London - The genteel English seaside town of Bournemouth awoke on Tuesday to the astonishing prospect that its soccer club, on the brink of extinction only five years ago, will be reveling in the glamour and wealth of Premier League football next season.
Barring a near-impossible 20-goal swing in the final games on Saturday, Bournemouth will be promoted from the Championship to challenge the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United in English soccer's top flight for the first time in their 116-year history. It is a turnaround few would have thought possible.
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"It's been an amazing journey," one we never expected to go on. It doesn't seem real," Manager Eddie Howe said after Monday's promotion-clinching match. "This club was on its knees six years ago, we had nothing, the bailiffs coming in every day and people not getting paid.
"A group of supporters put their hands in their pockets to keep the club alive and they are reaping the rewards.
Bournemouth's stadium holds only 12,000, big enough for the fourth-tier club they were and its annual turnover is around five million pounds, but promotion to a Premier League awash with cash from its billion-pound TV deals will be worth at least 120 million even if they last only one season.
Wolves at the door
Monday's 3-0 home win over Bolton Wanderers sparked celebratory mayhem as supporters of the "Cherries" poured onto the pitch. When fans, players, management and chairman told TV cameras the moment was "unbelievable", they was no exaggeration.
Bournemouth has always been better known for its sandy beaches, leafy parks and Victorian pier than for footballing prowess.
For decades, the club's notable achievements were restricted to Ted MacDougall's record tally of nine goals in an 11-0 FA Cup win over Margate in 1971 and an upset victory over holders Manchester United in the same competition in 1984.
Those moments looked set to be their epitaph when they were forced into administration seven years ago. Two years of desperate fund-raising, with fans shaking collecting tins and chairman Jeff Mostyn throwing in 750,000 pounds ($1.15 million) of his own money, just about kept them afloat.
However, when they began the 2008/09 season in the fourth tier and the wolves still at the door, the future looked bleak.
Somehow, they escaped the drop into the abyss of minor league football, and slowly began to fix their finances, securing an unlikely promotion the following year.
The club was bought by Russian businessman Maxim Demin in 2011, enabling Howe to start buying players of increasing quality.
Still only 37, Howe may now be eyed by other clubs, but having become the town's idol, it seems inconceivable he would depart before enjoying at least one season among the elite.
"I have always felt the supporters are with me," he said. "It shouldn't be them thanking me, it should be me thanking them. It is a family club and deserves its moment in the sun."
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