resolute manager only. But the players he has had at his disposal have been just as vital to their reinvigoration from nothingness. Howe’s knack for using unknown players and grinding out the most out of them makes sure that every player on the pitch gives his all for the team’s cause.
Whenever you watch Bournemouth play these days, you’ll get an impression of watching a bunch of boys from nowhere, who have a lot of hunger and desire to succeed. And that’s how they’ve defied numerous odds throughout their careers, especially at Bournemouth. Players like Harry Arter, Marc Pugh, Steve Cook and skipper Simon Francis have been with the club for quite sometime now and their contributions to this small club have made it what it is today.
The amount of time they’ve spent with the club has made them play for Bournemouth by giving their all in every game. They always seem to have that fire inside them, which has seen their club rise from unenviable doom to eventual glory.
This season, although Howe has ruled out a finish in the European spots, but having a pop at it does make a bit of sense. He has instilled the team with so much determination that Bournemouth always seem to give the Big Six of the Premier League a hard time these days. The tactical identity of pressing high up the pitch is something that Howe has used to bring about a certainty about the team. It was due to this approach to the game that Bournemouth ranked first in the tally of the most distance covered charts last season, well ahead of Tottenham. Players have every bit of idea about how to go about their business on the pitch – by winning the ball quickly and by not giving the opposition a moment of rest on the ball. And since, the spine of the team has been retained to a large extent, the system always seems to work.
The manner in which Howe has handled both Jack Wilshere and Nathan Ake proves that Howe doesn’t just know how to extract the maximum out of unknown players, but also knows how to make the most out of the bigger players too.
These are things that tend to define the club right now. And once a club has that, it has something which separates it from the others.
Bournemouth’s journey to the Premier League was nothing short of a roller coaster ride, which captured the imaginations of many across the country. Much like Leicester, whose miraculous rise to the pinnacle of English football surprised everyone across the globe, Bournemouth have acted as a model for small clubs nestled in some corners of England, to dream about success. What they need to have is the belief that they can accomplish what clubs like Bournemouth and Leicester have. And above all, it was the fire and the hunger to prove the world wrong, which made the Cherries achieve this dream. And once a side has the heart to keep on fighting, things can turn around for the better.