For those unfamiliar with AFC Bournemouth’s rapid ascendance through the Football League, they may sit with their morning coffee and croissants looking at the Championship table with the Cherries’ in fifth place, three points from the automatic promotion places, and think nothing of it as they flick on to this week’s crossword that they will never finish.
However, for the hardcore fans, their rise to be one of the Championship’s most entertaining and lethal teams in attack is a pleasant sight. Actually, that’s an enormous understatement, for these fans have been to heaven, hell, and back supporting a club which begun the 2008/09 season in League Two with a heavy points deduction for not adhering to insolvency rules.
Here is the remarkable tale of the coastal club, and how an unmitigated genius steered them through administrations and embargoes to be steps away from the Premier League.
With AFC Bournemouth in turmoil as they approached the business end of a torrid League One season, the club were placed into administration with debts of around £4 million. Not a large sum to those of you who support Manchester United or Chelsea, but an enormous sum for a lower league club.
Of course, the little present at the end of every shot glass that is administration is a points deduction. Ten points were removed, and as well as battling to avoid relegation, Bournemouth had to fight to exist as a football club. Relegation ensued in a 2-1 loss to Wrexham, but the Cherries’ problems hadn’t quite come to an end yet.
Many fans know the pain of relegation to the Football League’s basement division. Players leave, fans disappear, the club loses money and, like this writer’s Southend’s situation, the club can spend an exhausting amount of time in League Two.
However, Bournemouth had a much larger issue than having to contend with away trips to Accrington. A hefty penalty was placed on the club for not being able to exit administration from the previous season. Rotherham were deducted the same amount, they too being in administration. If there was one positive, they would be thirteen points clear of Luton Town, who started on a negative of thirty points for paying agents via a third-party and for being in administration also.
Fast forward to December 2008, and the fans had already seen two managers come and go in Kevin Bond and Jimmy Quinn. A local consortium owner named Adam Murry bought half of then chairman Paul Baker’s shares with the club, and had the authority to name Quinn’s replacement. The selection, initially on a temporary basis, was a strange one but the effect it had on this club in dire straits was incredible.
The name of this mystery man? Eddie Howe.
Howe’s only previous experience in coaching was as the head of the reserve team. At 31, he was the youngest ever Football League manager after injury had cut his career with the Cherries short.
“The club was on its knees. We had bailiffs knocking on the door every day, nobody was being paid and there was no investment in the club or the facilities. It was a crash course in management at its harshest level.
“I’d had two years as a coach under Kevin Bond and experienced relegation. I’d been sacked from that job and had a lot of lows. We even paid some of our staff out of our own pocket because we wanted to give ourselves a fighting chance.”
Despite two defeats from his only two games as interim manager, Murry gave the position on a permanent basis to Howe. This brave move was richly rewarded, with Howe guiding the club to safety despite the outrageous deficit in the final home game of the season, club legend Steve Fletcher scoring the winning goal as Bournemouth beat Grimsby Town 2-1. Howe had been told the club was fifteen minutes from extinction at one point in the season.
Their tumultuous season ended with their best away win in thirty years at the time, a 4-0 triumph at Morecambe. Adam Murry’s consortium completed their takeover of the club in the summer of 2009. ‘The Great Escape’ is how the club reminds its players on the walls. ‘The Journey’ was about to begin.
Thriving in the role, Howe then led his team to nine victories from his opening ten games at the start of the 2009/10 season, rejecting job offers from Peterborough and Southampton. The club, still in a tight financial situation, were hit by a transfer embargo in the second half of the season with Bournemouth among the chasing pack in the fight for promotion from League Two.
Eddie Mitchell, vice chairman of the club, appealed to the Football League to allow Howe to sign one loan player, but they refused. Bournemouth eventually got the extra player to add to Howe’s squad they needed, and it came from inside the club – his assistant, Jason Tindall, had to come out of retirement.
Incredibly, Bournemouth still achieved promotion, finishing second to return to the third tier. Bournemouth accustomed themselves well to life back in League One, but the departure of Howe to Burnley in January stalled the club’s progress.
Although Lee Bradbury led Bournemouth to the League One play offs that season, the following campaign was indifferent. Bradbury left before the season’s end, an 11th placed finish disappointing the fans of the Cherries’ who had hoped for more.
Paul Groves fared no better – the club were struggling near the relegation zone when he was handed his marching orders in October of the 2010-11 season. There was only one man that could engineer Bournemouth’s rise up the Football League. Howe returned, stating that his family had struggled to settle up north, having endured the darkest period of his life following the death of his mother.
Not only did he steer them again from the relegation zone, under Howe’s leadership Bournemouth’s players had enough belief and drive to earn another promotion. Harry Arter, a £4,000 signing from Woking the previous summer, and Steve Cook, a £150,000 signing from Brighton, were stalwarts of a cohesive team with an attractive playing style.
Brett Pitman‘s nineteen goals were often supplied by wing wizard Matt Ritchie, a £500,000 signing from Swindon in another of Howe’s January exploits. The transfer funds came from new Russian billionaire owner, Maxim Demin, but none can argue that Howe deserved the opportunity to strengthen his squad through these extra means via Demin more than anyone following his achievements in League Two.
A strong finish of 10th in the Championship was pleasing for Howe and Jason Tindall, still his assistant. Astute in the transfer market as he is tactically, he convinced Demin to pay £500,000 for Lewis Grabban who scored twenty-two goals, making him the joint-fourth highest Championship scorer in 2013-14. Clubs came calling and Norwich signed him for an undisclosed fee – his release clause rumoured to be £3 million.
The Cherries replaced him with Coventry’s Callum Wilson, the fee approximately £2.25 million. Wilson has already scored fifteen goals this season, two more than the man he replaced. The outstanding football on show at Bournemouth is clear to be seen – watch Matt Ritchie find Harry Arter who finishes exquisitely against Watford last September.
Howe was asked in the Express what he would have replied six years ago, in his first tenure at the club, if someone had told him they would be where they are today.
“No chance – just impossible. It’s a huge motivating factor to try to be the first Bournemouth team to get into the Premier League. I don’t think anyone can put too much pressure on us.
“It would be an amazing story when you consider where this club was. It was down and out. Regardless of what happens onwards, our position should be a branch of hope for every League Two club.”
With rivals in Derby County, Middlesbrough, Norwich and Watford in the race for Premier League promotion, the Cherries may have to contend with the gamble of the play-offs this season. However, whatever happens Howe should be proud of Bournemouth’s success under his navigation. Undoubtedly, the 36-year-old is an innovative genius, and it is a case in this writer’s eyes of when rather than if Bournemouth appear in the Premier League.
It is sink or swim in the top flight, but under Howe’s tutelage, they may well replicate Swansea’s transition from an exciting Championship side to a sturdy Premier League force a lot sooner than anyone could have imagined. From the 91st worst team in the Football League to the Championship in six years. It’s not dissimilar to Swansea’s meteoric rise in the last ten years, and it may well culminate in a trip to the Liberty in due course.
Howe has the letter “R” tattooed onto his wrist in remembrance of his black Labrador called Rodney who kept him company as an 18-year-old apprentice. He also has several quotes adorning the walls, such as “What you are thinking is what you are becoming,” from the famous boxer, Muhammad Ali.
It’s clear he is a sensitive family man, but also one who has a clear objective with his AFC Bournemouth side.
“Players need to be internally motivated but there are ways you can get that little bit more to inspire them to great things”.
AFC Bournemouth have entered a new era, and with Eddie Howe in charge, there is little doubt for everyone involved at Dean Court that this dynamic duo will go on to achieve greatness. For Bournemouth, the Premier League awaits.
With regards to Howe, while he will look to fulfil his dream of managing his boyhood club in the top flight, perhaps England may look no further when eventually replacing Roy Hodgson.
A bold prediction? Maybe. Though you only have to look at Howe to see what passion and drive in a manager can do to a club. Imagine the effect he could have on a nation.
Callum Connolly, Pundit Arena.