When Eddie Mitchell was leading a consortium to purchase AFC Bournemouth, this was met with mixed feelings. Locally, he is in the building trade, building rather weird Miami Vice style houses that are for sale for multi millions of pounds in Sandbanks, the multi-millionaire haven, home to a certain Harry Redknapp and other top flight players. His company Seven Developments are rumoured to be his Seventh Business Venture after going bankrupt the previous six times, affecting a lot of local people, whilst he still managed to remain wealthy and come out in a positive light.
So, when all was signed and sealed, the fans were already split about the owner, but fully thankful we still had a club to support. Initially, the signs were pretty positive. Talk of trading the club out of the crazy debt that had been created by the previous regime in just seven months and the club being treated like a business, this is exactly what we wanted to hear. No more over spending and mainly mismanagement. He told the fans he was not going to take a wage and would work tirelessly, while the club had a transfer embargo, preventing anyone coming in. Some of the first signs of the type of figure Eddie is were shown in the first few weeks. He tried to keep his sons board members at Dorchester Town while he ran AFC Bournemouth. The FA were not impressed and threatened both clubs with expulsion from the FA Cup, soon Dorchester was in new hands. On the pitch, Eddie Howe and his troops were doing the impossible. For a lot of games we had just three subs and somehow maintained a genuine promotion bid and finished runners up to Notts County, taking us back into League 1.
During this period the signs were quite good as the embargo had been relaxed and we were told that the Football League were being sent monthly profit and loss accounts, therefore the Football League must have approved them. Eddie Howe was given money to strengthen, spending £150,000 in transfer fees before the 2010/11 season, something that was unheard of for a long time at Dean Court. We were told that in October, the club were virtually debt free and if we didn’t have to pay the ridiculous rent for our ground (something a previous chairman sold along with fans representatives, at a staggering £365,000 p/year) then we would be trading at a profit. Whilst Brett Pitman had already been sold for approximately £800,000, he had been replaced by the emergence of Josh McQuoid. With his contract running out, Mitchell bizarrely allowed him to leave on loan with him signing in January for £550,000. The fee was good, but losing a player in November, when you have made a great start is disappointing, fortunately Danny Ings stepped up to the plate.
Eddie announced that some of his family would be joining the board and being paid by the club, while he also sold his offices and moved Seven Developments into Dean Court. An arrangement that no doubt benefited both parties. Eddie Howe left for new pastures in Burnley under a bit of a cloud, although it was common knowledge that during a game away to Notts County, the chairman entered the changing room at half time drunk and decided to air some feelings of his own about the performance, whether this had any influence over Eddie Howe leaving only he would be able to tell you. Most sides build on what they achieved in the first half of the season and as we sold two strikers in the first half of the season, lost the brightest management duo in the country and failed to sign anyone as well as selling our hard man midfielder on deadline day. Combined with the lack of any proof of accounts and the rising CCJs, the discontent among the fans had started. Lee Bradbury was appointed by Mitchell, maybe as a cheap option, but the season ended in the play offs and the side were unlucky to lose on penalties. A very successful season all in all.
During the summer, AFC Bournemouth lost 2 players to retirement, 2 loanees going back to parent clubs and sold 6 players (don’t forget the 3 sold during the season), the most notable Danny Ings going to Burnley for up to £1 million. The squad had been decimated from the previous season. Seven Developments were given plenty of work around the ground, some of the work was needed, like a decent car park. I’m sure numerous lower league fans remembered the dustbowl, but also some work that probably wasn’t high priority like security gates and the changing rooms. The signings of 4 permanent players and a few loans did nothing to encourage the fans as deadline day arrived, only to find out we were signing no one despite Bradbury confirming he needed at least 2 more players, but it was okay Eddie Mitchell came out and said Feeney was going nowhere (he said the same for Pitman, McQuoid, Bartley.. All of them basically) and so we knew Liam was off. True to form, a couple of hours later and Liam Feeney was a Millwall player. Yet more non-truths from the chairman. All the fans wanted were replacements, not big money signings or breaking the wage cap. If you lose 14/15 players during a season and don’t see replacements, it is a bit disappointing. There were also bids for a few League Two players for upwards of £200k, possibly showing money is available, but it also screamed a large noise of desperation.
The fans also had the first opportunity to look at the accounts from his first year in charge, after being extremely late at the Companies House. Having been told plenty of times that the club were virtually debt free, the fans were in for a surprise for finding the club made a £1 million loss and we had around £700,000 in creditors.
Seven Developments (Mitchell’s Company) has received a winding up order from a local kitchen company. This coincided with his other sons being brought onto the board (just in case his company goes under and he fails the fit and proper test? Me cynical..Never..) Embarrassingly, that kitchen company has a box at Dean Court, next to Eddie Mitchell’s. This guy knows how to roll. Having not seen much re-investment and the Chairman’s company looking like it needs money, fan’s raise suspicion to a new height.
The Solent Fans Forum provided the perfect opportunity for Eddie to answer some of the fans questions and quash any fears. Questions about accounts, player sales and arrivals and the future of the club were met with defensive and angry answers. One gentleman politely asked about the accounts and if a third party could look at and verify them, while Eddie responded he wasn’t the person to ask as he isn’t an accountant and insinuating the guy was calling him a thief. An extremely bizarre reply. When asked about player sales, he gave us his version of events, the fans want to believe him, but we know nothing and don’t know the truth anymore, however, he managed to insult 2 ex players in doing so. Classy Guy. Then the comment that made the press, his reply to questions about the wage cap. ‘This is how I’m going to run the club, if you don’t like it go and support Southampton’. Well Eddie, this is exactly what the fans have wanted, make money from a FEW player sales and replace them with cheaper players with potential and keep us competitive. We want it run like a business we really do. Now the second part was not clever by any means. Southampton are AFC Bournemouth’s closest league club and a fair few Cherries fans tend not to like them, for a variety of reasons, although it would be harsh to tar all Cherries fans with the same brush. I’d love to see the reaction of Hammers fans told to go support Millwall or Sheffield Wednesday fans to go and support the Blades, so the comment was ill advised and was unlikely to be forgotten.
Roll onto Saturdays events. A home game against Chesterfield and the Cherries needed a win for a variety of reasons. AFC Bournemouth were trailing Chesterfield 0-3 and there were no signs of negativity from the fans. Supporting the boys to the final whistle and staying behind to applaud them. In the last few minutes of the game, the north stand, quite humorously but with a bit of intent chanted, ‘we’ll never watch the scummers (Southampton)’ just reminding Eddie we are here for the boys.
The final whistle went, and fans stayed behind for the team huddle in front of the North Stand. With both teams on the pitch, Eddie Mitchell comes bumbling out of the tunnel and starts applauding the fans in a slow, waist high clap, that seemed extremely sarcastic in reply to the mentioned chant. The Cherries players looked bewildered and embarrassed as if a ‘Oh not again’ moment and this wound up plenty of the remaining fans who used the opportunity to tell him what they thought. He then offered a fan onto the pitch, while the fan didn’t react, mainly because he would probably be banned, the rest of the supporters were not impressed with the chairman’s behaviour and vocally showed it, Eddie was moved away from the fans. He was given a microphone, he is the boss afterall, and tried to address the fans. He again tried to talk about the play offs just 4 months ago and then offered the fan onto the pitch again. With the team non-existent to the one 4 months ago, just witnessed a 3-0 reverse at home to a team who hadn’t picked up a win, offering a fan onto the pitch and being/looking a drunken fool, the fans were furious. Chants of ‘off’ to get him off the pitch were sung, followed by ‘we want Mitchell out’ of which he took offence to. Finally, some passion from him. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only event. Apparently, he then was an unwelcomed visitor to the home changing room again, ranting at the players about how the poor performance is dropping the gates and how this will affect their wages. The local paper reported that there was a clash with one of the young strikers in our squad in front of the fans too. It is fair to say this episode brought embarrassment on everything to do with AFC Bournemouth. Michael Owen and Tom Cleverley tweeted about it and Chris Moyles mentioned it on his show. With SkySports News and TalkSport carrying the story it was fair to say AFC Bournemouth were in the limelight for all of the wrong reasons.
He then had the opportunity to explain himself on national and local media outlets and to apologise for the completely embarrassing and inappropriate behaviour, only to say on Sky Sports News that he didn’t do anything wrong and would do it again.
In my opinion, Saturday’s events are down to our chairman. I can guarantee the fans would have gone home as there were no protests before, during or at the end of the game. Key footage is the clapping. No camera has picked it up, so we can’t see and judge how he was clapping. I think it was sarcastic and inciting, despite him claiming it was genuine. I genuinely feel the players leaving were down to money talking and the chairman had his hands tied. Players go, but not a whole squad within 12 months! Unfortunately it happened, but the fans are unhappy with the lack of replacements. The chairman needs to be open and honest, just a little transparency! He needs to show some figures to prove the money is being used correctly and that we have little or no debt. Eddie Mitchell needs to sort his behaviour out and hire a PR guru. It is 2 PR disasters in two weeks and the erratic and inappropriate behaviour to all needs to stop. Eddie needs to concentrate on running the club and leave Lee Bradbury to running the team. He can then be judged on results. At the moment, morale around the club is low. If he goes now, with no one to take over then the club could be in even worse trouble. We have endless rumours of Russian investment and a potential bid, maybe Eddie is being extremely clever and wanting to find his excuse to get out, using the fans as the perfect reason. I have seen many fans around stating the AFC Bournemouth faithful are getting above their station, but they have been some of the most patient fans around. The media only showed a small clip of this 6-7 minute event. They have been very patient and sensible, just distraught at how their club has been ripped apart. Everton fans were protest marching about a very similar situation. I think the chairman has one more chance in him and then the majority of Cherries fans will not want him around.
Since this piece was written, Eddie Mitchell has responded to a fans email and made his response to the email public –
Letter to Eddie Mitchell from a fan:
Eddie Mitchell’s response:
By Adrian Lee – AFC Bournemouth fan – @Adr1anL33