Success with a Cherry on top – AFC Bournemouth’s rise to the top – Part Two

When I watched that first game against Shrewsbury in 1995, the true importance of the match was lost on me. To me, I had just watched a game of football and watched my home town team convincingly beat their opposition. As first games go, based on that alone it was an amazing experience. When I realised how close the club had come to what would have ultimately ended the club and just how important the win was, it hit me just how great my first game was.

Over the years I went to games as and when I could, and even went to Steve Fletcher’s testimonial game against newly promoted Premier League side Portsmouth in July 2003, a game which ended 5-4 to Bournemouth.

Sadly I was not able to go to as many games as I would have liked over the years, a combination of work and lack of finances dictated when I could go to games. Of course, then Bournemouth got promoted to the Championship, which made getting tickets even harder, and after reaching the Premier League it was pretty much impossible for the perceived “casual fan” to get tickets. Due to the size of the stadium (11,464 capacity) a points system was put in place to determine who could get tickets. Despite having gone to a number of league one/two games over the 3 year period prior, in our Championship promotion winning season I only made it to one game, and so at the time of writing this have not been to a home game in roughly 7 years.

But that is a small price to pay for seeing the club achieve so much in such a short space of time. To go from the brink of extinction to the riches of the Premier League in just 6 years was something us Cherries fans just never dared to dream. As promotion to the Premier League was confirmed, fans began to dream about the sorts of away trips we could look forward to. Trips to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and the Emirates left fans everywhere salivating. Added to that was the fact that the club would no longer have the kind of financial restrictions that had been in place for the majority of their existence, meaning that quality players could be brought in to help us be competitive.

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Max Gradel became the first Premier League era signing after a £7m move from St Etienne. Image from Bournemouth Echo

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Tyrone Mings was briefly the club record signing after his £8m move from Ipswich. Image from Daily Mail

Eddie Howe’s first signing on reaching the Premier League was former loan star, Max Gradel. Bournemouth parted with the princely sum of £7m for Gradel, who had spent 4 years playing for St Etienne in France. Fans were thrilled that such a quality player had joined, but also that a player whom the fans had such affection for from his stellar performances whilst on loan as a young player many years before. In addition to Gradel, Eddie Howe spent £8m on Ipswich’s hot prospect Tyrone Mings, which saw Ryan Fraser move the other way on loan, as well as £3m on Lee Tomlin and £4m on experienced striker Glenn Murray. Josh King joined from Blackburn for an undisclosed fee, and experienced Premier League defender Sylvain Distin joined on a 1 year deal after his release from Everton. Christian Atsu was signed on loan from Chelsea, but never really made an impact.

A training camp in America followed, and Bournemouth won their first friendly (or exhibition match for our stateside friends) 4-1 against Philadelphia Union. Josh King, Callum Wilson, Marc Pugh and a rare Tokelo Rantie goal sealing the big win. After that it was a mixed performance for the rest of pre season, recording wins against Exeter and Yeovil, but slipping to defeat against Salisbury and Cardiff.

But then the Premier League season began, and the buzz around Dean Court on opening day was immense. Excitement levels were through the roof, and although most fans expected a tough season, a deteriorating Aston Villa side provided the opening day opposition, giving Bournemouth a somewhat easier opening fixture than the other possibilities. That said, Villa ran out the winners as Rudy Gestede spoiled the party. It would prove to be Aston Villa’s only win in the league until January 12th, and one of only three wins they would have all season.

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Rudy Gestede spoiled the party on the opening day of the 2015/16 season by scoring the only goal to give Aston Villa all 3 points in Bournemouth’s Premier League debut. Image from Daily Mirror

The same fate did not befall the Cherries, after losing our first televised Premier League game to Liverpool 1-0 (a result still hard to take as I believe Tommy Elphick’s 6th minute goal was incorrectly ruled out) Bournemouth got up and running with a thrilling 4-3 win away at West Ham, Callum Wilson announcing his arrival to English Football’s top division with a stunning hat trick to down the Hammers, before a home draw with Leicester was followed up with a loss to Norwich.

Sunderland gave us our first home win with a 2-0 victory, Matt Ritchie scoring an absolute world-class goal on nine minutes. Sadly around this time they suffered something of an injury crisis, losing Max Gradel, Callum Wilson and Tyrone Mings to long-term injuries within weeks of each other, and in the case of Mings, just 6 minutes into his Premier League debut.

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Tyrone Mings season came to an abrupt end just 6 minutes into his Premier League and AFC Bournemouth debut. He was soon joined by Max Gradel and Callum Wilson with matching injuries. Image from Bournemouth Echo

After this, Bournemouth lost five of the next eight, and drew the other three games leaving them in the bottom three after a third of the season had gone, but true to form Eddie Howe did not panic, he calmly went about his business, stating his faith in the team, and the revival began with back to back wins over Chelsea and Manchester United before a win over West Brom made it three from three. In the January transfer Window Benik Afobe and Lewis Grabban were brought into beef up the attacking options for a combined £20 Million, and Bournemouth never looked at the relegation places again, picking up 21 points from the second half of the season to seal 16th place in their debut season.

They had done it with a squad largely made up of players who had joined the club in League One, and they had stepped up marvellously, and proved that hard work and team spirit could overcome any perceived inexperience.

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Image from Daily Mail

As a result, there was a level of expectation that was quietly murmured among the fans, as most believed that whilst the second season was always the more difficult, that the team could have a successful season. Eddie Howe focused his transfer efforts on younger players, bringing in Emerson Hyndman, Lys Mousset, Jordon Ibe and Lewis Cook, for a combined fee of roughly £30m. Five first team players were sold to balance the books, as Club Captain Tommy Elphick departed for Aston Villa, Matt Ritchie was sold for a club record £12m to Newcastle, whilst Lee Tomlin’s disastrous spell at the club was ended as he rejoined Bristol City having spent the previous season on loan there. Glenn Murray joined Brighton whilst Tokelo Rantie left for Turkey as Howe reshaped his squad.

The biggest moves though were in the loan market, as Eddie Howe secured the loan signings of Chelsea’s rising star Nathan Ake, following a stellar loan spell at Watford the previous season, and Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere, who had something of a point to prove following a terrible run of injuries. These two signings were seen as a sign of intent from the Cherries that they were not to be underestimated. Preseason was fantastic as the team remained unbeaten, but when the season begun the first win didn’t come until a scrappy 1-0 win over West Brom in early September.

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No one could quite believe it when Jack Wilshere joined on loan for the 2016/17 season. He made 32 appearances before injury cut short his stay. Image from Daily Mail

By December Bournemouth sat 12th, on 15 points, and form was patchy despite a good run in October/November. Then came what many believe was the turning point of the season, and in this fan, and many other fans opinions, the best game in Bournemouth’s history.

At half time on December 4th, Bournemouth were 2-0 down at home to Liverpool. Ten minutes into the second half a Callum Wilson penalty made it 2-1, but Emre Can struck nine minutes later to make it 3-1. Whilst there was some upset that we were losing, most expected us to lose to Liverpool. What they didn’t expect was for Bournemouth to stage a remarkable fight back with quick fire goals from Ryan Fraser and Steve Cook making it 3-3. Then, with virtually the last kick of the game, Nathan Ake bundled the ball home from less than six yards to seal a 4-3 win and all the points, and making himself a cult hero in the process.

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Nathan Ake scored the winner in the defining game of Bournemouth’s 16/17 season. Image from afcb.co.uk

Excellent performances against Swansea, Arsenal and a fiery draw with Manchester United were marred by a heavy loss to Everton in between, but over the course of the season, with Jack Wilshere providing a much-needed creative outlet until an inevitable injury ended it, Bournemouth were on good form and finished the season in a remarkable 9th place in the Premier League. Josh King was a revelation in the second half of the season, as he led the line in front of goal , with 16 goals from 36 games.

After such a fantastic season, it was only natural that fans would begin to expect more, which caused much debate among fans. Half of the fan base believed the club should kick on and look to become an established Premier League side and look to force their way into Europe, whilst other lamented these fans for thinking such things and believing that we should remember where we came from, and just enjoy the ride while it lasted. Whichever side of the fence you sat on, there was no denying that Bournemouth’s summer transfer business showed that they meant business.

Only three players were signed, but what great players they were! Club legend Jermain Defoe rejoined the club where it all began for him, signing on a free transfer after Sunderland’s relegation from the top flight, and there was a double raid on Chelsea, as Asmir Begovic and Nathan Ake were prised away for a combined £30m.

 

When Defoe’s signature was confirmed, there wasn’t a single Bournemouth fan who was not excited by this. Defoe had made his name with us in his formative years as mentioned in part one, and the thought of him banging in goals for us in the Premier League was something no one ever thought they would see.

After an amazing loan spell the signing of Nathan Ake was considered a game changer for us, with him bringing the energy and strength our defence seemed to lack at times the previous season. With Artur Boruc coming to the end of his career, Begovic was brought in to be the new number one goalkeeper, and you could be forgiven for thinking that this would be Bournemouth’s best ever season.

It couldn’t have started worse. Bournemouth lost their first four games back to back before Jermain Defoe announced his return by scoring in a 2-1 win over newly promoted Brighton, where Jordon Ibe made a devastating impact as a substitute. only four points were picked up from the next five games, and the talk on the terraces turned against Eddie Howe in some minorities, with some believing he was out of ideas. But as ever, in Eddie we trust, and nine points from the next six games saw them climb out of the relegation zone.

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Jermain Defoe scored the winning goal and his first of the season in a 2-1 win over Brighton. Image from Daily Mirror

However, then came three straight losses which put them back in the drop zone, and those quiet murmurs again began to grow a little louder. But again Eddie Howe and his players put the doubters to shame as a 3-3 draw against West Ham on December 26th proved the catalyst to a turn around in form. as they went on a 7 game unbeaten run, beating Everton 2-1, then a huge comeback victory against Arsenal as they won 2-1.
Then came January 31st. Stamford Bridge. Chelsea. Premier League champions. No one gave us a chance.

Bournemouth tore a lacklustre Chelsea apart and secured a devastating 3-0 win at the home of the champions, and followed it up with a 2-1 win against Stoke just three days later. It was this form that ultimately sealed our Premier League status, as only three wins were gained from the last twelve games, as well as four draws. The Cherries garnered reputations as “comeback kings” wearing down opponents with superior fitness and energy, and then scoring last-minute goals to steal much-needed points. The season ended on a high note, as back to back wins were secured against Swansea and Burnley, and a very respectable 12th place finish was achieved.

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A quite phenomenal performance saw us tear apart Chelsea to record a fantastic 3-0 win. Image taken from Bournemouth’s official Twitter page.

So here we are. Preparing for our 4th Premier League season, and quite where Bournemouth go from here is anyone’s guess.

There are a number of talented young players in our squad. Lewis Cook had a breakthrough season, Nathan Ake was tremendous and Lys Mousset has started to break through into the first team. Ryan Fraser is improving all the time and is developing into a fearsome winger, and when Callum Wilson is fit he and Josh King can be devastating up front.

But there are concerns too. Our defence, Nathan Ake aside, is not good. To have conceded 60+ goals in each of our three Premier League seasons is not good, and is something that must be addressed. Adam Smith’s return from injury next season will be welcome as he can make the right back slot his own, and Tyrone Mings has the ability to transition to Central Defence, provided he can stay injury free. Media reports are linking Bournemouth with a move for Celtic’s Kieran Tierney to strengthen the left back position, and whilst this would be a fantastic signing, I believe one of the top 6 sides may also go for him.

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The philosophy of AFC Bournemouth. Image from pinterest.

For me, and for many others I’m sure, this summers transfer funds must be spent on strengthening the defence, and adding to the impressive core the club has. In young players like Ake, Cook, Mousset and Fraser, we have players to build a successful team around. Bournemouth are on the cusp of becoming an established Premier League club, and as a result of this, it is time to leave our tumultuous history in the past, and look to an ever brighter future.

But as you can see from the past two articles, it has never been boring to be an AFC Bournemouth fan!


Thanks for reading, please also take a look at some of our other amazing articles here at Dictate The Game:

Success with a Cherry on top – AFC Bournemouth’s rise to the top – Part One – If somehow you missed part one of my walk down memory lane, then check this out first to get the full view!

The importance of a Youth Development Structure – Football Manager Guide – Ryan’s fantastic guide to cultivating talent in your youth team on Football Manager 2018. If you struggle to make full use of your youth team then read this!

How to Manage in the MLS: An FM Guide – When it comes to MLS, I get so confused I have to sit down for 5 minutes. If you get this feeling too, then fear not, as Luke has written an in depth guide to how the MLS works and how you can enjoy playing there in Football Manager 2018.


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