The wife of a chairman of a football club is someone who is rarely mentioned in a macho dominated world, but in this instance all praise must go to the wife of AFC Bournemouth chairman Eddie Mitchell. It was she that convinced her husband to give Eddie Howe a ring and see if he could be persuaded to return to the south coast mid-season, with the Cherries in the middle of a relegation battle.
Since the return of Howe, things have only looked up and what seemed like an improbable finish of second place at the beginning of the season has become reality and Bournemouth can now look forward to playing in the second tier for the first time since 1987 under a certain Harry Redknapp.
Pre-season optimism about Bournemouth’s season was cautious at best, with Paul Groves having done an underwhelming job towards the end of the previous season. The struggles continued at the beginning of this season, with big name signings such as David James and Matt Tubbs failing to live up to their reputations.
Finally, at the beginning of October with Bournemouth occupying the final relegation place in League One and seemingly set to stay there for the year, Groves was sacked and Howe returned. Howe has always been hugely popular with the fans after having played for the club for over 10 years and having a successful first stint in charge of the club. He was not blamed for wanting to test himself at a higher level when he left for Burnley and his return was welcomed with open arms by supporters.
Ever since Howe’s return, things have gone from good, to great, to incredible. Howe was named manager of the month in November 2012, his first full month back in charge, and led the club up the table on an almost unstoppable rampage, including a club record equaling 18 match unbeaten run, and the longest winning run in League One this season with eight.
In March Bournemouth had reached the top of the table, and suddenly a battle to stay in the division had become a positive rather than a negative. A small wobble soon followed though, losing five games in a row which sent the Cherries back outside of the play-offs. Howe and the team regrouped though and that eight game winning streak meant Bournemouth went into the final day of the season in 1stplace, and guaranteed automatic promotion due to the fact that Doncaster in 2nd and Brentford in 3rd were playing each other, meaning both could not overtake Bournemouth.
A win for Bournemouth would have guaranteed the title, but a 0-0 draw away to Tranmere meant relying on Brentford to beat or draw Doncaster. Tension was built further by the fact that game was slightly delayed, until Brentford were awarded a penalty in the 95th minute. The scene was set for Brentford to smash in the penalty, gain automatic promotion for themselves and reward AFCB with the title. A nightmare ensued though as an argument over who should take the penalty proved to reach the wrong conclusion as the bar came to Doncaster’s rescue, who then immediately went down the other end and scored to win 1-0, securing the title.
Despite this, it is hard to say that was a disappointment. With the club in the relegation zone when Howe took over, every fan, player and the manager himself would probably have laughed at you if you had told them they would go into the last day with the title in their hands. Hands would’ve been bitten off quicker than they could have been offered.
Howe himself must take great credit for this achievement, working with largely the same squad that Groves had. In an interview with BBC’s Late Kick Off programme he played down the impact that he and assistant Jason Tindall had made but there is no denying that Bournemouth would not be in the Championship if Howe had not taken over.
He took the team back to basics instead of toying with different formations every game as was often the way under Groves, gave them vital self belief and made quality additions such as Brett Pitman and Matt Ritchie, the latter of whom was named League One player of the year. He also made brave decisions such as dropping former England keeper James and settling on 22-year-old Ryan Allsop as his first choice between the sticks.
Altogether, big thanks have to be given to Mrs. Mitchell for convincing her husband to pick up that phone.
Howe can now have another crack at the Championship, after a solid if unspectacular time at Burnley. Many of the current Bournemouth squad have previously been touted as potential Championship players, and some such as Harry Arter have even been linked with Premier League clubs recently. Howe has also managed to compose a team of players who are yet to reach their peaks, with the majority of the starting XI under the age of 25.
The target for next season must simply be to stay in the Championship and with a youthful squad behind a youthful up-and-coming manager, the future looks bright for AFCB. Plans have been outlaid to finally build a fourth stand to increase the capacity of Dean Court by around 4000, and a new training ground has recently been completed adjacent to the stadium.
With a few additions to the squad and a careful bit of trimming (last season there were seven strikers on the books), Howe, Mitchell and Bournemouth can look forward to a competitive season in the Championship, taking hope from the likes of Charlton this season who comfortably stayed up in their first season back in the second tier.
Written by Cort Robson, We Are Going Up’s AFC Bournemouth blogger
Cort tweets at @cort_robson