LIBERATING FOOTBALL TRAVEL

AFC Bournemouth

Cherries pipped at the post but still backed by Max

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

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 kept the Cherries up for five seasons straight, only to succumb to a terrible run in the winter of 2019-20. 

Relegated by a solitary point, Bournemouth bade Howe a fond farewell, his stewardship having transformed football in the town. A year later, it took two managers to edge the Cherries into the play-offs, a bitter tussle with Brentford settled on an early red card after AFCB had won the home leg. 

Still overseeing the day-to-day business is chairman Jeff Mostyn. In 2008, he 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 took more than a rattling collection tin to salvage Bournemouth – major honours up until then, winners of the Associate Members’ Cup 1983-84. 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.

The property builder who helped him do it, Eddie Mitchell, was also part of the consortium that steered the club in the right direction after near dissolution in 2008. At the time, persuading even a man as wealthy as Demin to back the club can’t have been easy. The Cherries were playing before below-5,000 gates at an old-school ground that had been their home for the best part of a century.

Dean Court, aka the Vitality Stadium, 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 division 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’s 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.

Howe stayed loyal and kept the Cherries steadily mid-table until a dreadful run during the pandemic-hit campaign of 2019-20 ended the club’s five-year stint in the top tier. Even then, had other results gone their way on the last day, a 3-1 win at Everton would have been enough to have kept Bournemouth up. 

With Howe gone, his long-term assistant and loyal Cherries man Jason Tindall took over, but a bleak run post-Christmas saw Jonathan Woodgate step in. Taking the Cherries to the play-offs, the former Leeds star watched his side gain a 1-0 win over Brentford at home, then go into an early lead in west London, another vital strike from Dutch international Arnaut Danjuma. As the fur started to fly, Cherries’ centre-back Chris Meopham was sent off before the half-hour, and ten-man Bournemouth couldn’t quite hold out until 90 minutes. 

Former Fulham boss Scott Parker replaced Woodgate as AFCB prepared for another Championship campaign in 2021-22.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

The club’s home since 1910, Dean Court is a modest ground of the old-school variety. Currently known as the Vitality Stadium, it was expanded through the 1920s and 1930s until Dean Court attracted 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 fourth stand in 2013.

Current capacity is 11,300, the second-lowest in the Championship. Talk of a move away has quietened since the drop down from the Premier League .

Away fans are allocated blocks 21-24 of the East Stand, through turnstile F, beside the South Ted MacDougall Stand. Direct sunlight is a common problem for games played in the first and last months of the season.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

The Vitality Stadium is a 10min walk from Pokesdown rail station, with direct services every hour from London Waterloo and every 30mins from Bournemouth (4min journey time). From the station, bear right down Christchurch Road then right again into Gloucester Road. Keeping the cemetery to your right, the ground is straight ahead. 

From stop 6 at Bournemouth station, Yellow Bus 2 runs every 15mins to the Queens Park Hotel six stops away, the nearest to the ground, journey time 7-8mins. From there, walk down Ashley Road, then left along King’s Park Road. From Bournemouth Square near the pier and town centre, the 33 runs to Kings Park every hour, journey time 10mins. 

A taxi from Bournemouth station to the ground should cost around £8.

The sat nav code for the Vitality Stadium is BH7 7AF. The car park (£1) by the South Stand is handy but will be full around 80-90mins before kick-off – plus you should allow a good 45mins to leave after the game. Alternatively, the car park at the Avenbourne Boys’ Academy (BH7 6NY) on Harewood Avenue should be free for Saturday afternoon games, with a steward in place. The ground is a 5min walk down Littledown Avenue and drivers avoid the congestion around Kings Park. 

Another option is the Sovereign Shopping Centre (BH1 4SX) at 600 Christchurch Road, where parking is £2/4hrs. This is an 8-10min walk to the ground, up Ashley Road, past Boscombe bus station. Note that the centre closes at 8pm Mon-Sat, 5pm Sun and 6pm bank holidays.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

With availability often an issue, the club operates a resale scheme with the firm Twickets so that season-ticket holders can sell their seats on. Tickets are otherwise available from around 2-3wks before match day from the Superstore (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, match-day Sat 9am-3pm, 20min after final whistle, non-match Sat 9.30am-4pm, Sun 10am-3pm) at the corner of the Main and North Stands or online. There are also telephone sales (01202 726 300, option 1, option 1, Mon-Fri 9am-5.30pm, non-match Sat 9.30am-4pm, Sun 10am-3pm). For all enquiries, email tickets@afcb.co.uk.

Admission is £32 in the North-South Stands, £33-£45 in the sideline East and Main/West Stands, £19-£34 for over-65s/under-21s, £6-£12 under-16s, free for under-8s. Away fans are charged £30, over-65s/under-16s £20.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

The Club Superstore (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, match-day Sat 9am-3pm, 20min after final whistle, non-match day at Sat 9.30am-4pm, Sun 10am-3pm) is at the corner of the Main and North Stands. Home tops are red-and-black stripes, away the equally Milany white with red-and-black trim (although for 2021-22, with a chic all-white collar). 

Among the more interesting souvenirs is Not Today: How I Chose Life by club photographer Sophie Cook, Europe’s first transgender newscaster and a local politician, AFCB cheeseboards, dartboards and kids’ sunglasses. The range of beach gear is otherwise surprisingly modest, considering the location. 

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

Home fans and neutrals use the Queen’s Park Hotel (482 Holdenhurst Road), a traditional pub geared towards its location close to the stadium – even the nearest bus stop is named after it. Decked out in Cherries memorabilia, some of it signed, it has a beer garden and HD screens.

Towards Boscombe on the Christchurch Road, fans of all stripes can drink in the basic, screen-lined Mello Mello Bar, while The Bell Inn opposite Pokesdown station welcomes visiting supporters on match days with a beer garden, pool table and table football. 

By the ground, the outdoor drinking zone is aptly called The Great Escape, while those with the best seats in the Main Stand can take advantage of the 1910 Bar. Fans were allowed to vote on the choice of photos on display as part of a 2019 refit. The Champions restaurant on the top floor is used for hospitality packages.

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