It might, perhaps, should, have been a nervy evening on the south coast. Playing forty-eight hours after the rest of the division has completed its weekend fixtures may have a tendency to give bored or distracted players the opportunity to entertain themselves by dwelling upon the magnitude of the game ahead. Fortunately for them, however, Bournemouth were playing a Bolton team which, after half an hour or so of making a reasonable fist of putting some sort of opposition, started to play as if their minds were already focusing on their end of season awards dinner as the first half proceeded. In the end, it finished three-nil with Bournemouth even finding the time to miss a second half penalty kick. Evenings of tension have seldom felt less tense.
It’s not a “fairy-tale,” of course. Stories which involve Russian billionaires seldom are. But the truth of the matter is that we find the truth of Bournemouth’s ascent to the Premier League is somewhere between the two extremes of being bankrolled by a Russian billionaire and being fishes out of water, fighting against insurmountable odds in the shark-infested waters of the top end of the Football League Championship. On the one hand, the club has spent more money on players than it would have been able to had Maxim Demin never got involved with the club in the first place. They spent £800,000 on Matthew Tubbs from Crawley Town in 2012. They spent £2.3m on Callum Wilson from Coventry City. They posted a loss of £15.3m for the 2012/13 season in getting promoted from League One when the maximum permitted loss for a Championship club each year at the time was £8m.
And yet, and yet. There is something about the rise of AFC Bournemouth’s rise to the Premier League that inspires the romantic in us. It may still be a little premature to be calling manager Eddie Howe as the future head coach of the national team, but there can be little question that he has, financial assistance aside, performed an extraordinary job in getting the club this far, and to suggest that chucking a few million pounds at a football club is all that is required for it to get to the Premier League is more than merely simplistic. His is not a team stuffed with ageing former Premier League journeymen, and the ninety-five goals that the Cherries have scored this season have betrayed a lack of fear and cynicism on the part of his players. Even the appearance of £30,000 a week paid to Kenwyne Jones for his three appearances and one goal for the club cannot really detract from the fact that, broadly speaking, this is a young team that has played some exhilarating football this season.
We should also pause a moment to consider where, exactly, AFC Bournemouth have come from. For the whole of the first decade of this century, this club was a byword for financial mismanagement. Time and time again the collection buckets had to be dusted down at Dean Court, as the club lurched from one financial crisis to another. They were docked seventeen points by the Football League and relegated to its basement division. On plenty of occasions, it seemed almost an inevitability that the club would drop from the league altogether, or perhaps go out of business entirely. Yet somehow or other the club pulled through.
It was serendipity that led to the arrival of Maxim Demin at the club. Its previous owner, Eddie Mitchell, had made few friends during his time in charge of it, occasionally turning it into something of a circus with his behaviour on match days, which included appearing to offer a supporter a fight at the end of a tired and emotional address to the crowd, turning up in the dressing room during a match, and holding court in a disastrously defensive manner at a series a fans forums. Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day, though, and a chance meeting with Demin, on whose house Mitchell was working, was a turning point which led to the club ending up where it stands this morning.
On the small matter of the new owner of the club, we know very little, including the precise origins of his wealth. It does, however, seem a little unfair to tar Maxim Demin with the brush that may be applied to many of the other current generation of football club owners who incur so much wrath on the part of supporters. There have been no ham-fisted attempts to tinker with the identity of the club and, as a result of this, no exercises in throwing toys from a pram when supporters inevitably react against this. A chastening early lesson, when the club was widely ridiculed after his wife was invited to address the players at half-time during a match, seems to have been learned. Demin has put money in where required, he has allowed chairman Jeff Mostyn to get on with the job of running the club on a day to day basis and, perhaps most importantly of all from the perspective of supporters, he has allowed Eddie Howe to get on with managing the team. After a decade or more of the worst sort of drama, AFC Bournemouth have quietly got on with the job of building a club capable of getting into the Premier League.
With £90m in television money and parachute payments to follow even in the event of relegation from the Premier League after one season, the financial future of AFC Bournemouth would appear to now be secure for the medium term, at least presuming that this money isn’t wasted, as it has been all too frequently at other clubs over the years. And there’s the crux of the issue with criticism of the club’s promotion. If we accept that financial doping exists within professional football, then the few million pounds thrown into this club is relatively small beer. The money put in by the owner is small in comparison with Premier League television money, parachute payments or even the commercial revenues that most Premier League clubs raise. It’s not an ideal situation, but Bournemouth have used a relatively small amount of money wisely. And whilst it is tempting to see the words “Russian” and “billionaire” together and reflexively baulk at the possible origins of his fortune it’s difficult to say much more about him. At the other end of the spectrum, though, this is no fairy tale. It’s a story of a modest financial investment that has, for the most part, been wisely spent and is now reaping its own rewards.
Bournemouth supporters can, considering the decade and a half that they’d endured prior to the last couple of seasons, be forgiven for not worrying about the allegations of bankrolling being thrown at them this morning. Some may trouble themselves over the possibility, however slight, that they could be overturned at the weekend – and, with 19 goals for third placed Middlesbrough to overcome even in the event of Bournemouth losing at Charlton, it is infinitesimally small – whilst others will be hankering for top place in the final league table and the silverware that comes with that. At the full time whistle at Dean Court last night, though, as delirious home supporters charged onto the pitch with expressions of joy and disbelief plastered across their faces, it would have taken the stoniest of hearts to not be touched by the giddy excitement of it all. These are the days for which we, the supporters, get involved with this game in the first place. There may be struggles ahead, and it would be foolish yo suggest that staying in the Premier League won’t be am enormous challenge for any club of this size, but they’re there – just about – and they have a chance. AFC Bournemouth will, something close to miraculous excepting, be a Premier League football club next season.
You can follow Twohundredpercent on Twitter by clicking here.
You can ascend to the Premier League with Twohundredpercent for the first time on Facebook by clicking here.