Bournemouth AFC: Forever Fighting the Right Battle

In October 2000, a gangling 18-year-old Jermain Defoe made his Bournemouth debut and scored against Stoke City in Division Two – the third tier of English football. Little did he and the club know that 17 years later, via the occasional glamour and frequent slumps of playing for the likes of Tottenham Hotspur, Portsmouth and Sunderland, which came after a stint across the Atlantic in Toronto, he would be back in the magnificent red and black of the Cherries for, possibly, the final phase of his career in the Premier League.

Bournemouth have never been a club to challenge the upper elite of English football having played in the Championship for just two seasons before the 21st century. They looked dead and buried just before the turn of the decade, but are now a stable club, making waves in the Premier League and constantly making excellent progress on and off the pitch. In 2000, Defoe set a post-war record of scoring in his first 10 games, but that was in the third tier, with Bournemouth faithful having little to no expectation of making it this far in a relatively short space of time, but now that they are here, after the ups and downs, Division Two is long forgotten as the club stand firm at the top of the ladder, with the aim of bringing European football to the south coast – a prospect that looks like a distinct possibility looking at the way they are going.

jermain defoe bournemouth

Their road to the Premier League was difficult. The club were predominantly a League 1 side and spent just four years in the Championship before their first promotion to the big time, and had it not been for a few extremely influential figures, the club would not have existed today. On several occasions, they were just minutes away from going defunct, but managed to save themselves right at the death. The Premier League is the deserved reward for the effort and perseverance of several figures and the club is only going upwards.

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AFC Bournemouth’s revival and ascent to subsequent success started in February 2008, when they entered administration, holding debts of around £4 million and were docked 10 points by the Football League, as the League 1 strugglers battled relegation. They faced a similar situation 12 years prior, only to be saved by a supporters’ trust fund, which in the process, created one of Europe’s first community clubs. In 2008, it was one Jeff Mostyn who came to the rescue of Bournemouth, and despite the upcoming relegation fight, Mostyn gave the club new ambition for the following years.

Jeff Mostyn, a Manchester-born financial services businessman had been involved with Bournemouth for a long time. He previously held the golden share in the football club when they previously entered administration in 1996 and had been following the club’s progress ever since. A Manchester City fan by default, he cleared most of the debt owed by the club when he arrived to save the club at the eleventh hour and he has had a great influence on the club’s off-pitch activities ever since.

The period was drawn out as Mostyn attempted to bring together a consortium to invest in the club’s future. Everyone that he brought together fell apart, as investors seemed uncertain for the long-run. Eventually, a dubious marketing company, Sport-6, with Mostyn stepping down from his role as the company came to the club’s rescue, but within months their CEO, Alastair Saverimutto, admitted that he broke several Football League laws with a barrage of lies to get past regulations. Bournemouth’s points deductions would continue and then the inevitable would happen as they were relegated to the fourth division, League Two, and were handed a 17-point deduction which made relegation out of league football into the National Conference a near certainty.

With a transfer embargo in place and a huge mountain to climb, the club weren’t too appealing to potential investors, who they were seeking to help adjust the club’s fortunes for the better. At the start of the season it was former player Kevin Bond who was tasked with guiding the club out of the mess, but failed to do so and was replaced by Jimmy Quinn, a man synonymous with lower-league football, having represented 20 clubs in his playing career. Just like Bond, he wasn’t up for the challenge, and handed his resignation to the board, opening the door for another former player – 31-year-old Eddie Howe, who became the youngest manager in the Football League at the tail end of 2008.

His appointment was a game-changer and he slowly began the process of salvaging a sinking ship. Given very little to work on, his pragmatic style bought the best out of his players, and with just under five months of the season left to play at the time of his arrival, they were 10 points behind safety. Since he took over, they lost just two home games, earned hard-fought wins over sides like title-chasing Wycombe Wanderers and promotion-favourites Bradford City, and eventually confirmed their Football League status with a 2-1 home win over Grimsby Town in their penultimate game of the season, with club legend Steve Fletcher, who had been with the club through thick and thin, scoring the winner 10 minutes from time.

After executing what was dubbed as “The Great Escape”, the club were now seeing a bright future. Had it not been for the points deduction, they would ideally have been challenging for promotion and Eddie Howe, still a fresh-faced figure in management, deserves a lot of credit for their unlikely resurrection. In the summer of 2009, a stable consortium finally took over the club and allowed them to plan their ascent. It included Jeff Mostyn, former vice-chairman Steve Sly, Neill Blake and Eddie Mitchell – the former chairman of Dorchester Town, who quickly drifted himself away from them to avoid issues with the FA over dual ownership.

The following season, while still under a transfer embargo, Howe and his Bournemouth troops challenged the better half of League Two, and were favourites to go up, which was a welcome situation away from their troubles. The key here was Eddie Howe, who focused on the matters of his team, while putting the troubles of the club in the back seat, which gave him and his players more time and freedom to think about the task ahead of them on the playing field. His man-management was also a crucial factor as he lifted the mood of the players, which in turn improved performances on the pitch, which in the long-run made tiny, little Bournemouth a happy place.

His style and skill helped Bournemouth rise from their slump and finish second in the league behind Notts County, as they earned promotion back to League One. A mammoth task of helping the club survive with a 17-point disadvantage to a promotion while still not having permission to sign players for much of the season, Howe deserves a lot of praise for his style. And with this ascent from oblivion to well-established, Howe’s stock rose and he was targeted by the higher order in the Football League. After a few months in League One, they were playing well and were targeting a shot at promotion to the Championship, with the players, manager and management bringing up the same style that made them so successful over the last 18-odd months.

In January 2011, however, just day after squashing speculation that Eddie Howe was being chased by clubs in the Championship, the manager made a move to Burnley, with the Clarets paying a fee to terminate Howe’s Bournemouth contract. It was a blow to the Cherries who had made so much progress, but the new man at the helm, Lee Bradbury, didn’t see it that way as he guided them to a play-off spot, only to lose to Huddersfield Town on penalties be forced to spend another year trying to go up. Nevertheless, despite the immense loss of Howe in the middle of the season, there was optimism for the following campaign.

Things turned out much worse in the next campaign, which is typical of sides that lose in the promotion play-offs – take Leyton Orient for example who were relegated to League Two in the 2014-15 season after losing the previous season’s play-off final to Rotherham United. They lost much of the squad from the previous campaign and had a really slow start, flirting with teams in the relegation zone for the early parts of the season, which gave Bradbury a massive task on his hands. But off the pitch, there was huge progress being made as chairman Eddie Mitchell persuaded Russian businessman Maxim Demin to buy a 50% stake in the club, with Mitchell himself keeping the other half, and allow more stability to Bournemouth’s books.

Demin was no stranger to the United Kingdom, owning several houses in the UK – one of them being more expensive than the amount he invested to buy stakes in the club – but is still a quiet figure having never made an appearance in front of the British press. He owns at least two companies in the United Kingdom and is a major player in the petrochemical industry, with his businesses holding assets worth over £100 million. Mitchell and he got to know each other through their businesses, which is not much of a surprise, as Mitchell was the man who was building one of Demin’s houses in Sandbanks – a small peninsula in Poole.

Bournemouth made a few signings in their first window under Demin, including one Simon Francis. They rose from their slow start and ended up finishing 11th in the league, which was a far cry from their heroics from the previous season. It is believed that in one of the first games of the Demin era against MK Dons, Maxim’s wife, Irena, came down to the dressing room for the side’s half-time team talk and riled up the side to help them turn around a 1-0 deficit. She probably had an influence – they drew 2-2.

At the end of the 2011-12 campaign, Lee Bradbury was given the boot and wasn’t in the dugout for the final games of the season after failing to replicate the successes of the previous campaign. He was replaced by Paul Groves, Eddie Mitchell’s first-team manager while at Dorchester Town. A man with little managerial experience, he lasted just 20 games before receiving the sack as well, and out of nowhere, Bournemouth took everyone by surprise and persuaded former boss Eddie Howe, who was still contracted to Burnley, to jump down a division and oversee another period of transition as they looked to make it to the second division. The gamble and money invested paid off, as Eddie Howe moulded a squad with the perfect blend of experience and the right mentality to guide them away from their relegation troubles and promote the Cherries into the Championship, once again as runners-up, this time finishing just a point behind Doncaster Rovers.

In September 2013 with the club moving in the right direction, Eddie Mitchell sold his 50% stake to Maxim Demin, making the Russian the outright owner of the club. His son, Josh, also stepped down from his role, allowing Jeff Mostyn to return as Chairman, giving his full control of the club’s financial activity that related to on-pitch issues. The man largely responsible for the club’s survival and existence, Mostyn inherited Demin’s funds to invest in the club, which was the antithesis when he had to pull the club away from liquidation and into administration just five years prior.

Life back in the Championship ended strongly as they finished in tenth place, proving to be too strong for relegation trouble as many predicted, while still lacking the necessary personnel to fight for promotion. They also earned themselves a tie against Liverpool in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup, which was sure to pleasing for the fans of the club and Maxim Demin’s pockets. Tenth was their highest ever finish in league football, and it was optimism that they could go to the next level in the following season and challenge to earn a spot in the promised land – the Premier League.

The second successive campaign was taken by storm. Early in the season, they thrashed Birmingham City 8-0 away at the St. Andrews Stadium – their biggest ever win, while the core of their squad, Simon Francis, Steve Cook, Harry Arter, Charlie Daniels and Callum Wilson were on top form. Eddie Howe won three out of nine possible Manager of the Month honours, proving to be of the best English managers around as his Bournemouth side charged towards the Premier League. They finished the season as Champions, one point clear of second-placed Watford, winning the title on the final day of the season with a 3-0 away win against Charlton.

Three promotions in six seasons was a massive achievement. Having been so close to extinction just seven years prior, the club were set to grab the riches of the Premier League and build a legacy. Clubs that don red and black are well regarded in football history, and little Bournemouth were on that very path. Led by Eddie Howe, Maxim Demin and Jeff Mostyn, the club were now in a secure position and took on the Premier League challenge diligently and with caution.

When Bournemouth were promoted to the Premier League, their objectives, although never discussed and made clear publicly, were threefold:

  • The first aim, was to attain survival and manage themselves sustainably to remain as a Premier League club for the foreseeable future and have a credible impact in the top flight. This would ideally improve the club’s finances and avoid situations like the ones they faced in the past.
  • The second aim, would have been to build a ground that would match their ambition and growing popularity. Their current home, Dean Court, or the Vitality Stadium as it’s known for sponsorship reasons, is the smallest in the Premier League, fitting just under 12000 supporters – and allocate just around 1100 seats for travelling fans.
  • The third aim, was to build a state-of-the-art training facility, not just to help their current talent progress in the top tier of English football, but to develop fine players that would contribute to their success and promote from within the club.

Slowly, yet effectively, they are achieving all their objectives and are sustainably becoming a household name in the Premier League. In their first season, 2015/16, they finished 16th, five points clear of the relegation zone having beaten some of the historical giants of the top flight including defending champions Chelsea, Manchester United and Newcastle United. The key here was that they didn’t change their style of football, maintaining their quality and consistency from the lower divisions and coming in as a breath of fresh air. Usually, clubs adopt a defensive approach in their first few years in the Premier League, but not Bournemouth, who were keeping their identity and being successful with it.

Their second season bore more fruit. The ninth placed finish was their highest ever ranking since and it brought the club more international acclaim. Eddie Howe was now being regarded as one of the brightest figures British football had to offer with his Bournemouth side having a strong finish to their Premier League campaign, losing just two of their last 11 games of the season. A higher finish obviously holds them in greater regard and that attracted several Premier League-proven players to join the exciting project on the south coast as the club were now making their name in the top flight.

The second aim, their stadium plans, are on an upward trajectory as well. The Bournemouth board made the perfect decision to invest in their teams rather than their facilities when they were promoted – a choice that so many clubs opt against – and it has worked immaculately. The team is doing well, and their new stadium plans are now making progress. In December 2016, they went public with their desire to leave their current home, and identified three potential destinations for their new venue, in the hope of moving just in time for the 2020-21 campaign. A 20000+ seater venue is hoped for, with Jeff Mostyn claiming he needed to “satisfy the needs of supporters who have been supporting the club for 40, 50, 60 years” – something he would aptly understand.

And in August 2017, the club submitted a planning application for a 57-acre training facility to accommodate and train the first team, development squad, academy and pre-academy teams. A Premier League-worthy facility, it would hold ten full-sized training pitches, medical, fitness and sport science facilities, a press conference room amongst several other amenities. Work on the area will begin as soon as planning procedures were approved and it is sure to take the club’s status to the next level.

Bournemouth fans invaded the pitch after securing their promotion to the Premier League in 2015

They are already building a fine side in the Premier League to play alongside the aforementioned Jermain Defoe. Nathan Aké, Benik Afobe and Joshua King, three players who weren’t afforded enough chances to progress at their previous clubs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United respectively, have been important figures to their success in recent years, while the old guard of Charlie Daniels, Harry Arter and Simon Francis are solid players that have been the backbone of the team for years. They also have Lewis Cook and Ryan Fraser amongst their ranks, two players who were signed as youngsters and are currently, albeit slowly, making the grade at the highest level while donning the red and black – the former was the captain of England’s efficacious U20 side that won the World Cup in South Korea.

Eddie Howe’s current management team consists of former Bournemouth players who either played with or under Howe in his time while he was contracted to Bournemouth. Jason Tindall is his assistant, having played for the club between 1998 and 2006 and once again between 2009 and 2011. He first picked up the assistant role in 2008 under Jimmy Quinn and kept it until Eddie Howe’s arrival, with the duo becoming the youngest manager-assistant combination in the Football League. He even departed with Howe to Burnley and returned with him as well when they came back to the south coast in 2012.

Steve Fletcher, the hero behind The Great Escape of 2009,currently acts as their Assistant First-Team Coach. No one knows the club better than him, having had three separate stints at the club making over 720 appearances and scoring 122 times. There is no doubt about his legendary status and he’s held an off-pitch role at the club since 2013, when he was a scout for them. He is the deputy to Stephen Purches, who has been the First-Team Coach ever since his retirement in 2014. He too had multiple stints with the club, having played in the centre of defence in two different stints, first between 2000 and 2007 and the second between 2010 and 2014. Along with them stands Neil Moss, the goalkeeping coach who also ended his playing career with the Cherries and has overseen the club’s progress from the third tier to the Premier League.

Simon Francis, who is now the club’s captain, has spoken kindly of his manager in a recent interview with the Independent, claiming that a lot of people at the club are indebted to him for their success: I’ve never come across anyone who is so intent on improving players individually, with both his man-management and his coaching. He comes in early and he leaves late, and if you go to him and say you want to work on something he’ll stay there until you feel you have improved. And he’ll do that with everyone”

This is the ideal way a mid-table, initially low-budget Premier League club should be progressing. They have ambitious owners who are keeping their feet on the ground while maintaining the status and finances of the club in the most sustainable manner, a chairman who knows what the club needs on and off the pitch, a manager who is refreshingly changing the style of football that is synonymous with mid-table and bottom half clubs and a squad that is brimming with potential. European football may not be too far away, but it is important that they handle themselves in the same way and not fall of their tracks. For now, they have become an example for other clubs after just two full seasons in the top flight, and have an exciting project incoming.

Karan Tejwani

Student, Manchester United supporter and former scorer of the extraordinary while on the pitch.