​Bournemouth: Promotion by Popular Acclaim
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​Bournemouth: Promotion by Popular Acclaim

Has a club ever been promoted to the Premier League with more goodwill than free-scoring minnows Bournemouth?
May 21, 2015, 10:35am

There are not many things football fans can agree on. Polarised opinions are aired every weekend in the stands, in the pub, and on social media. A lopsided view reigns supreme: the moderate, discerning voice tends to be drowned out by the more fervent shout. A backdrop of white noise ranging from abuse and hatred of rival fans through to generic ridicule and never-ending GIFs of Steven Gerrard falling over are embedded in the English game. It is black and white: 'I support my team and hate everyone else'.

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But there is one thing that the not-so-unified masses are agreed on: Bournemouth's promotion to the Premier League.

The notion of genuine goodwill towards a football team that isn't your own is a strange and rare thing. Tribalism may be an archaic and simplistic concept but we nevertheless take great pride in our rivalries. Maintaining and continually ranking them is important, much more so than acknowledging the success of others. Many fans have affiliations with other clubs – a passing fling with a side they used to live near or have taken the reigns at on Football Manager – but one team is always sacrosanct.

Yet Bournemouth have managed to ascend unforgiving terrain and reach the unchartered territory atop the mountain of footballing public opinion. It is an unusual location; an uninhabited but welcoming zone of positive attention and praise. Their position is such that even fans of supposed rivals Southampton are happy for them. While the rivalry is one born solely of geographic proximity and has never been intense – and Saints fans' happiness likely owes more to Portsmouth's demise – it does go some way to demonstrating The Cherries' appeal.

So, could Bournemouth be the most universally popular side ever promoted to the Premier League? In the division's 23-year history there have been a few other well-liked sides to make the step up. Swindon Town, under player-coach Glenn Hoddle, made a brief and ill-fated appearance in the 1993-4 season, and more recently both Ian Holloway's Blackpool and Sean Dyche's Burnley have been celebrated for their approach and relative lack of funds.

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These clubs have all been relative minnow success stories driven by charismatic managers, but Bournemouth's charm transcends the typical narrative of the plucky underdog. Yes they have come from 'bucket collections to the Premier League', and that is undoubtedly a reason for endearment. At the beginning of the 2008-9 season they were deducted 17 points and sat rock bottom of the Football League. We can all identify with that. Who hasn't put hundreds of hours into a management simulation to oversee a similar rise? And so you will know that progress from the depths to the top flight is to be admired.

But they have plenty more going for them.

Bournemouth score goals. Loads of goals. During their promotion campaign they netted 98 in the Championship, a league which is regularly touted as the most competitive in Europe. They beat Birmingham 8-0 away from home. They broke just about every club record imaginable. They even won the league on the last day in dramatic fashion when Sheffield Wednesday's catchily-named striker Atdhe Nuhiu equalised against title-rivals Watford in the 91st minute. They play an attractive, progressive brand of football™ and talk of philosophy without sounding pretentious. There is a definite sense that this is a well-run football club which has reached its peak the right way: through hard work and skill, not by the more popular modern method of erratic money chucking. Bournemouth are therefore unlikely to repeat the mistakes which former manager and dodgy-kneed blame-avoidance expert Harry Redknapp presided over at both QPR and Portsmouth.

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The players who have achieved this extraordinary feat are not superstars, mercenaries or extensively loaned from a feeder club – they are a mix of hardened professionals, up-and-coming talent and other clubs' cast-offs. Outstanding midfielder Matt Ritchie spent years on loan at Dagenham & Redbridge, Notts County and Swindon before becoming the Championship's most exciting player and being called up to represent Scotland – a nation he'd never visited. Midfielder Harry Arter and striker Yann Kermorgant have been transformed from Charlton rejects into title winners. Captain Tommy Elphick, a classic no-nonsense sort of defender, headbutts the goalposts to get himself in the mood before kick-off. Even their most expensive player, £3 million striker Callum Wilson, was paid for using the money earned from selling Lewis Grabban to Norwich. This mix has created a team character that fans can easily identify with.

But it is manager Eddie Howe who has realised this potential. The 37-year-old may be a cherub-cheeked choir boy lookalike who your Granny would describe as "a nice young man", but he is also the hottest managerial property in the country. He ticks all the right boxes: home-grown, erudite, passionate and media-friendly. Despite having only been a manager for seven years he is mixing it with the big boys in the odds for the next England boss. His stock could barely be any higher.

Eddie Howe: a nice young man from a nice town who manages a nice football club | Photo by PA Images

Of course everyone knows that success requires more than just a charismatic manager. Certain prerequisites are demanded and some have tried to temper the widespread adulation by pointing to the familiar behind-the-scenes presence of a Russian petrochemicals oligarch. But even here The Cherries avoid PR pitfalls, because their oligarch, a guy called Maxim Demin, is apparently a nice, friendly variety of oligarch, despite being so behind-the-scenes that no-one even knows what he looks like. The Russian billionaire invested in the club in 2011, but not in the 'pile of cash equals short-term miracles' kind of way – more the gradual, stable and wholly sensible kind of way. This approach has overseen a remarkable five year plan that any Russian would be proud of. Demin even rewarded the players with £300,000, which was put to good use partying with the vaguely recognisable face of Dane Bowers in LA.

Even fraternising with a former member of a barely distinguishable '90s boy band cannot tarnish the club's impeccable image. As well as winning the Championship and spraying champagne around they have also been busy winning over the general public. Here they are helped by several inherited character traits. Take their nickname for example: The Cherries. The connotations are perfectly in keeping with their image as a sweet, non-threatening club. Similarly, they play in a small, homely stadium which holds just 11,700 (patrons, not fans). They are is situated in a Dorset town associated with the elderly, summer holidays, sandbanks and investment bankers – a far cry from the majority of Football League clubs. The lack of genuine rivalry candidates (Poole Town and Dorchester Town don't hold much of a grudge) means there is clear potential for region-wide support. And if you wore their red and black striped shirt on the way to play 5-a-side anywhere in the country you'd be unlikely to receive any abuse. Bournemouth could well become the nation's second club.

Bournemouth will provide a new away day for Premier League sides. A trip to the seaside; a pleasant alternative to the familiar schleps to Lancashire and London. People like the idea of Bournemouth and perhaps that is the crux of their popularity. The Premier League has long been a fairly exclusive club; the same elite, the same middle-table finishers, the same relegation scrapper and the same yo-yo clubs.

So, alongside their likeable manager, pretty football and commendable ethos, The Cherries offer the key commodity of variation. They will be a likeable team that the bigger clubs should beat and the smaller ones can compete with: newcomers welcomed by one and all. Whether they can better Burnley's recent not-very-good-but-strangely-endearing precedent or follow Southampton and Swansea into the best of the rest category remains to be seen. But for now, football's usually insular and suspicious collective consciousness is united in admiration.