How? How did a quiet Dorset resort with no top-flight pedigree and a home ground of under 12,000 capacity make it to the Premier League? And then stay there?
Eddie Howe, that’s how. Still in his 30s, the former AFC Bournemouth defender steered his club to the world’s most lucrative promotion in 2015. And then, without relinquishing his belief in positive football, Howe reversed a run of bad luck and unfortunate defeats to win three on the trot, against Manchester United, Chelsea and WBA.
And if this Howe of the Cherries story wasn’t enough, it was only seven years ago that chairman Jeff Mostyn had to write a six-figure cheque to save the club from liquidation. Notes and coins chucked into a communal bucket by loyal fans had previously helped to bring Howe to the club.
True, it has taken more than a rattling collection tin to push Bournemouth – major honours to date one Associate Members’ Cup 1983-84, one Football League Championship 2015 – up with Chelsea and Manchester United. Their owner, Russian petrochemical millionaire Maxim Demin is rich. He’s so rich, in fact, he bought a mansion in the most expensive spot in the UK, just along the Dorset coast at Sandbanks, had it knocked down and a state-of-the-art pad created in its place.
All this time, the Cherries have been playing in front of crowds barely over five figures, at an old-school ground that has been their home for over a century.
Dean Court stands by King’s Park where Bournemouth meets its once wealthy neighbour of Boscombe.
The club was first Boscombe FC, in fact, though precise origins are not clear. ‘Bournemouth’ was added to the name in 1923 when they were elected to the Football League.
Though never consistent enough to win any league whatsoever until 1987, Bournemouth became known for cup upsets and attracting abrasive managers to the south coast. One of them, John Bond, of the West Ham school, not only put Boscombe’s noses out of joint by streamlining the club’s name to its current AFC Bournemouth, he took them up from the fourth to the third – and then nearly to the second (today’s Championship) in two whirlwind seasons in the early 1970s.
Scoring the goals were the iconic Ted ‘SuperMac’ MacDougall and the striking partner from his previous club, York, Phil Boyer. SuperMac was outrageously prolific, bagging nine in an FA Cup tie in 1971 and six in another.
Bond’s predecessor, Freddie Cox, had led the Cherries to wins over a very good Wolves side and a soon-to-great Spurs one in 1956-57, an FA Cup run that saw a record 28,799 at Dean Court for the sixth round fixture with Manchester United.
It took Bournemouth 27 years to avenge that 2-1 defeat – but when it came, it was sensational. Young manager Harry Redknapp motivated his side to beat the holders 2-0 at Dean Court, Bryan Robson, Norman Whiteside and all.
The year before, Bournemouth had made the news by hiring an ageing George Best for the last league games of his career.
Redknapp decade-long run saw the Cherries win the Third Division in 1987 and reach a record 12th place in the old Second Division.
Relegation in 1990, compounded by a Bank Holiday ban on home games, plus Redknapp’s near death in a car crash, saw a slow decline and falling revenues.
Sean O’Driscoll eventually made the jump from Cherries midfielder to motivational coach, taking the club close to third-flight play-offs in 2001. Missing out again under O’Driscoll in 2004 and 2005, Bournemouth sank after his departure in 2006.
Saved within minutes of liquidation, the Cherries bounced back despite being docked 17 league points and banned from transfer activity. The fairy story started with Steve Fletcher’s late, status-saving goal in 2009, 31-year-old coach Eddie Howe somehow getting his team to claw back the point deficit.
Howe then followed the Great Escape with… promotion in 2010. Howe then left for Burnley, only to return and repeat his quite incredible feat in 2012-13, leading Bournemouth to the Championship.
Mid-table in 2014, the Cherries achieved the impossible a year later. Key to the Championship success was the strike team of Callum Wilson and Matt Ritchie, Bournemouth notching away wins of 8-0, 6-1 and 5-1.
Bringing in ex-Celtic star keeper Artur Boruc, Howe and ex-Everton defender Sylvain Distin, Howe shored up his defence as kick-off for the big time beckoned. But it was a hat-trick from Callum Wilson at West Ham that made everyone sit up and take notice, Bournemouth reversing an unlucky start to the season with a 4-3 win at Upton Park.
But Wilson would spend most of the campaign sidelined with injury, and Howe would need all his guile to keep the Cherries above the relegation zone. His success not only pleased fans on the south coast – it put him in the frame for the vacant England post in the summer of 2016.
The club’s home since 1910, Dean Court is a modest ground of the old-school variety. Currently known as the Vitality Stadium, the ground expanded through the 1920s and 1930s until it could attract a record 28,799 in 1957.
The ground underwent a complete overhaul in 2001, when it was rotated 90 degrees and shifted to one side to make way for a housing development. The deal hardly won over many fans, forced to watch their club play Dorchester for the first three months of the following campaign.
Still with only three sides, Dean Court – its name given over to sponsors from then on in – gained a permanent fourth stand in 2013.
Current capacity is just below 12,000. Despite talk of a move away, the club insist it can bring the figure up to 18,000.
Away fans are allocated an end section of the East Stand, beside the former temporary South Stand, named after Ted MacDougall.
Dean Court is a 10min walk from Pokesdown rail station. Trains run every 30min from Bournemouth Central (4min, £2.50) and hourly direct from London Waterloo (1hr 50min, £51.50).
From Pokesdown station, bear right down Christchurch Road then right again into Gloucester Road. Keeping the cemetery to your right, the ground is straight ahead.
A taxi from Bournemouth Central would cost around £8. Alternatively, Yellow Bus No.33 serves nearby Littledown Avenue hourly from Bournemouth Pier (journey time 15-20min).
Tickets are sold at the office (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 9.30am-4pm, non-match day at Sat 9am-3.45pm and 20min after the final whistle, Sun 11am-4pm) at Dean Court or online. Tickets (£33-£45 sideline East and Main/West Stands, £19-£30 pensioners/students; £32, £19 pensioners/students, in the North/South Stands) are available on a priority basis only. Under-8s are free.
There’s also another outlet at the Bournemouth International Centre ticket office (Mon-Sat 11.30am-3pm).
The club shop (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 9.30am-4pm, non-match day at Sat 9am-3.45pm and 20min after the final whistle, Sun 11am-4pm) is at the front of the stadium.
Home fans use The Queen’s Park (482 Holdenhurst Road), a traditional pub decked out in Cherries memorabilia, some of it signed.
Towards Boscombe on the Christchurch Road, fans of all stripes can drink in the more contemporary Mello Mello Bar.
In the ground, those with the best seats in the Main Stand can take advantage of the 1910 Bar and Champions restaurant.