What a difference 12 months makes for Bournemouth

With the January transfer window closing a couple of weeks ago, the lack of excitement on the hotly anticipated ‘Deadline Day’ made me cast my mind back 12 months, when AFC Bournemouth’s tough tackling midfielder Marvin Bartley was snapped up by Burnley, with seconds to go.

The Cherries were still sat in the top 6, despite a recent promotion and selling strikers Brett Pitman and Josh McQuoid to Championship sides. The only player to come into the club during this period was Mathieu Baudry from Troyes, in France, on a free transfer while the club netted around £1.6 million in transfer fees. Selling players was nothing new to the Cherries faithful, but it was extremely disappointing, after a great start, to see 3 players go and no replacement bought in, although they were fortunate with the emergence of Danny Ings.

At the end of the season, AFC Bournemouth was a touch fortunate in finishing in the top 6, after a small slide down the table; they encountered Huddersfield in the Play Offs. After two great entertaining matches, the sides couldn’t be split and Huddersfield were the victors of a penalty shootout, which left a talented squad in League 1 with a lot of vultures circling above Dean Court.

Over the summer period, a lot of work went on in and around the ground by the Chairman’s company. The place looked a lot better, but the lack of incoming transfer activity left fans frustrated. By the end of the summer transfer window, The Cherries had sold 6 more of their squad including young Danny Ings to Burnley for a fee that potentially could reach £1 million, bringing the transfer income to potentially around £3.7 million. Along with loan signings returning to parent clubs and 2 players retiring, the Cherries squad was a tad bare and lacking some quality. Just 2 outfield players came in for a total of £100,000 before the window closed. On the field, a dismantled Cherries squad were uninspiring and poor and 6 defeats in 7 games, with a young and inexperienced management duo, left the Cherries fans seething. Most believed the Chairman was lining his pockets and he was accused of asset stripping and Lee Bradbury didn’t have the backing of the supporters. This all came to a head when a slightly drunk looking Eddie Mitchell came onto the pitch after a dismal 0-3 home defeat to Chesterfield and was subject to abuse, before offering to ‘take on’ a fan.

There was clearly a reason for the previous events as investment from a Russian businessman who was a friend of Eddie Mitchell was secured a few weeks later. Maxim Demin bought 50% of the club, with supporters split as to whether this was a good or bad thing. Maxim was the 3rd Russian interested in acquiring shares in AFC Bournemouth after Mitchell rejected 2 other bids on a basis of lack of evidence over funds. Unfortunately, one of those groups had recently acquired Portsmouth FC and I think that was a lucky escape.

Since the arrival of Maxim, the playing side has seen significant investment with proven players at this level coming in on loan with a view to permanent signings and some lower league talent also joined the ranks. Two bids for the stadium to be purchased have been rejected, the latest for £4.5 million and a new training facility, by the ground, has been given the go ahead by the council and work has started on that. The Cherries have gone on to lose just 4 of their last 22 league games and sit just outside the play off positions.

Rolling onto the January transfer window of 2012 and the Cherries fans were hoping to hold onto star players as it is a natural feeling. Marc Pugh had apparent interest from Championship clubs, but this year was going to be like no other in recent decades. The month saw no less than 7 permanent signings to bolster the squad, as opposed to the side decimated just last year, including the signing of Matt Tubbs from Crawley for a club record fee. Also Marc Pugh was still at the club, no star assets were sold. Unfortunately at times it was like a child in a candy store with bids going in for numerous players, but this was a new feeling for a lot of Cherries fans. It is much better feeling being linked to players coming in rather than lots of clubs linked to your players. Some met with optimism and some met with caution as to how much the club were spending. We are all too aware of how it can go horribly wrong.

Sometimes you have to take a step backwards in order to progress and AFC Bournemouth have enhanced their squad for a potential promotion push this campaign. The challenge is now set. Can they repeat last season’s great achievement and finish in the top 6, maybe even going one better and see them promoted to the second tier of English football for only the second time ever, after spending 3 seasons there under a certain Harry Redknapp.

If it is not achieved this season, will fans expectations soar and will they be demanding a top 2 finish next season? What a difference 12 months can make, but it looks like it could be an exciting period for the south coast outfit.

By AFC Bournemouth blogger Adrian Lee