Still with the club as a coach after two goal-laden spells with the club, Alan Connell talks about his life with the Cherries.
Striker Connell went on to help the Cherries win two promotions – despite suffering a serious knee injury just 13 games into his career with the club.
Connell was 19 when he signed from Ipswich in July 2002 and made an immediate impression by scoring seven goals during an eight-game purple patch.
At the time, he was the most prolific teenage striker in the country, only to rupture his anterior cruciate ligament during a 0-0 draw at Leyton Orient in October 2002.
His goals helped pave the way for the Cherries to win promotion via the League Two play-off final in 2003 before Connell left and had spells with Torquay, Hereford and Brentford.
He returned to play a part in the 2008/09 Greatest Escape before scoring the goal which clinched promotion to League One at Burton Albion in April 2010.
Connell netted almost 100 goals in 400 career appearances and won further promotions with Swindon Town and Bradford City. He also helped the Bantams reach the final of the League Cup in 2013.
He joined the academy coaching staff at Vitality Stadium in 2015 and is now manager of AFC Bournemouth’s successful under-18s.
WHAT ARE YOUR EARLY MEMORIES OF YOUR TIME AT THE CLUB?
I was released by Ipswich in February 2002 and attended the Exit Trials at Lilleshall. I had a good few days there and had offers of trials from Macclesfield, Doncaster Rovers and AFC Bournemouth.
I chose AFC Bournemouth which was the best decision I have ever made. I came on trial, played a few reserve games and, fortunately, Sean O’Driscoll liked me and I signed in the summer.
WHAT ARE YOUR RECOLLECTIONS OF YOUR FIRST FEW GAMES?
All of a sudden, I went from being a youth-team player to a first-team player and absolutely loved it.
I was thrown into the team quickly because there were a lot of injuries and had a really good start to my career.
I scored seven goals in eight games, I was the highest-scoring teenager in the country and apparently clubs were watching me. It was an amazing time.
THE INJURY MUST HAVE BEEN A HUGE SETBACK?
It was. It took me a year-and-a-half to get back. I had a cartilage tear as well and it was 18 months before I was anywhere near my best again. It was unfortunate for it to happen so early in my career. But I was delighted I went on to play more than 400 games after the injury.
HOW DID YOUR DEPARTURE IN 2005 COME ABOUT?
When I came back from my injury, I found myself behind James Hayter and Steve Fletcher in the pecking order for most of the 2004/05 season. We just missed out in the League One play-offs on the last day.
I felt I had contributed that season but I wasn’t playing every week and that was what I had really wanted. I was offered a new contract by Sean and, in hindsight, maybe I should have stayed because of my affection for the club. It was a really difficult decision.
As soon as I left, I questioned whether it was the right decision or not. But I went away and had some great experiences at other clubs so I can’t really regret it.
WHAT ARE YOUR MEMORIES OF RETURNING IN 2008?
To a point, I was happy at Brentford. Eddie Howe was first-team coach under Kevin Bond and came to watch me. I knew they had tried to get me on loan when I was at Torquay but Torquay put the block on that which was hugely frustrating.
To sign permanently in 2008 was an amazing feeling and I couldn’t get here quickly enough.
BUT YOUR FIRST DAY BACK DIDN’T GO AS PLANNED, DID IT?
No, it didn’t. In my first training session, I tore the cartilage in my other knee. I hadn’t had any injuries at my other clubs, they all came at Bournemouth.
It meant I was a bit-part player for the Greatest Escape season. I was in and out of the team and gave my all when I was involved but my form wasn’t great.
I remember warming up before we played Barnet at home just after Christmas when we were in a really difficult position.
My knee was so swollen that I couldn’t bend it properly and the game was starting in half-an-hour. It was needs-must at that time but I didn’t do myself justice that season.
WHAT ARE YOUR MEMORIES OF 2009/10?
I had delayed having an operation until we were safe. I had a really good summer of rehab and came back fit and sharp for the League Two promotion season. I played quite a lot of games and flited between playing up front and left midfield.
It was an incredible season and it was great to be part of the first of the three promotions on the way to the Premier League. I felt I contributed along the way and scored some important goals, culminating in the one at Burton which people still talk about and remember.
I look back with huge pride at scoring a big goal in the club’s history and followed up with two against Port Vale at a packed Dean Court in the final home game of the season. I loved it. We had a great group of players and a lot of us are still friends now.
ALTHOUGH YOU LEFT IN 2010, IT WASN’T THE END OF YOUR ASSOCIATION WITH THE CLUB…
That summer, the transfer embargo was lifted and Eddie wanted to bring in some new players. I was one of those who moved on. I went to Grimsby and had some really good experiences there.
I came back in 2015 as a part-time academy coach and am now managing the youth team. I couldn’t be happier working for the club I love and in a role that I love.
Our ultimate aim is to try to get players into the first team here. But if we can’t do that, we would love to see them have professional careers elsewhere.
Seeing the boys develop as young people is also very important to us.
This feature originally featured in the Arsenal edition of the club's MATCHDAY programme back in December.