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Club news

Legs before wickets: Botham at Dean Court

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Today marks the 40th anniversary of cricketing legend Ian Botham's Football League debut, which came at Dean Court against the Cherries.

Botham, who would later star in an unforgettable 1981 Ashes series against Australia, turned out for Scunthorpe United, with a trio of opponents playing against him for AFC Bournemouth that evening recalling the occasion. 

It was March 25th 1980 when Botham came off the bench for the Iron in a Division Four fixture at Dean Court.

The visitors were trailing 2-0 when he entered the fray as a 52nd-minute substitute before the Cherries extended their lead to 3-0.

However, a stirring comeback saw Scunthorpe score three times in eight minutes to claim a share of the spoils.

Ex-Cherries players John Impey, John Smeulders and Steve Massey recounted their memories with afcb.co.uk of the day Botham came to town.

Imagine the Cherries of today studying a team-sheet only to find England cricket star Ben Stokes among their opponents' substitutes.

That’s what happened at Dean Court 40 years ago today when the legendary Botham came to town with Scunthorpe United.

Ahead of a new season with county and country, the Somerset all-rounder, who lived in nearby Epworth, trained with his local club to keep fit.

Having impressed during a handful of outings for the reserves, the Iron manager Ron Ashman decided to put Botham on the bench for their Division Four clash against the Cherries on March 25th 1980.

Although his inclusion ensured the Tuesday evening fixture would receive widespread media attention, it failed to capture the imagination of the paying public.

Only 2,675 spectators turned up, an increase of just one on the previous Saturday’s crowd of 2,674 for a 0-0 draw with Lincoln City.

However, neither team was setting the world alight and pulses would hardly have been racing at the prospect of watching 13th-placed Cherries do battle with 21st-placed Scunthorpe, the hosts going into the game on the back of one win in eight.

As Botham looked on from a seat in the visitors’ dugout, the Cherries raced into a 2-0 lead thanks to goals from Massey and Mick Butler.

England’s hero on countless occasions with bat and ball, Botham entered the fray as a 52nd-minute replacement for Graham Pugh to make his Football League debut.

But just 15 minutes after his introduction, Alec Stock’s Cherries extended their advantage thanks to Massey’s second, a stunning volley from the edge of the box.

Having witnessed just one goal in their three previous home games, the Dean Court faithful were in dreamland as their team led 3-0 with just 18 minutes left on the clock.

And while the comeback may have been incomparable to Botham’s Lazarus exploits in the 1981 Ashes series against Australia, Stock’s charges must have been as shellshocked as Messrs Lillee, Alderman and Hughes as the Iron hit back to level with three goals in eight minutes.

The damage was done by Stuart Pilling’s double, including a 45-yard strike which left Cherries goalkeeper Smeulders red faced, and an effort from Dave Stewart.

Smeulders lined up against the Iron just three days before his 23rd birthday, his 11th appearance for the club marred by the present he gifted the visitors.

Now 62 and living in Shaftesbury, he told afcb.co.uk: “I remember the game because Ian Botham was involved and it was one of my first for the club.

“In the build-up, it was a case of “Wow, Ian Botham’s playing” and I suppose everyone was interested to see what he was going to do. They brought him on and he played up front. To be honest, he didn’t do a lot but I didn’t have the best of games either!

“I met him in a hotel a few years later. I was at Weymouth at the time and we were playing Horwich RMI in the final of the Bob Lord Trophy.

“Stuart Morgan was the Weymouth manager and he said to Ian Botham “do you remember this guy, he played in goal that night?”

“Ian Botham looked at Stuart and said “oh, the one who let in the shot from about 45 yards!”

Skipper Impey was tasked with the job of keeping tabs on Botham.

When speaking to afcb.co.uk, Impey asked: “Remind me, did he score in that game?”

When told Botham had not scored, Impey replied: “That’s because I was marking him!”

Impey added: “He was fit and strong and we were both big lads so it was a bit of a competition.

“I remember him elbowing me and I think I gave him a couple of tackles from behind. In those days, you could get away with it provided you disguised it.

“When we knew he was playing, we probably had more media than usual because of who he was and the fact he was at the top end in his sport.

“We had a bit of banter. You always tried to wind up the opposition. I think I said something like “I think you should stick to cricket!”

“I wasn’t into cricket but Kenny Allen was. He was our biggest cricket fan and you can be sure he would have got his programme autographed. Although cricket wasn’t for me, I always had the utmost respect for people who played their sport at the highest level and Ian Botham certainly did that.”

Botham featured in 11 league games for the Iron as a non-contract player between 1980 and 1984 and later played for Yeovil Town in the Gola League.

He also again crossed paths with Massey, who said: “I love my cricket so it was great to share a stage with a sporting icon and one of my heroes. I was lucky enough to play against him twice.

“I played against him that night for Bournemouth and again a few years later when he played against Hull City. I scored in both games – it’s a shame he wasn’t always in the opposition team!

“I had just established myself back in the Bournemouth team when we played Scunthorpe. There was a great deal of excitement among the lads that he was coming, even though it just felt like it was a bit of a gimmick.

“There was a bit of an anti-climax because he wasn’t in the starting line-up. I remember looking at his thighs and thinking one of his thighs was the same size as my two put together!

“My memories of the game… as a typical forward, I remember feeling good because I’d scored a couple of goals. There was a glow and smugness inside me.

“One of them was the best goal I scored for Bournemouth. The ball popped up really nicely for me and I volleyed it into the back of the net from the edge of the box. Normally, they went over the bar!”

AFC Bournemouth: Smeulders, Cunningham, Ferns, Impey, Townsend, Borthwick, Chambers, Holder, Butler, Massey, Brown. Unused sub: Heffernan.

Scunthorpe United: Gordon, Davy, Peacock, Kavanagh, Dall, Oates, Pugh (Botham, 52), Cammack, Pilling, Partridge, Stewart.

Referee: Lester Shapter (Newton Abbot).

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