All I wanted for my 51st birthday in 2017 was a ticket to see a game at AFC Bournemouth.
You might not think that’s a hard thing to get. In fact, assuming you’re American, there’s a decent chance you only recently found out that Bournemouth exists; they spent several years in the Premier League before 2020. So I’ll tell you about them, although you can learn a lot more here.
Bournemouth is a beautiful coastal town with a tiny football club that played its way up into the big time. And as hard as it is to get Premier League tickets, imagine if the stadium has less than 12,000 seats! And then throw in that they were playing South Coast rivals Brighton and Hove Albion, who themselves had just gotten into the top tier for the first time in decades, and it being a Friday night, and well … tough ticket.
I tried to get one online. No luck. I went for hospitality. No luck. I entered a raffle for hospitality. No luck. Then I decided, screw it, I need to research the town for my book anyway, so I’ll just go. They had a League Cup game four nights later, oddly against Brighton again, and I got a ticket for that one. But I wanted the League game. So off I went, determined to ask everybody I met about getting a ticket.
I arrived on my 51st birthday, checked into the lovely Elstead Hotel near the station, and asked the hotel clerk about a ticket. And she said the night clerk was just telling her he can’t use his season ticket, so I could buy his. And …. there you go. 32 quid. First person I asked. Happy Birthday to your Yankee Groundhopper!
I spent the day before the game being a tourist along the beautiful coast, riding a bus and a boat, admiring chalk cliffs and taking a walk along the coastal path, then came back and took a taxi from the hotel to the ground for about £6. Gotta love small-town football!
When I got there, the ground reminded me of something you’d see in League Two, like at Stevenage or Crawley Town — which makes sense, because that’s who Bournemouth were until not too long ago. There is a park across the street, and the whole thing is in the middle of a residential neighborhood (so do your eating and drinking in town, or hit up the 1910 bar at the ground, if you have a home ticket).
I went for a walk around, by tradition, and came across a man selling programs. Also, by tradition, I came up with some excuse to start talking to him, then said it was my first time here. That’s usually all it takes.
He asked about my tour, and we talked about MLS and all the usual stuff, then I asked if Brighton were a rival for them, and he said, “We don’t really have rivals in the usual sense. We sort of have no animosity towards anyone; we’re just living the dream, after all. We have no right to be a Premier League team, so we’re just enjoying it as long as we can.”
I asked about some of the plans to build a new stadium, and he said they need to, but only if they stay up. And since I was watching their fifth game of the year, and they had yet to win one, things were getting a bit nervous. Was the dream coming to an end?
Also, and not by tradition, I saw a player signing autographs. Not coming in off the bus, not strolling by with his headphones on. Just hanging out, signing for whoever wanted one. No idea who he was, but a young lad. And he seemed to be enjoying it, as well.
Inside, it was pure coziness, and I had a seat in one end, down low, with a great view of the visiting Brighton fans. They were enjoying themselves and doing a fine job in their role of making most of the noise. Bournemouth has a flashing-lights intro routine, which I haven’t seen anywhere else, but it was mostly Brighton who supplied the flash when the game started.
Here are the teams coming out. You can make out a couple of songs here, as well: “Eddie Howe’s Barmy Army” for the Bournemouth manager, and “Good Old Sussex by the Sea” from the … Brightonians?
It was 0-0 at the half, and the home fans were restless. We did, however, have some comic relief; first the club had a blindfolded penalty-kick contest between home and away supporters, which was entertaining because one of the Brighton fans was kinda cute and bouncy and got a little extra attention from the mostly-male crowd. Then this happened:
I thought it was out of line for the mascot to be making saves, by the way.
Next up: One of the TV announcers was Gary Neville, the Man U legend whose brother Phil also played for them back in the glory days of the 90s. He walked by the Bournemouth folks, who gave him some stick, and he didn’t even look over. But when he got to the Brighton people, they went at him with “You’re just a shit Phil Neville.” The home fans laughed and clapped, Neville directed the Brighton folks like he was a conductor, and they all responded with laughing and waving and “heeeeyyyy!” Fair play to them.
Meanwhile, Brighton picked up where they left off after the break, including this berserk-o goalmouth scramble: three shots on target from consecutive corners:
A few things about the video that are worth pointing out:
- Note how the Brighton people don’t actually pronounce the T in Brighton.
- They’re singing the name of the corner taker, Solly March, clearly one of the top 10 most-English names in football.
- Brighton almost scored three times in this clip, so you’d think the Bournemouth folks would be humbled. Nope: When some Brighton people thought they had scored the last time, up went the mock cheer from the locals, along with fuck-you signs, wanker signs, and the general waving of contemptuous arms. I love football.
The goal was coming, and when it arrived, things got really nervous among my neighbors. That goal was right in front of me, by the way — super fun for a neutral. And the cross … well, you’ll see it in a bit. I tried to hide my enthusiasm, of course. But the German on the right wing was killing it for Brighton all night.
The home fans responded with a great roar of support, and the team picked up on it. Every time they went down the pitch, the crowd would build up its singing, mostly “Eddie Howe’s Barmy Army,” accompanied by clapping and stomping feet on the bleachers. Sometimes they sang this one about waving the red flag high:
Another, from their old days as Boscombe FC was just “Boscombe — Back of the Net!”
Brighton, meanwhile, was having a grand old time, including singing that Bournemouth were “Going down with the Palace,” their heated rivals who were awful that year.
Well, the pressure told, and Bournemouth got one — bedlam. Then they kept pressing, and they got another! From Jermaine Defoe, no less, who has played for about 40% of the clubs on Earth and was at Bournemouth back in 2001.
This is what we come for, fighting back from a goal down to stick it to those loudmouths in the corner and go home with all the points. And while we were at it, we even sang that they were going down with the Palace! The wankers.
Some of them applauded sarcastically, then hit us with a traditional taunt: “You only sing when you’re winning.” Love that one.
I’m so glad the stars all lined up for me to get to a game at Bournemouth, glad they won, and glad it was a good game. Also glad it didn’t rain, which in England makes it a double winning day.
All in all, two old lessons were learned once again: any game can be a good one, and sometimes you just have to fling yourself into things, ticket or no.