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Features

Fletcher: 29 years and counting

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

Either side of this weekend there are landmark days for Steve Fletcher, the former striker celebrating both the anniversary of his arrival with the Cherries and his latest birthday.

It was on July 23rd 1992 that Fletcher first made the long trip down from Hartlepool, knowing little of the club or town that would soon become the major location in his playing career and beyond.

A club record 628 league appearances and 124 goals later - leading into spells as assistant manager, scout and now as a first-team coach, Fletcher is indelibly inked into the club's history.

He himself picks up the story from the very beginning, through to his personal turning point on the way to becoming a club legend...

I went into training on the 22nd July at Hartlepool, a week or two into pre-season and the manager wanted to speak to me in his office - I was wondering what I had done wrong!

I couldn’t think of anything so went in and he said he’d had a phone call from Tony Pulis. I was 18 at the time and I didn’t know who he was, that’s not being disrespectful, I didn’t really know where Bournemouth was.

With Hartlepool we’d beaten Bournemouth in my last ever game for the club. Harry Redknapp was the manager and they’d needed to win to get into the play-offs, we won 1-0 which stopped that but Pulis had spotted me as I’d had a decent game. 

The manager at Hartlepool said to me he didn’t really want to let me go but I wouldn’t be his first choice striker so I decided to go down there and have a look. I drove home to the pub where my mum and dad worked and said to my dad: ‘How do you fancy a trip to Bournemouth?’ 

My dad asked if I knew how far that was, we got out the road map and kept following my finger down the country, right to the very end. It took us six or seven hours to drive down and Tony met us the next day and I signed that day.

Tony was clever when he guided us in. We stopped just outside Bournemouth to go to a phone box and ask him how to get there.

He strategically sent us round along the West Cliff in the beautiful sunshine, double the temperature of back home in Hartlepool, me looking at my dad and us thinking it was like being on holiday.

We were put up in the Royal Bath, the top hotel right on the seafront and were told to go to the Ocean Palace Chinese restaurant which had amazing food and I was drawn in straight away, meeting Tony was just a formality after that. 

We had a pre-season game with Aston Villa, which we drew 1-1, and I scored. I then drove home to get my stuff before coming back to training on the Tuesday – I’d done three trips, nearly 700 miles each time, in less than a week, I was absolutely exhausted!

I was then put up in digs with Ken Sullivan, who we knew as Nimbus. He was the kitman who was a legend having been here for years and years, everyone had a stint there from Jermain Defoe to Jason Tindall, or had at least been there for dinner.

It was a shock to the system, moving from one end of the country to another. There was no communication apart from the house phone, which was tough because you had to ask the landlady, but I didn’t always like to do that so from living at home with my parents to being at the other end of the country, that was the toughest part to start with.

Scoring that goal in pre-season helped and the fans took to me straight away, but I was soon the victim of my early success.

The club had just lost Jimmy Quinn who’d been a prolific scorer. I was 19 and hadn’t been a regular for the two seasons I’d been a professional, but the fans thought I’d come to replace their star striker.

I scored in my first home game and we won, things were going well, but then I got a knee injury. I came back and was up front with Efan Ekoku but I wasn’t right. I shouldn’t have played but I was young and naive and was playing at 50%, not doing myself any favours at all.

Things seemed to slip from then on and I was getting stick from the fans, more than a bit when I think back now. I was marmite at the time, some people liked me but others didn’t, it was tough for a 19-year-old.

In 1994/95 the new manager Mel Machin came in and I told him that I’d like to think about a move further up north because it was too much for me.

My friends and family were up there and I was taking all of the burden myself. Mel got me in, sat me down and told me he was bringing players in, liked me in training and wanted me to play.

I got another injury but came back at Christmas and we had Swansea at home on January 2nd with the club only having ten points on the board – but that game changed my whole career at Bournemouth.

I scored twice and we won 3-2, the belief came in the squad, the fans got behind me and it just seemed to change. We won the next game at Bradford and all of a sudden went on this unbelievable run towards the first Great Escape, me getting the fans’ player of the year award.

That was the turning point between me and the fans, and the next thing I knew I was signing a new contract.

Seven months previous I was thinking about leaving and then I was signing a new deal as the happiest man in Bournemouth, playing some of the best football I’d ever played.

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