A Dorset Life for me
By Roger Guttridge; the illustration is by Becky Blake
Published in August ’15
Football rarely merits a mention in Dorset Life, and many readers probably give thanks for that. But even those who despise the ‘beautiful game’ must by now be aware that sporting history is being written in the south-east corner of our county. Dorset-boy-made-good Eddie Howe is not so much the hero of the hour as the century after steering AFC Bournemouth from the depths of footballing despair in 2009 to the most competitive league in the world in 2015. In the league table of Dorset’s sporting achievers, the club’s young manager is up there with Shapwick-born runner Charles Bennett, who in 1900 became the first British track-and-field athlete to win an Olympic gold medal, and Poole sailor Rodney Pattison, winner of Olympic gold in 1968 and 1972 and silver in 1976. At the tender age of 37, Howe is already the Football League Manager of the Decade, and if you fancy a flutter, ask the bookies for odds on him to be a future England manager. You read it here first.
The scale of Howe’s triumph is even clearer in the context of the club’s history – a 116-year rollercoaster ride that began in the unlikely setting of Gladstone Road, Boscombe, in 1899. Queen Victoria was the monarch then; and if we’re looking for local connections, the Prime Minister was Robert Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury and a former Viscount Cranborne, whose estates extended to Verwood, where Eddie Howe first kicked a ball more than 90 years later (a combination of revelations which I hope will earn me the Chris Evans Award for Tenuous Link of the Decade.)
AFC Bournemouth was born out of the disbanding of Boscombe St John’s Lads’ Institute, though the reason this sorry event led to a meeting of twelve good men and true in that Gladstone Road house eludes me. But meet they did, and in a follow-up meeting at the Colonnade restaurant, the first officers of Boscombe FC were elected. This was the heyday of the nickname and the inaugural players included ‘Jumbo’ Hookey, ‘Pedlar’ Palmer and ‘Bimbo’ Boys. I can’t imagine any player today agreeing to be called ‘Jumbo’, still less ‘Bimbo’.
With the Murdoch millions almost a century away, times were financially tough, and the club’s selectors met under the Pokesdown streetlights to pick the team, thus saving themselves the costs of hiring a committee room. They didn’t spend a lot on training either, such time-consuming and energy-sapping activity being frowned upon then. The cost of hiring a pitch for a season was £5 10s.
The club came to be known as the Cherries, apparently because its stadium in Kings Park was built on the site of a cherry orchard. Like that of Bournemouth FC, the Poppies, founded in 1875, the nickname reflected the genteel nature of a town which marketed itself as a Victorian resort for the sick and elderly rather than the young and sporty. What other town would call one of its visitor thoroughfares Invalid’s Walk?
We wait to see how the blossoming Cherries match up against Manchester United’s Red Devils, Tottenham’s cock-fighting Spurs, Newcastle’s Toon Army and the Gunners of Arsenal.
Oddly, it was another team of gunners who provided the inaugural opposition for Boscombe. The fledgling Cherries took on Christchurch Royal Artillery on October 7, 1899. They lost, but ‘played very pluckily and had hard lines in not scoring, once in particular from a shot by Tuck’. I’d like to say that this team-mate of Jumbo, Bimbo and Pedlar was known as ‘Friar’ but sadly have no evidence to support it.
The Cherries blossomed and in 1923 they were elected to the Football League, with help from another giant of the local sporting scene. William Pickford was a journalist on the Bournemouth Guardian from its launch in 1883 and editor for 28 years. But his greatest talents were as a sporting administrator. He personally introduced water polo to Bournemouth in the 1880s, captained Bournemouth Cycling Club and was founding captain of Bournemouth Swimming Club. But his greatest love was football. ‘On the spot I fell in love with soccer – with the beauty of the game, the combination, passing, footcraft, and the fact that you could see every man on the field and watch his movements, just like looking at chessmen on a board,’ he wrote of his first visit to a match aged 20. ‘At once I became a soccer player for one of the teams I had watched.’
Pickford went on to average 50 goals a season for Bournemouth Rovers and Hampshire, famously riding his penny-farthing to matches as far afield as Sturminster Newton and Fordingbridge – and even to London for his first FA meeting in 1888. He was founding secretary of Hampshire FA, founding president of Bournemouth FA, an international selector, FA president and FIFA vice-president. At a time when professionals earned £8 a week, he opposed plans to pay star players more than their team-mates. How proud he would be to see a Bournemouth team in a league watched by 4bn people in 200 countries – and how horrified at the untold millions floating around the modern game. Promotion alone is worth £120m to the Cherries. ◗