Matt Ritchie believes AFC Bournemouth’s memorable promotion to the Premier League in 2014/15 was fuelled by a mix of “pure desire and hunger”.
Ritchie was one of three players to feature in all 46 games as Eddie Howe’s team sealed a place in the top flight for the first time in the club’s history.
The winger’s exploits, which included 15 goals and a league-high 18 assists, saw him named in the PFA Championship team of the season.
Signed by Eddie Howe from Swindon for a bargain £400,000, Ritchie also played his part in the Cherries’ League One promotion campaign in 2012/13.
He netted 31 goals in 142 appearances before joining Newcastle in July 2016 and starring for them as they clinched promotion to the Premier League in his first season.
In the latest interview in our series of The Journey, Ritchie starts by recounting pre-season and the Cherries’ convincing 4-0 win at Huddersfield on the opening day.
He told afcb.co.uk: “Huddersfield will always hold a lot of memories for me. There was that game with Bournemouth and a massive one for Newcastle the year we got promoted.
“I remember setting up Pughie for our first goal within the first 30 seconds. It was a boiling hot day and for us to win in the way we did set the tone for the season.
“We’d had a tough pre-season so to get the first win on the board in our first game made it all worthwhile. It was a fantastic start and it gave the lads confidence.
“Callum (Wilson) scored twice on his debut. He had just arrived from Coventry and we’d heard a lot about him. He never looked back after that game.
“He’s playing for England now which just shows what a great player he is and what a fantastic journey he’s been on.
“You never know what might have happened if he hadn’t scored those goals in that first game. It gave everyone a huge lift and we all thought “we’ve got a top striker here so if we can feed him then he’ll put away the chances”.
Ritchie, who had a brief taste of the Premier League and Championship with former club Portsmouth, felt the foundations for the Cherries’ promotion had been laid in 2013/14.
“I had no choice but to leave Swindon because they would have gone into administration if they hadn’t sold me,” he said.
“I’d always fancied Bournemouth. I went there for a couple of weeks in 2007 and worked with Eddie when he was with Kevin Bond.
“We got promoted from League One and I was injured at the start of the first season in the Championship after hurting my thigh.
“When I got going, I didn’t think the standard was as good as I had perceived it would be. I soon realised every team could beat every other team.
“We just missed out on the play-offs in our first season and I remember thinking in the summer that the following season could be massive for us.
“The gaffer’s pre-seasons were always very intense and I was the fittest I had ever been. We did pre-season at Canford School and I was looking at pictures on my laptop of it recently.
“The players we had were coming into their prime and it was never a case of “okay, we’re in the Championship now so let’s rest on our laurels”. It was more “the Premier League is our next goal”.
“The group was so hungry for success and the club was constantly improving. Everything was moving forward. Although we didn’t have a big stadium, that was irrelevant.
“Going into that season, I honestly believed that if we could get off to a good start, we could have a real chance.
“We may have had a couple of a sticky patches but there was always belief that if we continued to apply ourselves in the way we did, we would always have a chance of success.”
While Ritchie scored four times in the final three games against Sheffield Wednesday, Bolton and Charlton, two other matches which he felt were pivotal were the 8-0 win at Birmingham in October and the 2-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest in February.
“I scored my first goal of that season at Birmingham and I can remember how desperate I was to get it,” he said. “I was wearing white boots with no insoles.
“I was trying everything to change my luck in front of goal. I took out the insoles thinking I’d get more of a feel for the ball. Small things like that stick in your mind.
“I remember my celebration. I had both fists clenched and Harry Arter was whacking me on the head!
“TK (Tokelo Rantie) scored a couple and we were all so pleased for him because he had been getting a bit of stick.
“Pughie got his hat-trick, including two headers at the back post, and it was a really special day.
“I remember Forest away for different reasons. We hadn’t won in four games and didn’t play well.
“It was the only day when a bit of doubt crept into my mind. Everyone was trying to be positive in the dressing room but, deep down, I was thinking “please don’t let it be us who has a wobble and doesn’t get over the line”.
“It gave me real fire in my belly and a real determination to put things right and we went on a good run after that.”
Asked for his memories on the season’s finale, Ritchie admitted: “It still gives me goosebumps now when I think about it because it was so special.
“It’s difficult to describe. It was win at all costs and give everything and, without it being said, that’s exactly what happened.
“Everyone knew what was at stake and the pressure that went with it. But everybody dealt with the situation so professionally.
“I’ve had some fantastic years in football so far and hopefully there are many more to come. We proved all the doubters wrong that season.
“Tommy (Elphick) was a massive voice in the dressing room and we had so much quality in the group.
“But for me, what got us promoted was our pure desire and hunger for success and that all came from the manager.”