It’s ten years since I was last in Bournemouth, watching a penniless club go perilously close to being relegated from the Football League (Match of the Month, WSC 265). Today they’re nestled at the mid-point of the top flight, one year on from being declared the 28th richest club on Earth. In a way, it feels like yesterday – how can a decade pass so much more quickly than 45 minutes on a cross-trainer? But really, that was another lifetime. Back then the world was a terrible place, but mostly in ways which made some kind of sense. We didn’t know how lucky we were. Technology has enabled regression on a terrifying scale; the future’s being hammered together from broken bits of the past. Everything is different now.
The three most powerful agents of change are money, time and fear. The last of those may well have done a number on the rest of us, but the first two have transformed AFC Bournemouth. I stroll around inspecting what, ten years ago, I was meant to call “the Fitness First Stadium”, and these days should be calling “Vitality Stadium” (I’m sorry, but it’s still Dean Court to grandad over here). Back then, there was an empty space at one end of the ground, so when the match got dull you could watch some kids have a kickaround on common land; now in its place is the Colmar Ted MacDougall Stand. A man in a woolly hat sold scarves off a cart; now there’s a glass-walled souvenir shop where, for the price of a reasonable snack, you can buy yourself a ruler with “The Cherries” written on it. All this plus the annual chance to watch Kevin de Bruyne or Mohamed Salah treat your heroes like cones! It’s a whole new world.
Last time I sat in it, the media room was an Artex-ceilinged storage cupboard. Nowadays, it isn’t. Turning down some free lasagne, I sit behind what ends up being Chris Kamara, talking into someone’s ear about money and something Garry Birtles once told him. But glancing around is a chilly experience. Ten years ago, most football journalists looked like something from a 1970s sex comedy. It was easy to feel good about yourself. Now they’re all so young and fresh, with neat side partings and skinny jeans, and laptops full of astonishing statistics. Scratching grey stubble, I wonder what happened, aware of the answer but trying to ignore it.
Eddie Howe, too, was a youngster then. He may now have bumped against the limits of his capabilities, but managing Bournemouth away from oblivion, then later into the Premier League, still seem like preposterous achievements for a man who’s five years younger than me. Speaking of “five years”, incidentally... am I the only one continually disturbed by Eddie’s eerie visual and vocal resemblance to David Bowie – but a nonethereal Bowie, some kind of solid, earthbound approximation? He is to David Bowie what Sam Allardyce is to the drummer from the Banana Splits, or Neil Warnock to a nightclub drag act: exactly like him, when he’s taken his make-up off. Normally it would be quite complimentary to tell someone they remind you of David Bowie. In this case, it’s almost an insult. “Wow, you’re just like David Bowie... if he’d worked in a sports shop in Christchurch.”
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