I would like to describe my journey from soccer agnostic to a shirt-wearing, scarf-clad, plan-your-day-around-the-game Cherries fan.
I inherited my sports fan gene from my father. Growing up in Montreal, the legendary Canadiens were the pre-eminent choice. But baseball, Canadian football, and golf were all a close second. I was taken to Canadiens’ games, Yankee Stadium, the CFL Alouettes and the Canadian Open all by the age of 12.
But soccer had very little currency in Montreal in the 1960s. As time went by, I would have a passing interest in the World Cup (Italian heritage - not so great this year!), and an occasional look-in on the Premier League in the early days of David Beckham and later Wayne Rooney. There were very few televised matches, perhaps the FA Cup final, and of course Manchester United had international cache.
My wife has family in Dorset and Kent, and made regular family visits over the years. But, for a Canadian boy, holidays meant beaches and warm sun in February, and to be honest, family visits to folks whom I had never met were not high on my list.
But that changed in 2012. The London Olympics were getting plenty of promotion, and while I was not that keen on the actual games, the London historical sites started to look very interesting. As a compromise, we planned a three-day stop in Bournemouth to see her cousins, and then up to London.
Her cousins, Barrie and Hazel, were amazingly welcoming. It was like I had known them for years. I had a great time and in one of our travels, I asked Barrie rather innocently if Bournemouth had a team. Yes, he replied, but they were not very good. Not much more was said.
We returned to the UK in 2014 and visited Bournemouth as a prelude to a trip to the Ryder Cup. Barrie had had been ill, but was as affable as ever, and when I again asked about Bournemouth, he replied that the side was much improved.
Unfortunately, Barrie passed away soon after we returned to Canada, so he did not see AFC Bournemouth reach the Premier League and I was completely unaware of the magnitude of the Cherries’ progress.
TV coverage of the Premier League had become extensive here by 2015, and I started hearing about this Leicester side who was making a mark. I tuned into a game around Christmas, and then saw a listing – what’s this, is that the same Bournemouth? I checked it out. Pundits were saying that what Bournemouth was achieving was the story of the year, if not that Leicester was an even bigger one.
I was hooked immediately; the swashbuckling attacks of Adam Smith, the steadiness of Andrew Surman, the tragedy involving the supremely energetic Harry Arter, Cook and Francis being such stalwarts. The manager was so articulate, some saying he is the future of English football.
I couldn’t get enough information, and Saturday morning golf was delayed until after the AFC Bournemouth game. I remember the day in 2016 that Vitality Stadium rang with the chant of “we are staying up”… I still get shivers.
Now I live and die with every goal scored, every mistake, every transfer rumour. We have nothing like a relegation fight in pro sports here, so even non-Bournemouth games are watched with interest. I even found another Cherries fan in Toronto through ‘Cherry Chimes’, and we have watched a couple of games together. I also make daily visits to the Vitals forum, where I get information and have made a number of new friends.
Because of the Cherries, I get to think of Barrie and Hazel every day. I can visualise the pier, the gardens, nearby Christchurch, Poole and Wimborne. Barrie was, in your terms, “a good bloke”. I wish I could tell him about my new-found passion. But Hazel knows, and she promises that I would have a place to stay if I ever come across a ticket. Up the Cherries!
John would like to share his contact details if anyone should like to get in touch, please email [email protected]