5 September ~ Does AFC Bournemouth chairman Eddie Mitchell merit a charge of incitement after recently telling disheartened fans to go and support Southampton if they don’t like his running of the club? Mitchell has sold off the best Bournemouth side in years. Faced with irate fans at a forum last Thursday, he suggested disgruntled fans support Saints instead and promised to quit if abuse aimed at his family continues. A local developer, Mitchell had no track record in local football until the property market started to sag and he took control at non-League Dorchester Town then stepped in to save Bournemouth two years ago.
Renowned for building massively expensive homes, Mitchell appeared on a Piers Morgan’s TV documentary about the über-rich Sandbanks peninsula in 2008 and his arrival at the club was met with cautious approval.
Mitchell sensibly insisted Bournemouth trade its way out of debt and published details of the club’s debts. That openness has been replaced by lack of disclosure that frustrates fans as last season’s first XI is sold, while a mysterious Russian group considers buying the 50 per cent stake in the club not held by Mitchell.
Last October, Mitchell said debts of £1.8 million were gone but club accounts for the year to July 2010 show he and another director Jeff Mostyn between them have outstanding loans valued at over £700,000. On the pitch, Eddie Howe saved Bournemouth from relegation from the Football League in 2008-09, won promotion the following season and looked likely to repeat this before being lured to Burnley as players began being sold with fees never disclosed. Manager Lee Bradbury was given money to sign Shaun MacDonald from Swansea, who value the deal at £80,000 plus add-ons including a sell-on clause but Bournemouth insist that the Wales international cost more.
Club accounts for the year to July 2010 show money owed to creditors rising from £2.3m to £3.8m and the club's ability to operate as a going concern was only justified by a commitment to "significant activity in respect of player sales since the year end". Mitchell has endured a difficult time outside the club too. On October 31 his Seven Developments firm faces a winding up order from a local kitchen installer Kitchen Elegance, which – embarrassingly for AFCB – is a member of the club's AFC Business networking group.
After the torrid forum, Mitchell apologised to the club’s fans and told the Independent earlier this week that the club was “£1.4 million in credit” but Bradbury says rebuilding his decimated squad could take three years and the team left the field after the last home league game – a 2-0 defeat to Walsall – to boos.
Any abuse of Mitchell’s two primary school-aged children is clearly appalling but he knows that another unpopular chairman, Tony Swaisland, was forced out in 2005 after being targeted by supporters. No one condones this but Mitchell has told those fans now desperate for him to go that the only way he will do so is if the abuse continues. And that surely looks like incitement. Steve Menary