Dorset resort eager to regain elite football status

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

A Premier League destination for five seasons until 2020, the palm-fringed resort of Bournemouth remains a pleasant seaside getaway for followers of clubs in the Championship.

The town, beach, pier and all, had never experienced top-flight football before 2015. Its flagship club, AFC Bournemouth, had only ever spent five seasons in the second flight, two under miracle-working 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. 

A resident of nearby Sandbanks, the most exclusive real estate in the UK, the petrochem mogul was persuaded by lifelong fan and Sandbanks property developer Eddie ‘Marmite Mitch’ Mitchell to invest in a club the Russian barely knew existed. Mitchell, part of the consortium that saved AFCB, then chairman, also convinced ex-Cherries defender Eddie Howe to return as manager. Bournemouth literally went from rags to Premier League riches.

The town itself didn’t see that much of an influx every other weekend. Dean Court, renamed the Vitality Stadium, holds just over 11,000, with plans for a new stadium now on ice.

The location is Boscombe, once separate from Bournemouth, traditionally a moneyed resort. 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 – someone even 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, for the time being, supporters of Championship teams, many making long journeys to the south coast.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

Bournemouth Airport is 6.5km (four miles) north-east of town, connected by Yellow Bus 737 which runs five times a day to Bournemouth train station (£3.30 single/£4.30 return, 45mins journey time). United Taxis (01202 556 677) quote around £20 for the same journey, slightly less to the Vitality Stadium. 

From London Waterloo, a direct train runs every 30mins to Bournemouth (single £20, journey time 1hr 45mins), from Birmingham New Street, every 2hrs (advance single £50, journey time 3hrs 15mins). Also from Waterloo, direct trains run every hour to Pokesdown (£25, journey time 1hr 50mins), the closest station to the Vitality Stadium. Bournemouth-Pokesdown (£3.50) takes 4mins. Adding a £4 PlusBus tariff to your fare allows you to use the three main local bus providers – Yellow (singles £2.30, day tickets £4.40), more bus (singles £2.70, day tickets £4.30) and First – all day. 

Bournemouth station is north-east of town, halfway to the Vitality Stadium in Boscombe. The main bus hub is back at Bournemouth Square, 10-15mins walk from the pier and seafront. 

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

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 RoadThe George Tapps offers a dozen-plus screens, including three large ones, and the biggest beer garden in Bournemouth. Nearby, Sharkey’s is a sports bar filled with pool tables and TV screens.

Across the Landsdowne Roundabout, Holdenhurst Road is also lined with drinking options, including the main Wetherspoons, The Christopher Creeke, and The Inferno, a funky, fun-focused hive of craft beer, sport TV and decent bar food. A beer garden comes into its own in summer. 

Right in town near on Westover Road near Bournemouth Square, the Brass Haus combines sports bar with live venue and German Bier Keller while serving Pilsner Urquell, BrewDog and Beavertown brews on draught.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground and around town

Bournemouth Tourist Information has a hotel-booking service.

Guesthouses within a reasonably easy walk of the Vitality Stadium line Westby Road, a 10min walk up Ashby Road from the ground These include the pleasant, family-run Strand Hotel, the Ravensbourne, both with table tennis in the garden, the Oasis Guesthouse and the Westby

Nearby, even closer to the seafront a short stroll away, the Urban Beach – Boutique Hotel comprises 12 individually designed rooms, a cocktail bar and sun-catching terrace.

Towards the nightlife hub of Christchurch Road, the Premier Inn Bournemouth East (Boscombe) has free on-site parking, while the Bournemouth Central provides easy access to the seafront. On the other side of the pier, even closer to the sea, the upscale Marriott Highcliff basks in panoramic views, while behind it, the budget-friendly Travelodge Seafront has its own bar.

For a private, outdoor, heated pool from May to September, choose the Marsham Court Hotel behind the Russell Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, with its own restaurant and rooms with sea views. Alongside, equally old-school, built for the Austro-Hungarian ambassador in 1904, the four-star Miramar is a wedding favourite, set in lovely gardens.