Success with a Cherry on top
Paul Burbidge charts the extraordinary success of Eddie Howe’s two stints at AFC Bournemouth
Published in August ’13
In April 2009, AFC Bournemouth – the Cherries – were languishing near the bottom of League Two. They were a couple of games away from being relegated, falling out of the Football League completely, and maybe even out of existence.
Following Jimmy Quinn’s dismissal as Cherries boss on New Year’s Day 2009, Eddie Howe had become the Football League’s youngest manager at the tender age of 31, and he masterminded them to safety with a match to spare, even overcoming a crippling 17-point penalty incurred under Football League rules when the club was taken into administration.
Howe’s legendary status at Dean Court was cemented in April 2013 when, in his second spell in charge of the club, he led the Cherries into the Championship – the second highest tier in English football – for only the second time in their history, after they claimed the runners-up spot in League One following a streak of eight consecutive wins in March and April. When one considers the plight Bournemouth were in four years ago, the fact that the team and fans were disappointed about being denied the League One title, when Doncaster Rovers snatched top spot with a stoppage-time winner at Brentford on 27 April, shows how far the club had progressed.
Bournemouth drew their final game of the season 0-0 at Tranmere and it was something of an anti-climax for the players and fans to see the title slip away after having celebrated promotion just seven days before. ‘The ups and downs are unbelievable,’ Howe sighs, ‘but we shouldn’t really be down because of what we achieved and that’s promotion; we’re playing in the Championship this season. You have to reflect on the 46 games [the whole season]. The players were very good and we achieved something special. We had to beat a club record of consecutive wins to get to this position.’
After leading the club back into League One in May 2010, it was no surprise that Howe’s services were sought by Championship clubs; he left the Cherries to take over at Burnley in January 2011. But following the sudden death of his mother, Annie, in March last year, which hit the 35-year-old hard, the opportunity to return to Dorset last October and to be closer to his family was one he had to take. ‘At the time, it was a decision I needed to make for my family and I’m delighted I did,’ Howe says. ‘It wasn’t necessarily the distance [from Dorset] or the location of Burnley that prompted me to leave. Numerous things had happened off the pitch and it was key that I got home. Those are the pitfalls of life: you have your career side and you have your family side – everybody has that, and if one is out of balance, it’s very difficult to function at your best.’
Howe built his managerial reputation on being able to get the very best out of the resources at his disposal. To say these resources were limited during his first tenure at Dean Court is a monumental understatement, but when Russian petrochemicals trader Maxim Demin bought a 50 per cent stake in the Cherries in November 2011 to join local businessman Eddie Mitchell at the helm, Bournemouth became a powerhouse in League One.
But even after the club had borrowed £6 million to invest in the squad and stadium, they won just one match in all competitions last October, and Paul Groves was sacked as manager. But Howe, returning with trusty assistant Jason Tindall, quickly turned a sinking season around, achieving an extraordinary record of 25 wins, seven draws and seven defeats: ‘If someone had said during the winter that we’d be disappointed if we didn’t win the title on the last day, I wouldn’t have believed them,’ Howe says, adding that a title win was ‘the furthest thing from my mind really. It was just a case of getting a couple of wins and moving up the league. Thankfully we did that early on and built some momentum. It put us in a great position and the rest is history now.’
When he walked back through the doors of the Goldsands Stadium, as it is now known, Howe was stunned by the club’s transformation under Mitchell and Demin: ‘It’s as if I’d come back to manage a totally different club,’ he recalls.
Howe’s first tenure of working wonders on a shoestring remains a special time in his life. ‘Those times with no money were probably,’ he says, ‘the best time for us. It taught us a great deal about how to manage and do certain things. I look back with good memories.’
Howe’s commitment to the Cherries through thick and thin, which started when he first joined them as a defender in 1994, has earned him the hero worship of the Dean Court faithful. Manager and players were given a raucous reception as they took an open-top bus tour from the Goldsands Stadium to Bournemouth Square on 28 April to celebrate their promotion. Howe took the opportunity to thank the supporters who had put their hands in their pockets to save the club on the many occasions it has faced liquidation. In 2004, the Bournemouth fans even paid the £21,000 transfer fee to bring Eddie Howe back from Portsmouth, a club he had joined in March 2002, to help to raise funds to help keep the Cherries in existence.
It is clear there is a tremendous feeling of loyalty between the manager and fans. ‘We’ve always had a really special bond,’ Howe smiles. ‘I’ve always had a huge respect for the Bournemouth fans since I made my debut at the club. Hopefully that bond will continue to grow. Working at this football club has been brilliant, going from a player to a coach to a manager. I’ve had a few roles and I’ve enjoyed every single one of them. Hopefully there are more stories to come.’
In a few weeks, Howe will lead the Cherries into his third different division as their manager, and there is just one giant step left for one of England’s most promising young managers and his club to take. Could Premiership football in Dorset become a reality? ‘It’s always a dream and it’s a possibility, because in football there are no boundaries,’ Howe says. ‘Who knows? All I can say is we’ll give everything we can to finish as high as we can.’
He has defied the odds in getting Cherries this far, and if anyone can bring the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool to Dean Court on a regular basis, it’s Eddie Howe.