As a local reporter covering football in South and South-east London at the time, I was there for Charlton Athletic’s pre-season friendly there that day. And while Charlton, strapped for cash and freshly-relegated to League One at the time, had their own problems they could not quite compare to the situation the Cherries were in.
In February 2008, Bournemouth were forced into administration, suffering a 10-point deduction which put them in relegation trouble. Bournemouth had debts of around £4 million and almost went out of business completely.
The club at one point in 2008-09 were 17 points adrift in the League Two relegation zone – meaning a demotion to non-league football seemed imminent. Their financial situation also made that at Charlton and other clubs seem like nothing.
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Bournemouth in the summer of 2009 were under a transfer embargo as a result, for failing to follow insolvency rules as they attempted to untangle themselves from their debts under new ownership.
At the age of just 32, Eddie Howe was named permanent manager after previous stints as player-coach, youth coach and caretaker boss (he made over 200 appearances as a player before retiring due to a knee injury aged just 29) and managed to keep the side in the ‘92’. However, in a frank chat before the game with a couple of local journalists he knew well, Howe admitted he didn’t know what the future held for AFC Bournemouth.
On May 2, 2015 I made the even shorter train journey from my house to The Valley, home of Charlton Athletic, who were finishing their Championship season at home to Bournemouth, who were now up two divisions and about to make it three.
After decades of Londoners heading down to Bournemouth to party, the roles were finally reversed – and thousands of jubilant (and very well-behaved, it must be said) fans made their way up to bask in perhaps the greatest day in the club’s history so far.
Six years, in some contexts, is a fairly long time. And yet, having seen the Bournemouth that Howe inherited in 2009, it seemed nowhere near long enough for such a remarkable turnaround.
Of course, Howe did not oversee all of it. In 2011, he departed to manage Burnley for a couple of seasons before returning back to the south coast for ‘personal reasons’. It’s not such a well-known fact, however, that he had another job interview in early 2011 at the very stadium he would officially guide Bournemouth to the Championship title.
Before Charlton settled on hiring Chris Powell as their new manager, they spoke to Howe on a quiet Sunday evening. Outside of security staff, the only other people on the premises were three of us recording the latest episode of the club’s weekly radio show.
It’s weird to imagine what would have become of Howe, Charlton and Bournemouth had he accepted the London gig as opposed to Turf Moor.
Perhaps he wouldn’t have returned to Dean Court, being much closer to home than he was up in the North-West. And yet, Howe being the Bournemouth manager quite simply feels right.
And both Howe and his players have reaped the benefits of such a fantastic work ethic and positive attitude. Their squad includes men such as Harry Arter, who came through the ranks at Charlton and wasn’t given a proper look-in by doomed manager Alan Pardew. It includes Simon Francis, who was subject to such abuse from the home fans while representing the Addicks several years ago that it took Howe’s magic touch to restore his destroyed confidence. It also includes Yann Kermorgant, a beloved striker who made his first return to The Valley since being cast off by Roland Duchatelet almost as soon as the Belgian took over at Charlton.
Even though promotion was already guaranteed, barring a 19-0 defeat to a side mentally already on their holidays, these men and Howe refused to let up until the season was over. And with Sheffield Wednesday equalising at Watford, that impeccable work ethic was rewarded with being crowned the very best of the only lower league they hadn’t yet conquered.
Next up is the only one Bournemouth have yet to sample. The big one. The Premier League.
Quite frankly, even if the majority opinion that Bournemouth will be overwhelmed and relegated instantly turns out to be true, they and Eddie Howe are exactly what the English top flight – prospering financially but stagnating continentally – need. On the weekend Chelsea were crowned English champions, it is the trophy presentation one level down which could lead to the most interesting aspect of 2015/16.
Next season, if only for one season, Howe’s Bournemouth should shake things up a bit. They should offer a lot more of a challenge than a Burnley or QPR, far less uncomfortable press conference moments than a Leicester, punch their weight far more often than a Sunderland, Newcastle or Aston Villa offer and a lot more incentive for general fans of the product English football delivers to be proud of our domestic offerings.
I can predict with some confidence that Howe and a few of the players, in particular Arter, Callum Wilson and Matt Ritchie – will enjoy a bright future, even if the Cherries’ long-term one does indeed revolve around second-tier football.
Thanks to the house that Howe has built, Bournemouth are going to help shake the Premier League out of their slumber – and if they do head straight back to the Championship, they will not do so without one hell of a fight.
Liam Happe - external@liamhappehttps://twitter.com/liamhappeNone
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