For the first time, opposition managers green with envy are chastising Bournemouth for their "money bags." They are striking an emotional chord.
In the 20 years since Harry Redknapp left the Bournemouth hotseat, the club has established a certain reputation.
Exposed as having debts of two million in 1993, the Cherries were the first Football League club to incur administration in 1997. The case was so unprecedented, the league didn't not know what to do with them - and thankfully no points deductions were suffered. A supporters Trust Fund, led by local lawyer Trevor Watkins, rescued the club and established the professional football's first community governance system. A crippling new stadium was then replaced with the present-day glossy variant in 2001, only to be sold and leased back after debts piled up again. Shortly after that in 2008, Bournemouth was placed in administration again - and this time the points deduction spelled relegation.
In short, since Redknapp left, the club had a reputation for being broke, forever piecing together sides on a shoestring, rarely more than one step away from a creditor knocking on the door. But amid this football poverty, a kindred spirit was fostered on the terraces. Fans seemingly made it their ultimate goal to stun the football world with success on a shoestring. It was an underdog mentality so keenly felt that the loss of it would cause a severe identity crisis.
When local property developer Eddie Mitchell emerged as Chairman in the late-2000s, that identity scarce appeared under threat. FAst forward three years, though, and a Redknapp returning as football adviser finds a club with a completely different ethos. Russian billionaire Maxim Denim has become co-owner of the club after much wooing from Mitchell, and the club's debts have, for now, seemingly been wiped. The club even felt confident enough to table two multi-million pound bids to buy back the stadium from Structadene in 2011. Meanwhile, the club's status in the transfer market has been transformed. Southampton striker Lee Barnard was loaned in for a reported £14000 a week, while fellow frontman Matt Tubbs, who actually started his career in the Bournemouth youth team but catastrophically let go, was bought from Crawley for a club-record £800,000.
For the first time, opposition managers green with envy are chastising Bournemouth for their "money bags," and their criticisms are striking an emotional chord. Bournemouth fans have always wanted success, but their underdog thinking is such that they can't possibly countenance achieving it via the bank. The thrill of unexpectedly turning over a bigger side is gone, replaced by the fear of other sides raising their game against them. With money also comes responsibility. Poverty was the safety net; not achieving success was understandable. Now, the fear of big-spending failure looms large, and many fans are decidedly tetchy.
Fifteen years ago, clubs such as Fulham and Wigan began an image transformation that gradually prepared their fans for thinking big, trading the bobbly surfaces of the the Third Division for the bright lights of the Premiership. In Fulham's case, they had already hit the big time before, and their rise in the 1990s was nothing more than readjustment. But for Bournemouth, the path from rags to riches is a much more difficult - and unimaginable - proposition to countenance. Mitchell's hard-nosed business antics are, perhaps, the only way to gain success in a cut-throat footballing environment. But what was once the ultimate friendly club has recently seen an astonishing rise in bad feeling shown towards it. Furthermore, a complete change of playing staff, some on extremely high salaries, has caused the traditional Bournemouth on-field culture - that of promising, talented youngsters growing together - to seemingly disappear.
Bournemouth fans will take the success should it come. But the realization of it will take on a far less exciting form than the underdog triumph they had so long dreamed about.
Chris Gould is author of How 2, How Not 2: Footballs Do's and Dont's Revealed in 50 Stories.