I can’t claim to be a real fan of AFC Bournemouth, in fact if the truth be told I can’t even claim to be a real football fan. Yeah sure I took my son to a quite a few Bournemouth matches when he was younger and the club was bouncing around between the bottom two tiers of English league football. The Cherries , as AFC Bournemouth are fondly known were often dreadful and never far away from disappearing altogether as financial worries almost broke them. My son never lost his love of the club and is a season ticket holder. He was at last nights match when something remarkable happened.
AFC Bournemouth won promotion to the elite tier of English football, the Barclays Premier League. For the first time in their history AFC Bournemouth will spend next season rubbing shoulders with the mega-rich clubs like Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool. The story is made all the more remarkable by the story that underlies their incredible rise to the top tier.
Just seven years ago AFC Bournemouth were bankrupt, in administration, and they started their league campaign on an incredible minus 17 points after a points penalty for being in administration. AFC Bournemouth’s fans kept them alive by putting money into buckets and by becoming the UK’s first community club. They were in severe danger of dropping out of the football league.
In desperation the club turned to a former player, Eddie Howe and appointed him as the clubs manager. Howe was untried and at 31-years-old this was his first managerial appointment. Incredibly with a team built on loan signings and free transfers AFC Bournemouth not only overcame that 17 point deficit, they thrived.
Since those dark days Eddie Howe, with backing from Chairman Jeff Mostyn, and much later from a new Russian owner Maxim Demin, has steered AFC Bournemouth through the leagues. Incredibly in their 92 year history this season was just the clubs 5th season in the second tier!
Howe has moulded AFC Bournemouth into a formidable football team. They play open attacking and attractive football, they are the top scorers in all of English football and they defend well. They work incredibly hard and they play a passing game that the great Liverpool sides of the 1970’s and 1980’s would have been proud of. They also did it without spending huge sums of money on players.
AFC Bournemouth is a club built, moulded and developed on a shoestring. The majority of the first team playing squad were with the club in the third tier two seasons ago. Howe has largely funded his purchases through sales of players. It may be that the Russian owner will make cash available in a bid to ensure premiership survival but as a club I suspect that Bournemouth will live within their means.
They have seen all too clearly what happens to clubs who live beyond their means. South Coast neighbours Portsmouth are now a disaster club after spending huge sums and paying huge wages in a bid to establish themselves as premier league regulars. They are now in the 4th tier and struggling just a few years after winning the FA Cup.
AFC Bournemouth will make some signings of course, but I am certain Howe will only buy if he is 100% certain that what he buys is better than what he already has. I don’t anticipate big names with the associated big wages. Howe will bring in a few players who will strengthen an already very good squad and he will move on those who don’t fit the style of play he wants to see. He will also get rid of players who don’t fit the work ethic he has built at AFC Bournemouth. Howe’s team will have no room for passengers.
Ironically AFC Bournemouth’s status as a small club may well work to their advantage. They do not have the prestige or the facilities to attract the sort of player who will cost a huge fee and demand wages running to 100K a week and more.
I think AFC Bournemouth have what it takes to survive in the Premier League. With a handful of good signings, a great work ethic and a desire to work for the team I think they will surprise a few people.
AFC Bournemouth’s story really is a fairytale come true. I very much doubt that the story could be repeated in any other sport or in any other country. AFC Bournemouth may not survive with the big boys but you can be sure that they will continue to play football as it should be played, in a style that led to football being branded as “The Beautiful Game.” Their football will win them lots of friends.