It looked like Bournemouth's new-found riches weren't going to be enough for promotion until the return of a local hero turned their season around
Brentford fans weren't the only ones disappointed by Doncaster's famous last-minute heroics at Griffin Park on the final day of the League One season. The travelling Bournemouth supporters at Tranmere were already celebrating on the Prenton Park pitch after securing a 0-0 draw, thinking their team had done enough to secure the title, before news of James Coppinger's late winner filtered through.
With the benefit of time, the pain of that late goal in west London hasn't dulled the enjoyment of the Cherries' successful 2012-13 season. My own personal agony of not collecting on a 16/1 bet on Bournemouth to come top might take a bit longer.
That wager was struck at the start of the season when it became apparent that Russian co-owner Maxim Demin was prepared to back manager Paul Groves with his petro-roubles. Both my speculative tenner and Maxim's (arguably more) speculative millions looked desperately ill-advised by the start of October, with Groves sacked and the team sitting in the relegation zone.
But from this low point, the rest of the season provided almost nothing but good news. The spark was the return of local hero Eddie Howe as manager and the team responded to go 15 games unbeaten by the end of January. Buying a lot of players for big money also helped – most notably Brett Pitman to score goals, Steve Cook to shore up central defence and winger Matt Ritchie from Swindon for a reported £500,000.
Like most fans of newly rich clubs there were some qualms about becoming the plaything of a vastly wealthy man with opaque motivations. And as usual these concerns were quickly put to one side after years stuck in the penny-pinched doldrums. One man who hasn't benefited from the new wave of supporter optimism is the other owner, Eddie Mitchell. Still mistrusted by most of the fanbase, his involvement in Bournemouth is largely seen as a ruse to expand his property empire or to provide his sons with jobs at the club.
Since promotion, season ticket sales have been strong and plans are being made for a permanent fourth stand (albeit not one ready for next season) but comments from the board and the management have warned fans not to expect a buying spree of players akin to last year.
The accounts for the financial year 2011/12 show a loss of £3.4 million and the money spent since Howe's return after that period will surely show the club moving even further into the red. Carrying on with that level of spending would make it impossible to satisfy the new Football League regulations based on UEFA's financial fair play rules.
The short-term future in the Championship could be difficult with an average attendance under 7,000, but the long-term hope of the fans is to avoid the fate of south-coast neighbours Portsmouth. How the Cherries can secure a sustainable future on the back of those losses isn't clear and presumably the Russian loans will need paying back. Either way, I probably won't be betting on another promotion for next season. Simon Melville