Cherries bid goodbye to the sweet life

Cherries bid goodbye to the sweet life

When AFC Bournemouth were promoted to the top flight for the first time in 2015, it was called a fairy tale and few would dispute that assertion.

The fact that the Cherries survived for five seasons against all odds equally defied the laws of reason.

At the Vitality stadium, they had a ground capacity of 11,700, by far the smallest club to reach the lofty heights of the top flight.

But reality finally returned last Sunday with the most depressing word in football -- relegation.

Nearly every season while they were in the top flight, Bournemouth began as relegation favourites, but for four seasons they punched above their weight, remaining firm, finishing a respectable 16th, 9th, 12th and 14th thanks to the efforts of young manager Eddie Howe.

But the fifth season proved too much, even though in early November they were in seventh place.

Unfortunately they suffered injuries to their best players which led to a loss of form.

They went into a nosedive, but were hoping the coronavirus break might turn around their fortunes.

Alas, just seven points from a possible 27 after the restart sealed their fate. If you lose 22 games in a season, there is not much chance of surviving.

Howe, who has spent more than a decade with the club, was understandably distraught.

"It is really painful," he said. "We always believed we were capable of a last-minute escape.''

More frustrating was that they almost did it, with a spirited 3-1 victory over Everton in their first-ever win at Goodison Park.

But they were denied by an equally determined Aston Villa squad claiming a draw at West Ham.

Bournemouth's rise through the divisions is worth relating.

At the start of the 2007-8 season the club was in dire straits, in the basement of League 2 with minus 17 points.

They were on the brink of liquidation and seemingly headed for the Conference. The club's very existence was under threat.

But they miraculously managed to escape relegation to the Conference, defeating Grimsby Town 2-1 in the penultimate game of the season.

It was inevitably described in the media as "The Great Escape."

Their recovery was helped by the injection of much-needed funds by Russian owner Maxim Demin who still remains in charge. He is already talking of a swift return to the Premier League.

Guiding them through all this, interrupted by one break at Burnley, was Howe, who went on to earn three promotions, eventually taking Bournemouth to the Premier League and playing very attractive football.

At the time, Howe admitted he had not thought it was possible.

"The Championship is such a tough league and people were waiting for us to slip away," he said.

Of course, they didn't slip away and entered a brave new world.

Now they are leaving it, but can hold their heads high. Their fans can look back proudly on wins over the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool.

The victory over Liverpool at the Vitality in 2016 was one Bournemouth supporters will never forget.

Liverpool arrived on the back of a 15-game unbeaten run and things did not look good for Bournemouth when the visitors had eased into a 2-0 lead by half-time and were 3-1 up with 15 minutes to go.

But the Cherries didn't give up and roared on by their fans grabbed an astonishing 4-3 victory with defender Nathan Ake grabbing the winner in the 93rd minute.

Liverpool manager Juergen Klopp looked stunned and said after the game: "It was a wonderful story. Pity we were on the wrong side."

What makes Bournemouth such an inspirational story is that they had always been one of the most ordinary clubs in the entire Football League, although fans of Rochdale might dispute that.

For an incredible 44 years, from 1923-70, Bournemouth and Boscombe, as they were called, remained stuck in the old Third Division. When they finally made a move, it was into the Fourth Division.

Since 1971, when they were renamed AFC Bournemouth, the club had remained in the third tier of English football apart from a brief foray into the second tier from 1987-90. And that was the situation until Howe came along.

It is hard to predict what will happen to Bournemouth now as they will certainly lose their best players.

Whether Howe will remain is unclear, but he can look back on a wonderful journey that defied all the odds.

As the Bournemouth website put it, the club is celebrating "Five Magnificent Years".


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