A lesson in humility – an hour spent with Eddie Howe at AFC Bournemouth
by Sam Davis
This week, I was very privileged to be invited to AFC Bournemouth’s Vitality Stadium, where I spoke at length with management duo Eddie Howe and Jason Tindall. Myself and a handful of other Cherries fans sat down for about an hour, exploring ways that the relationship between the club and its fans can be enhanced, as well as the methods by which the match-day atmosphere can be improved – the aim being to create a better experience for the fans, but simultaneously (and more crucially) to give the team on the pitch a much needed boost.
The Premier League football ecosystem is a money driven merry-go-round – a multi-billion pound industry that is fuelled increasingly by broadcast media and various sponsorship deals. For a club the size of Bournemouth, the money garnered by supporters only goes to make up an unfathomably small slice on the income pie chart – therefore, to see the club being so receptive of the views of the fans was refreshing to see.
Eddie Howe is the driving force behind many of the philosophies that are visible when walking around the stadium and nearby training pavilion. Inspired by American basketball player/coach turned observationalist John Wooden, he has implemented a number of psychological strategies, including the uplifting wall slogans and the purposely oversized player murals in the tunnel, as well as pieces such as “the wheel of misfortune” in the players lounge. The latter of the aforementioned elements features a red and black branded roulette-style forfeit system which is designed to discourage player misdemeanours, ranging from “lateness to training” all the way through to to bad parking – but more importantly, any breaking of the rules will result in players making substantial charity donations or extra community work.
Through my visit to the club, one thing that became patently clear is that Eddie has an urgent yearning to ensure that the history of the club is conveyed to its players and staff at every given opportunity. Whilst fans of other clubs would guffaw at comparing the history of AFC Bournemouth to their own side, the path that the Cherries have forged is rather unique. It may not be a club that has been decorated with trophies over the years, on the contrary, it has been anything but successful. However what it does have in its locker are a number of unfortunate tales, many of which revolve around the club needing the support and money of its fans in order to survive day to day (something that could never be said today). Whilst individually depressing, all of the events combined weave a tumultuous tapestry in the recent history of the club – a history which no fans in their right mind would ever have believed could lead to top-flight football.
Indeed, at the meeting, Eddie played a video which is shown to the team every so often – an emotional look-back at the low points of the club, intertwined with the finest of moments, taken from a fans perspective – a grounding and emotional experience, which, as a long time supporter – choked me up.
As a kid, I put my pocket money in the buckets, and I was at the Winter Gardens watching Trevor Watkins on stage, hoping he was going to say the right words that would give me some hope that we could survive as a football club. Years later, we again were on the precipice, with the club being minutes from liquidation, with fans hoping and praying that solutions could be found to keep the club alive. All of the above experiences, whilst horrendous, did help to create a community feel and a sense of being an integral part of the club that I supported and loved.
There was concern from Eddie and Jason that the Premier League, as brilliant and incredible it is, could widen the natural chasm that would develop between the club and its supporters.
From the meeting, it was indisputable that there was concern from Eddie and Jason that the Premier League, as brilliant and incredible it is, could widen the chasm that may inadvertently develop between the club and its supporters. Through speaking to numerous other fans of top-flight sides, I know they despair at being regarded as customers rather than fans, but through chatting with the management, it is clear that AFC Bournemouth are doing everything in their power to bridge the divide.
They asked for our opinions on what could be done to make the fans feel like a more intrinsic component in the fabric of the club. Personally, I got a bit old fashioned – mentioning my discord at seeing a few players come off the coaches only to stride past the clamouring fans with massive headphones on (granted this happens less at AFCB than most other teams). I also suggested that, whilst the club should continue its amazing work in the community, that every so often fans should be invited in to chat directly with the players, leaving them in no doubt as to how important they are. It was also mentioned that supporters are thirsty for information about the future of the club and therefore should be communicated with accordingly. Also, the fans forums – as choreographed as they sometimes may seem – are still vital for us supporters, as it provides us with an opportunity to relate our views directly to those at the helm.
Similarly, they wanted to know what we thought could be done to improve the atmosphere at the stadium, something for which the players consistently express to be their biggest motivator. During the meeting, there were a number of avenues that were discussed, all of which are going to be explored – hopefully helping to drive the team to continued success in the Premier League.
I felt so humbled and reassured that the club, who, lets face it, do not *need* the money that supporters pour into the club, are so intent on making sure there is no disconnect between staff, players and fans.
As a small business owner, keeping my clients happy is paramount. My success depends on good reviews and good relations. Of course, the quality of my work needs to be excellent, however the way in which I interact with the people that pay me – needs to be respectful and professional. If I am neither of these, I will neither get paid nor will I be able to afford to live! It is for this reason that I felt so humbled and reassured that the club, who, lets face it, do not *need* the money that supporters pour into the club, are so intent on making sure there is no disconnect between staff, players and fans, both now and in the future. The philosophy and driving force behind the manager fascinates me, and anyone interested in finding out more would be very well placed to listen to Graham Hunter’s interview with Eddie Howe, an absorbing piece which can be poignant for anyone who may be facing various challenges in their life or work.
I want to say a big thanks to Anthony Marshall for enabling me to come down and take part in this exercise – it is really appreciated, and I hope this blog successfully conveys the fact that although Eddie Howe is the primarily manager of AFC Bournemouth, he is also a fan and supporter just like the rest of us, and his drive to better the club, both on the pitch and off it, is unmistakable. If I can take an ounce of his philosophy and work ethic into what I do day-to-day, then, well… I should do OK!