Premier League participants in 2015-16, the palm-fringed resort of Bournemouth will be another pleasant seaside getaway for fans of Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea in 2016-17.
The town, beach, pier and all, never experienced top-flight football before 2015. Its flagship club, 2015 Championship winners AFC Bournemouth, had only ever spent five seasons in the second flight, two under current wunderkind manager Eddie Howe, and three under a motivational young Harry Redknapp.
The previous stint ended badly. Facing relegation in 1990, Bournemouth hosted the visit of promotion-seeking Leeds, whose fans practically sacked the town. The town lost its favoured status as a lucrative Bank Holiday destination on the fixture list and the club were condemned to a cash-strapped 20 odd years in the lower two flights.
Bournemouth nearly went out of business in 2008, rescued at the death by chairman’s Jeff Mostyn chequebook. Fans donated cash by the bucketload then in stepped Russian millionaire Maxim Demin, for whom cash isn’t a problem. Coached from 2012 by ex-Cherries defender Eddie Howe, his second time in charge, Bournemouth have literally gone from rags to Premier League riches.
The town itself won’t see that much of an influx every other weekend. Dean Court, renamed the Vitality Stadium, holds under 12,000, with capacity to be expanded – but not for 2016-17.
It is set in what was once the separate, moneyed resort of Boscombe. With its spa, Grand Ballroom and Royal Arcade, Boscombe attracted the discerning visitor of the Victorian era. When the poet Shelley wanted a retirement home for his mother, he chose Boscombe.
North of the Shelley estate, its public common was made a King’s Park to celebrate Edward’s VII coronation in 1902. His long-suffering wife, Alexandra of Denmark, had little time for Boscombe – when the great philanderer Edward wanted a naughty getaway pad for his actress mistress Lillie Langtry, he chose Bournemouth right next door.
The local football club of the day, Boscombe FC, played on King’s Park. Competing in the Hampshire leagues – Boscombe, by then a suburb of Bournemouth, only became part of Dorset in 1974 – the club created a pitch on wasteland beside the park in 1910. Adjacent to cherry orchards, this pitch became Dean Court, and the team became known as The Cherries.
As more players, and supporters, were drawn from Bournemouth, so the club was officially named after both communities when they gained Football League status in 1923.
Modern times have not been kind to Boscombe. Its large Victorian and Edwardian residences became dowdy bedsits, its rail station closed down (now the closest one to Dean Court is, according to the sign, ‘Pokesdown for Boscombe’) and even the football club became plain AFC Bournemouth in 1972.
Inevitably rebranding itself – who thought of Bos Vegas? – to distance itself from its low-rent social problems, Boscombe is today aiming to bring in surfers, shoppers and, unwittingly, property speculators.
And, again for 2016-17, fans from the most moneyed league in the world, the Premier.
Bournemouth Airport is 6.5km (four miles) north-east of town, connected by Yellow Bus A1 (every hour, 20min journey time, £5.50 single). The route goes right past Dean Court but runs on to Bournemouth train station.
Two trains an hour run from Bournemouth station to Pokesdown (4min, £2.50), the closest to Dean Court.
Outside the airport terminal, a steward usher you into the first available taxi – or calls one for you. Compass Cars (01202 373737) quotes £22 into Bournemouth, £15 to Dean Court.
Yellow Buses also serve town – for all local transport information, see mapping.dorsetforyou.com/traveldorset.
Guesthouses within a reasonably easy walk of Dean Court dot Boscombe. The nearest, Carlton Lodge, is a homely B&B also accessible for the beach. The Strand Hotel is pleasant and family-run, with a garden and table-tennis table.
The more boutique Chalfield Manor, closer to the seafront, has ten stylish guestrooms, bike hire and even a pétanque terrain. You’ll also find a Premier Inn, the Bournemouth East Lynton Court branch, as well as one down by Bournemouth Pier.
Bournemouth is not all palm trees and pensioners. It has a significant student population and a busy nightlife. All the chains are in town – with a hub around the Old Christchurch Road, including a Walkabout.
On the way to the stadium and close to Boscombe’s many guesthouses, the Sir Percy Florence Shelley is a large Wetherspoons popular with visiting fans.
Nearer to the seafront, behind the Marriott, the Shamrock Sports Bar is a friendly spot to watch the match and grab a couple of pints in the sunshine.