Cherries: Remember May 2008...? How far they have come.
IF a week is a long time in football, then nearly three years seems like an eternity. No strangers to ups and downs, Cherries fans have had more than their share of both during the club's history. But perhaps never more so than since their last trip to Carlisle. Whether the mode of transport is plane, train or automobile, the 720-mile trek to Cumbria and back today will offer those connected with the club plenty of time to ponder where Cherries find themselves, and how they got there. As ever, the route has been far from smooth. Occasionally treacherous and never dull, it has been an unforgettable journey that might still have a highly desirable final location. To give the background, one must rewind to May 3, 2008, when more than 1,500 Cherries followers made the same trip many will embark upon today. With their team battling relegation, they travelled in great numbers to Brunton Park in a bid to inspire an escape act to rival Harry Houdini. Hit by a 10-point deduction for going into administration, Cherries had rallied to give themselves a chance of miraculously dodging the drop. But a 1-1 draw against the Cumbrians was not good enough. Fast-forward almost three years and the landscape looks a whole lot different. However, before the gain, there was still pain for the club to endure. Following the relegation at Carlisle, things got worse when Cherries were hit with a 17-point deduction for the manner in which they exited administration. This penalty left the club facing a fight to retain its Football League status. New owners Sport-6 sacked boss Kevin Bond and appointed Jimmy Quinn, who failed to halt the slide. Unpaid wages, winding-up petitions and bailiffs at Dean Court did little to lift the gloom. Amid all of this and in need of inspiration, then director Adam Murry appointed Eddie Howe as manager, which proved a masterstroke. On the field, things quickly began to take shape. Cherries went on to secure the greatest of relegation escapes, while new ownership arrived in the shape of the Murry Group in June 2009. Chairman Eddie Mitchell faced a mountain of debt but, helped by the team's promising start to the League Two campaign, a feelgood factor crept in. While winding-up petitions were staved off in the boardroom, rival teams fell by the wayside as Cherries secured promotion back to the third tier. Now, despite the departure of Howe and star players Brett Pitman, Josh McQuoid and Marvin Bartley, Cherries travel to Carlisle today in an enviable position. Two consecutive defeats has led some to question the club's promotion credentials, but the players remain bullish. Such positivity is in stark contrast to the days of relegation and off-field uncertainty. As a director, long-time supporter and former vice-chairman, Steve Sly is well placed to assess this eventful era. He said: We have been through the darkest period in the club's history under our tenure, I'm sure, certainly that I can recall in my lifetime. We're out the other side, debt free and, on and off the pitch, going forward in leaps and bounds. I think we are where we deserve to be. Joy should be tempered by the fact that, for lower league clubs, financial hard times are not a thing of the past. Plymouth's plight being an example. But while the going is good, supporters should enjoy themselves. Chairman Mitchell reported in February that Cherries were close to clearing their legacy debts. And regardless of the result at Brunton Park this time round, players, staff and supporters will head back to Dean Court with the club in the League One play-off zone. May 2008 really does seem like a long time ago.
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