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Features

Gulliver's stay was short but very sweet

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AFC Bournemouth AFC Bournemouth

He may have only stayed for a matter of weeks, but Phil Gulliver played a crucial role in AFC Bournemouth’s recent history.

Drafted in on loan from Middlesbrough to ease a defensive crisis, Gulliver arrived with just six games remaining of the regulation 2002/03 season.

A rookie with only a handful of first-team appearances under his belt, the 20-year-old played his part as the Cherries booked a place in the Division Three play-offs.

He starred in a gritty 0-0 draw at Bury in the first leg of the semi-final before turning in another accomplished display as Sean O’Driscoll’s team triumphed 3-1 against the Shakers three days later.

And Gulliver was again on top form as the Cherries repelled the giants of Lincoln City, a memorable 5-2 victory at the Millennium Stadium sealing an immediate return to Division Two.

Recalling his brief stay with the club, Gulliver spoke this week with afcb.co.uk as we prepare to mark the 17th anniversary by reliving the play-off win on Sunday.

He said: “When I got a call to say Bournemouth were interested in taking me on loan, I looked at the map and thought “wow, that’s a long journey!”

“I jumped at the chance to get down there. It was a fantastic, family-friendly club and everybody looked after me straightaway.

“I lodged with Nimbus (Ken Sullivan) and his wife Audrey and Alan Connell was staying in the same digs. It was very homely there and they helped me settle in.

“I made a couple of substitute appearances to start with. I was an old-school defender and realised I had joined a team which liked to get the ball down and pass and move really quickly.

“The pace we had was exceptional and I thought there was no way I could blend into this. But Sean and Peter Grant were both fantastic with me and helped me settle into the pace of the games by bringing me off the bench.

“I made my full debut at Hull and my heart was racing. I remember being as nervous as hell but I had good experience around me.

“Big Fletch was from Hartlepool and he took me under his wing a bit and guided and helped me. Jason Tindall also helped me a lot and you could see he was going to be a good coach.

“He had a good coaching mentality and would often give me little pointers about what I could do differently. He helped me relax and I really appreciated that. Everyone was so welcoming.

“I got the nod for the semi-final at Bury and the game suited me to a tee. It was nitty gritty and I got my head in, kicked it, cleared it and tackled it.

“It gave me real confidence going into the second leg at home because I knew what I would be up against and we did the job at Dean Court.

“For me, it was like all my birthdays had come at once. I had gone from playing reserve team football on a Wednesday night to the pressure of trying to get promotion.

“Sean gave me a couple of days off to see my family before I came back and we all got measured up for suits at a shop in the town.

“The lead up to the final was brilliant. As a kid growing up, you watch big games like the FA Cup final on the telly and want to be a part of something like that.

“We drove to Wales on the Thursday and the hotel we stayed in was what dreams are made of. It had a big indoor training complex and we trained there for a couple of days. We also went to the stadium to have a look round.

“When we got to the stadium on the day of the game, the atmosphere was amazing. I remember walking out and it was like being on a five-a-side pitch because the roof was closed and it was hot and stuffy.

“Lincoln were a big team and liked their long throws. It was like the Alamo for the first ten minutes. I remember heading and kicking it as we weathered the storm of every long ball going.

“We knew if we got it down, played it wide and got around the sides we would be fine. We overcame the first ten to 15 minutes and soon got into our stride before Big Fletch opened the scoring.

“Although we conceded an equaliser, we knew we always had a chance to score more goals due to the energy we had in the team and so it proved.

“I ended up playing with (Lincoln goalkeeper) Alan Marriott later in my career and he admitted they were just hanging on because of the pace and power we had.

“Once the final whistle went, it was great to see the lads bond and celebrate and they really made me feel part of it even though I had only played a handful of games.

“One memory of that day is stopping at a corner shop on the way home to buy as much beer as we could in the space of ten minutes. The guy must have thought all his Christmases had come at once to have 25 lads running around buying as much beer as possible!

“We had a great night in the town but I had to miss the open-top bus parade because I had a holiday booked. When I booked it, I never expected to be part of a team winning promotion through the play-offs at the end of May!

“It was a shame because it would have been brilliant to be part of that as well. I’ve got the medal and my shirt framed at home.

“I keep bringing out the story every so often to anyone who wants to hear it. I’m getting to sound like an old man with my… back in the day story!

“My time with the club was short and sweet but what a place to be. I was young and hungry and I have so many great memories and I made friends with lads who I still speak to today.

“I’ll be watching the game on Cherries Repicked on Sunday. My little boy is eight and is big into his football so it’ll be nice for him to sit down and see a re-run of his dad. I’m looking forward to it.”

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