Eddie Howe’s move from Dorset to Lancashire seems one of a kind in many ways. In the end, as with so many managerial departures, it had the feel of a break-up. And it was always going to be like that, given the depth of feeling involved and his length of service on the south coast.
Bournemouth’s final game under Howe’s leadership involved a Friday night in Essex, one final fling to bring a long love affair to a close. Colchester United were the hosts and there was also, through the live broadcast of the game, an invitation for the world to watch on. It made for fascinating viewing, if slightly uncomfortable at times. Bournemouth love Eddie Howe and Eddie Howe loves Bournemouth.
Howe’s demeanour throughout the saga of courtship from a succession of clubs has been deeply apologetic. No bullishness. No treachery. Very little in the way of open excitement at interest from Crystal Palace, Charlton Athletic and Burnley. Instead, there was just resignation. Perhaps the perfect end, if any mid-season exit could ever be so, to such a successful time.
Perfect for a supporter, anyway, dealing with the familiar feeling of being jilted. One imagines the majority of Bournemouth fans could not possibly begrudge Howe his move and would wish him every success with Burnley. Most enlightened football supporters would join them.
There is also an enormous amount of goodwill towards Bournemouth and the new man, while facing an unenviable task in replacing such an incredibly popular and successful figure, will find the club in a far better position, both on and off the pitch, than it was before Howe’s arrival.
The sparsely-populated surroundings of Colchester’s Weston Homes Community Stadium provided an eerie backdrop to Howe’s last game with the Cherries. Thousands of seats were left unoccupied, a snapshot of the apathy he is aiming to leave behind in pursuit of a place in the Premier League. Some of them, the ones facing Howe, even spelled out the word “jobs” in white on blue, as if to remind him of these terrible things that dominate our lives and often dictate our moods.
It was, nevertheless, just another game for Colchester and John Ward’s men approached it with an efficient ruthlessness which brought about a fully deserved victory. Former Liverpool trainee Steven Gillespie was the home side’s hero, coming off the bench to net two late goals after fellow substitute Steve Fletcher had opened the scoring for Bournemouth.
Fletcher and his team-mates celebrated by running to the sidelines and mobbing Howe, which at least provided everyone connected with the club one last celebratory moment before he departed. But the evening otherwise felt extremely melancholy. After years of fairytale stuff, maybe the happy ending was asking for too much.
Anyone who doesn’t “get” football, who doesn’t understand how or why it affects people, anyone who fails to grasp its wider impact, just needed to tune in and absorb the emotion of this occasion.
If things worked slightly differently, Howe would never be leaving Bournemouth. The connection he has with the place is clear. The problem, as Howe himself outlined in a post-match interview that felt like an intrusion on grief, is that the offers kept coming and the answer could not be “no” forever.
Sure, this is all laying it on very thickly. But any opportunity to empathise with those fortunate enough to earn a living through football must be grasped with both hands. One game into his Burnley career, all this will be in the past.
Documenting events from the perspective of the new club in Eddie Howe’s life could easily be forgotten. Burnley may be seen as unfashionable by some, primarily those who base their opinions on whether a club has enjoyed an extended stay in the Premier League, but there is much to admire. Turf Moor, currently entering its 128th year, is certainly not afraid to draw on its history and Burnley are also still basking in the more recent glory of their play-off final victory over Sheffield United and a top-flight win over Manchester United.
An interesting challenge awaits Howe in Lancashire. QPR may deservedly head the Championship table but there is a very long neck beneath them and Burnley are just one of the many hopefuls attempting to clamber their way upwards. Similar to League One in the non-stop nature of its fixture list and propensity to punish the merest hint of an off-day, Howe’s new division will provide a steep learning curve.
There is also the small matter of a south coast boy having to adapt to a new way of living. Howe was born in Dorset, all but two of his league appearances came for the club he is leaving and the exceptions were a pair of performances for near neighbours Portsmouth.
Once he settles into his new habitat up north, Howe might find time to glance 35 miles or so west to the coastal life he has just left behind. He may not seem sure at the moment, but if Burnley climb to the same heady heights currently enjoyed by Blackpool, Eddie Howe will know he made the right decision.
It was certainly the most difficult one he has ever had to make.
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