By Sean Barker
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Walking on the moon, winning the lotto, getting an honest answer out of a Politician.
These things are pretty much impossible to achieve in life.
As a supporter of AFC Bournemouth, a tiny football club on the south coast of England, you would add ‘Become a Premier League team’ to that list.
But sometimes your wildest dreams do come true as this week AFC Bournemouth did indeed win promotion to the Promised Land of football, the Premier League.
This is a big deal, for a variety of reasons.
With a stadium capacity of just 11,700 and a squad with a large number of players who were with them in League One (The third division of English football), they will be the smallest of fish swimming in a pond that includes a lot of whales.
Just six years ago the team were languishing near the bottom of League Two and playing in a game which if they lost, would mean relegation out of the professional leagues. It took a goal with ten minutes to go to win the game and keep them up.
From there – a group of good young players, investment, a young manager who grew up supporting the team, and the rest is history.
But the history of AFC Bournemouth goes back further than that goal.
It goes back to numerous times where as a supporter, you were convinced that the club were going to suffer a fate worse than being relegated – The very real threat of closing the doors and no longer being a club at all.
Life for a club in the lower reaches of the football league is tough.
The money earned by the big boys of the game is a million miles away from the realities of trying to keep a lower league team afloat.
Attendances are low, overheads are still high and payments from the TV companies is minimal.
AFC Bournemouth have entered into administration and faced being closed down on multiple occasions.
In part due to historical mismanagement at board level, and through a variety of people who although would say they had the interests of the club at heart were instead intent on sucking whatever they could out of any money which came in.
Life as an AFC Bournemouth fan has never been easy.
In 1997 the players were playing for free and staff working for nothing as there was no money for wages and debts were unpaid. It took fans putting hands into their own pockets to throw cash into donation buckets to keep the club going on a week by week basis.
Then in 2008 and back in administration, the current Chairman Jeff Mostyn walked into a meeting expecting to confirm that the club was going to close and die. At the last minute, he decided to give £100,000 of his own money to keep the club going.
When you support a team like AFC Bournemouth, you can’t help but become attached.
I was there in 1995 when we only had nine points at Christmas and were destined for relegation to the bottom division only to avoid it with a win away to a title chasing Brentford. In world football, just scraping to survival in the third tier of English football is not even close to the glitz and glamour of Messi, Ronaldo, and a Champions League final. But this meant the world to us and that day in West London will live with me forever.
I was there in ’97, putting my loose change into donation buckets to try and help the club, MY club, from going out of business.
I was there in 2003 when we defeated Lincoln in the League Two play-off final at the Millennium Stadium to win promotion back to League One. In Cardiff city centre, we danced in water fountains, and sang our songs until the early hours.
I was also there in 2004, helping my friend to sell raffle tickets outside the ground pre-game to try and raise money so the team could afford to buy a new player or cover the wages of a loan signing.
I was then here in New Zealand by 2008, waiting for news online from a press conference where we were expecting to be told that the club, MY club, was no more.
We didn’t die that day.
And so began many years of getting up at 2am to listen or watch games through this incredible rise up the divisions.
After all that, this promotion to the Premier League is a VERY big deal.
A massive deal in fact, that my club has defeated the odds and has shown that for all your Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenals, there is a place for the little guys.
And of course, there are the financial realities – An estimated £150 million to be earned next season… I was lucky to end up with £15 in my money tin from raffle ticket sales.
Regardless of what happens next season on the pitch, we won’t forget the history that has got us here, and savour the fact we can support our team every week as we take on some of the best sides in the world.
And who knows what will happen next, nothing can surprise us anymore.