Watching football fans watching the football
Back at his beloved Bournemouth, Eddie Howe is making waves on the South Coast, notes a besotted Thomas Bennett
Howe’s that for starters? It’s now 13 games unbeaten since the return of Eddie Howe to the south coast, where his impact has instantaneously transformed AFC Bournemouth from a side hovering marginally above the relegation zone into a side rocketing up the table faster than... well, even faster than they did it last time he graced Dean Court.
"He’s got the 'magic' to manage England," says Cherries chairman Eddie Mitchell. “I have put the maximum on him to be an England manager at some stage – that's how confident I am in him,” he explains.
How things have changed on the Dorset coastline. For a long period at the start of the season, the ear-piercing boos would ring out around Dean Court – and one side doesn’t even have a stand. The seats whose embarrassing red seemed to scream of anger have changed to a more heart-warming shade of love.
For AFC Bournemouth the season started with such promise. The big-name signings of Lee Barnard, Josh McQuoid, Tommy Elphick and even former England goalkeeper David James made for a teamsheet to make any League One manager envious.
By the end of September, the allure had faded. A miserable 3-1 defeat at Crawley finally concluded Paul Groves’ time at the helm. Fifth from bottom with only one win from 11 games, Bournemouth had seen dreams of promotion turn to nightmares of demotion.
There was only one solution. A league-beating squad was already in place but needed someone to engender a winning team spirit. There was only one man that could congregate the voices of all support into a choir of encouragement, reliability and virtue.
For the south-coast faithful, Howe is addictive. He could be chain-smoked for months upon end. Upon Groves’ dismissal, there was only one name the fans wanted to sing. Despite Harry Redknapp joining the club as advisor and being mentioned as a managerial possibility, they only wanted Howe.
Howe and the boys celebrate their 2010 promotion
He’s only 35. He is the son of AFC Bournemouth and the fans are the proud parents. He’s been nurtured through the ranks in Dorset. Allowed to explore the world as a player at Portsmouth after nearly 250 games for the Cherries, he was back two years later, the fans clubbing together to pledge the transfer fee.
As a manager, the glamour of glory pulled him up north to experience humanity further at second-tier Burnley, but he’d be back within 21 months.
Chairman Mitchell couldn't be happier: “I think Eddie’s managerial skills are second to none. I think he has got that aura about him. I think he has got all the ingredients it takes [to become England manager] – his manner and his dedication to the game – and he has got that bit of magic that it needs to be successful.”
Howe won promotion in 2010 as Cherries boss, taking them into League One. His impact at the higher level was instrumental. That tuneful presence saw the Cherries dominate the early stages of the campaign and sit in third place when Burnley came knocking in January 2011.
It was his time to leave. No bad feelings and all that: he’d given the Cherries a new life and a new chance to match the optimism in the stands with their optimism on the pitch.
Howe’s successor, Lee Bradbury, started respectably. Although he couldn’t build on Howe’s enchantment, he steered his side into sixth place and was guttingly defeated on penalties in the play-off semi finals against Huddersfield Town.
Bradbury couldn’t live up to the legacy that Howe had left behind. He departed in late March 2012 and left Paul Groves and Shaun Brooks in charge. They also faltered. Seven months later, Howe was back. The following month, he was Manager of the Month.
Today the Cherries are climbing higher up the table every week. Before Howe's appointment, they were in 21st place; in all competitions, they had played 13, winning one and losing five. Since his return they've gone 13 unbeaten, winning 10, including completely outplaying top-of-the-table Tranmere and winning at fellow promotion hopefuls Doncaster.
He’s also guided them to the FA Cup Third Round, in which they’ll test themselves at Premier League Wigan – a deserved day out for the staff, the players and the supporters, who haven’t been praised to the extent they deserve since the return of the ‘special one’.
The cliché ‘watch this space’ has seldom been more applicable. Even if you're Roy Hodgson...
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