With this summer’s World Cup now firmly in the rear-view mirror, Premier League teams across the country were busy fine-tuning their squads this weekend. With the pre-season coming to a close, I had the opportunity to visit the south coast and see Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth match up against last season’s Europa League finalists Marseille.
I’m a Dorset lad, born and bred, and if I knew AFC Bournemouth existed when I was seven years-old they likely would have been my team. By all rights, they should be my team, as they are the Football League club closest to wear I was born and raised. Alas, Arsenal got to me first when I was young and impressionable, and the Gunners dug their hooks in. By the time I discovered the Cherries, it was too late.
However, since my early days of playing FIFA on the Playstation, I have had a soft spot for Bournemouth. I regularly chose them to play with on the game, and enjoyed an especially productive career on FIFA 2004, taking them from the old division two to the Premier League. James Hayter, I owe all my success to you.
Little did I know that a decade later, the real AFC Bournemouth would match my virtual achievements, and then some.
From facing insolvency to facing the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United on a weekly basis, it’s a truly remarkable story. Tiny AFC Bournemouth have now been a fixture in England’s top division for the past three seasons (now entering their fourth), despite being one of the smallest towns (population: 187,000) to feature at the highest level.
And so it was that I found myself in Bournemouth on Saturday the 4th of August thanks to my uncle, who had secured us tickets for the visit of Olympique de Marseille, one of French football’s largest and most successful clubs.
My uncle has been a Bournemouth fan since the mid-fifties, and has fond memories of the club’s epic 1956/7 FA Cup run. He travelled as a youngster to Molineux to see the Cherries beat Wolves 1-0, back when Wolverhampton were a major force, lead by England captain Billy Wright. The famous victory is hailed as one of the greatest FA Cup giant-killings.
We had a pleasant walk along the tree-lined King’s Park Drive, arriving early at the Vitality Stadium (cosy capacity: 11,464), or Dean Court as it should be known, and did a lap of the ground before heading to the bar. We then stopped into the club super store, and I did my best to resist buying a jacket. I have jacket fever and the Umbro range was particularly tempting. As always, I did pick up a programme, and also a pin badge for my jacket. It’s something I’ve started doing with each new ground and team I visit.
Together we had seats in the East Stand, not usually my uncle’s preferred position but a perfect view and very close to the players. The ground was bathed in glorious sunshine, and the temperature was pushing 29 degrees. Unfortunately we were in the direct sunlight all afternoon, and it must have been the hottest I’ve ever been at a football match. I’m just thankful I wore a white t-shirt; I felt sorry for the Bournemouth faithful decked out in their red and black striped replica kits – they must have been melting!
Only a handful of key players were missing from Bournemouth’s squad, since the Cherries had played Real Betis the Friday night before, so it was a completely changed eleven for Saturday’s game. Sadly there was no Lewis Cook, Jordon Ibe, Jermain Defoe or new signing Diego Rico, since they had all featured in the 2-0 loss to Betis. There was still a lot of quality on offer however, including young David Brooks, acquired from Sheffield United this summer.
Marseille featured some star power of their own, namely captain Dimitri Payet, but Kostas Mitroglu, Luiz Gustavo, Jordan Amavi, and Hiroki Sakai all started for the French side, with Remy Cabella and Clinton N’Jie making impressive cameos off the bench later in the day.
The game got off to a fast start and before many fans had even found their seats, the home side were ahead. With just 13 seconds on the clock, a Ryan Fraser cross drifted into the path of Cherries right back Adam Smith, arriving on the edge of the box. Smith connected sweetly with a half-volley that arrowed right into the top corner. It’s easily the fastest goal I’ve seen in person and probably one of the best, a superb strike.
Bournemouth never let their foot off the pedal and proceeded to overwhelm a shell-shocked Marseille. In the 25th minute Fraser was the creator again, feeding a ball into Joshua King who managed to direct the ball past ‘keeper Yohan Pele with his first touch to make it 2-0. King doubled his tally ten minutes later when Brooks, who was able to find space all afternoon, turned to thread a perfect pass into King, who clipped the ball in delightful style to make it 3-0. Smith’s drive to open the scoring was impressive, but King’s little chip for his second was probably my favourite goal of the day.
Marseille were struggling to get a foothold in the game until Payet, the only player of note in the first half for the visitors, forced Cherries goalie Asmir Begovic into a fine save in the 36th minute. Begovic made a leaping dive to his right to palm away Payet’s curled effort, a great stop.
Bournemouth started the second half exactly the way they did the first. The youngster Brooks, again finding space, this time with a delightful turn away from his defender, played a ball down the right flank to King, whose pace was too much for the recovering Luiz Gustavo. King pulled the ball back for Fraser, who tapped home for Bournemouth’s fourth to cap off a sweeping move that had the crowd on their feet in appreciation. It was thoroughly deserved for the Scottish international, who had been at the heart of everything positive.
A four goal lead against one of Ligue 1’s top teams seemed inconceivable before kickoff but Bournemouth were not finished yet. Just minutes later the home side added their fifth, when a perfectly weighted ball over the top found Callum Wilson in space and the goal at his mercy. Wilson used his agility to knock the ball around OM defender Boubacar Kamara, before sliding the ball into the corner. Wilson had played well in the first half, linking with his midfield nicely thanks to his excellent hold-up play, and his well-taken goal was a just reward.
With such a large lead it was natural for the Bournemouth players to ease off a bit, especially in the heat. Nathan Ake was replaced soon after the fifth goal, and other key players later made way for a host of prospects to get some playing time, with the American Emerson Hyndman impressing.
With half an hour to go Marseille started to impose themselves, and they grabbed a consolation when Frenchman Valere Germain swept home from a tight angle. Finally, with just a minute to go the visitors were able to add one more, when Remy Cabella struck a beauty from outside the box that was too much for Begovic. I remember Cabella looking completely lost when he was at Newcastle years ago, but he was dangerous for every minute of his appearance at Bournemouth, and his goal was sublime.
When the final whistle blew, my knees were pink from the sun and I was in desperate need of a drink, but had thoroughly enjoyed watching a rampant Bournemouth dismantle a Marseille team that possessed some real quality (even if they didn’t show it on the day.)
Multiple players stood out, including Fraser, Wilson and man-of-the-match King, but it was the new lad Brooks that shone brightest for me. Maybe Marseille were too ignorant of his ability and didn’t pay him enough attention, as the 21 year-old constantly found himself the freedom to operate and dictate play. I like to think the young midfielder created his own space, as he regularly unpicked the lock and displayed the mature decision-making abilities of a veteran. The lad looks to have a bright future ahead of him on the south coast.
My uncle told me before kickoff not to get my hopes up too much but after seeing Eddie Howe’s ruthless Bournemouth team stick five past Marseille, I don’t think I have much choice but to get carried away.
Look out Premier League, the Cherries are coming for you.