Cherries fan Jonny Blair talks about his amazing travels from Bangor and beyond, but always with a Cherries scarf or shirt in his backpack.
Supporting the Cherries for me from lands afar is hardly a new phenomenon. I’ve been nomadic most of my adult life.
I grew up in Bangor in Northern Ireland and my first trip to Bournemouth was in 1994. It was the unknown beginnings of a Cherries love affair.
Inspired by the World Cup goal of Colin Clarke for Northern Ireland in 1986, the knowledge that George Best’s last ever Football League match was for AFC Bournemouth in 1983 and with a terrace chant of “Here’s to you Stevie Robinson”, it was a no-brainer that my English team of choice would be the mighty Cherries.
The Cherries have always had Northern Irish links. Be it Dick Keith, Keith Rowland, Neil Masters or Josh McQuoid, around 30 players with Northern Irish links have graced the pitch at Dean Court in days gone by.
Despite that link to Ulster, it was the town of Bournemouth itself which had stolen my soul and heart.
Seaside towns beginning with B on the brain, I swapped the beaches of Bangor in County Down for the golden sands of sunny sunny Bournemouth in England’s Dorset.
I have spent more of my adult life in Bournemouth than in any other place on earth, and while that figure is only six years (and sporadic short visits to Dean Court), I know I have a home there. But not for now.
I currently spend my days living in Poland where I write, teach, blog and promote Polish and Northern Irish culture. I’m never far from a football stadium or a livestream of a match from Dean Court. I blog about my story on Don’t Stop Living.
I have many memories of the lower two divisions as a Cherries fan back in the days when I was a season ticket holder.
Belfast lad Warren Feeney popped over to say hello as I stood with my Northern Ireland flag in the North Stand end. He’s another Northern Irishman to hit the heights at AFC Bournemouth, helped with the 2003 promotion push as well as two near misses on the (at the time) Division Two play-offs.
By the time I had relocated to Australia in 2009, the Minus 17 miracle was behind us and I saw us rise up the leagues from abroad. In that time, I somehow managed five trips back to the UK to watch the Cherries including the highs (I was at the famous Birmingham 8-0 thrashing) and lows (a dire 0-1 loss at Bury was completely unmemorable).
My worst moment was the day we went to Carlisle in 2008 with hopes, only to be relegated harshly despite a decent draw on the day.
There was elation in 2015 for Charlton away when we clinched the Championship and my first ever Cherries home win in the top flight was a 2-0 spanking of Sunderland.
It was once joked that I was a lucky charm – when I was back in town we often won. That argument doesn’t stand up any more as I have lost my last two matches without a goal to cheer, including a 0-4 reverse at West Ham United on New Year’s Day 2020.
While my dream is still to visit all 92 league grounds as Ulster Cherry, I realise this will take me longer than I expected, especially when I have to fly back a few times a season for matches.
Wherever I go, whatever I do, I always have at least an AFC Bournemouth scarf or flag in my backpack and I proudly fly them in countries where the most popular teams are Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool - teams that have all been beaten at Dean Court since we started to live the Premier League dream in 2015.
I have worn my shirt in places like DR Congo, Afghanistan, Iran, Brazil, Nauru, deepest China and Turkmenistan.
And what’s left? Well, I sadly wasn’t living in Bournemouth for the Wembley or Millennium Stadium finals, so I missed those. Plus I was too young to remember the 1984 Members Cup win. So the dream continues. As a Cherry, I have three dreams left…
- A Wembley final
- A European adventure
- Doing the 92 (I’m only about 25% there…)
If I don’t get those dreams, I’ll be happy in the North Stand singing my heart out on a Saturday afternoon with the amazing fellow Cherries I have met on this odyssey.
There will always be pre-match pints, post-match celebration or commiseration and a goal or two to cheer whilst reliving James Hayter hat-tricks or Neil Moss saves.
Eddie had a dream. I had the same one. We lived it. We are living it.