Tommy Elphick revealed leading AFC Bournemouth to promotion in 2012/13 had given him “a huge sense of relief and pride”.
Elphick, who went on to skipper the Cherries to the Premier League two years later, was handed the captain’s armband by Eddie Howe during the second half of the season.
The defensive linchpin signed in August 2012 from hometown club Brighton where he had spent a lengthy spell on the sidelines recovering from a serious Achilles injury.
He made an inauspicious start to his career at Vitality Stadium as the Cherries, under the management of Paul Groves, slipped into the League One relegation zone.
But following the return of Howe and Jason Tindall in October 2012, Elphick starred and was crowned supporters’ player of the year as the Cherries secured a place in the Championship.
Recalling his memories of the season in the latest in our series of interviews for The Journey, Elphick starts by discussing the early days and the importance of Howe’s return.
He told afcb.co.uk: “A lot of the lads were new to Bournemouth and you can sometimes underestimate how long it takes for a team to settle when you have had a big turnover of players.
“I arrived quite late in the window and could immediately see how fragmented the dressing room was. A lot of the lads had been brought in by Lee Bradbury and were a little disheartened that he had left.
“But underneath it all, we had a hugely-talented squad for the level we were at. A lot of lads had come in from Championship clubs where they had taken knockbacks.
“I remember scoring in two of our first few games, including during a 5-3 defeat at Sheffield United which remains one of the weirdest matches I have ever played in.
“The team bus broke down in the car park after the game so not only did we get embarrassed on the pitch but also in the car park. It was a strange day and an even stranger start to my Bournemouth career that’s for sure!
“Eddie and Jason coming back brought alignment and motivation. Although he inherited a talented squad for the level, it took a bit of managing on his part.
“I’ll never forget his first training session when he taught us how to win again and made us believe in ourselves.
“We had to bring £20 a man and had a tournament of four teams with the winners taking the prize money. It gave us the bit between our teeth and made us realise that winning could make a big difference.”
Howe and assistant Tindall received a heroes’ reception on their return to Vitality Stadium before they oversaw a 15-match unbeaten league run which hoisted them to seventh.
“For me, the first game of that run stands out more than any other,” said Elphick. “It was against Tranmere who were flying high at the top of the table and unbeaten in the league.
“Eddie and Jason had been unveiled the week before and there was so much excitement about them coming back. You could sense from the atmosphere just how much it meant to the supporters.
“Although I had never played under them, you could tell from the players who had just how important they were going to be if we wanted to be successful.
“Bringing back Brett Pitman gave everyone a huge boost and the signing of Matt Ritchie was significant, not only for that season but for the future of the club as well.
“To this day, Brett is one of the most natural finishers I have ever played with. He is a master talent and was way above the level we were playing at then.
“Matt is someone I have spoken to quite a lot recently and we have reminisced about the team we had then and it has brought back some great memories.”
Although the 15-match unbeaten run ended after the Cherries had gone down 3-1 at Walsall, five straight wins took them to the top of the table in early February.
However, Elphick – who replaced Miles Addison as captain – spent almost two months on the sidelines after sustaining a bad injury during a 3-0 win at MK Dons.
During that period, the Cherries slipped to seventh following five defeats on the spin before responding in style as a club record run of eight wins on the bounce all but secured promotion.
Elphick added: “We secured a great result at MK Dons but the game doesn’t have good memories for me personally.
“We tried to frustrate them and our tactics certainly worked. I think Ryan Lowe took out their team’s frustrations on me and it was a bad tackle which caught me on the knee and shin.
“Looking back, I was quite fortunate because it could have been far more serious. I missed ten games and could have been out a lot longer.
“The captaincy issue all happened quite naturally. I have always believed you are made captain for a reason and because of who you are. The manager saw something in me.
“Miles was captain when I came to the club. He had a big reputation and was a great lad and a good captain.
“He got injured and hadn’t played for a while and the manager saw fit to change the captaincy.
"I think it got another 10 to 15 per cent out of my game and gave me a lot of responsibility which I loved.
“It was a very easy group to lead, especially when you were following the manager’s lead.
"It was a real privilege and honour for me to wear the armband and to represent that group.
“Although we were pipped to the title, the overriding emotion for me was one of huge relief.
"A lot of us had taken a gamble to drop down a level to try to come back and we managed it.
“There were definitely some very strong foundations laid for the club during that season and it was a huge compliment to the manager and his staff for the way they put us together.
"It was amazing to see the plan come off and great to have been a part of it.”