Bournemouth, 2009-2011; 2012-2020
I first started watching and developing my love for Bournemouth at 10 years old.
My family had moved to the area from Watford, and the club almost immediately started to influence my future career. Out of the blue I was given a card by a scout, who told me they wanted me to attend training.
Sean O’Driscoll was living in the same town as me while he was still playing and, from the age of 14, when I’d no means of transport, he offered to drive me in. We developed a strange relationship, because he didn’t talk too much and I was very shy, so those journeys were quite quiet.
But I certainly respected him greatly, and I hoped that he liked me. He also went on to coach and manage me; I’ve no doubt that I use his methods to this day.
Sean (below, right) had a huge influence on my footballing opinions. How you coach, how you speak to players. He was unique in seeing the game differently.
He was also the first person I spoke to who wanted to challenge the way things had always been done in football, which is the only way you actually get real change. He didn’t conform to giving a verbal battering if you lost, which at that time was part of everybody’s consciousness.
He challenged that, and he changed that. When he got to coach and manage us, it was also totally different to anything I’d experienced.
After establishing myself as a player, I first left Bournemouth to join Portsmouth, then managed by Harry Redknapp, in 2002. I was aware that the club was struggling financially and needed the income of transfers, but I also wanted to progress my career and try and play at as high a level as I could. I was very, very ambitious.
"My injuries had forced me to look at the game differently"
It was a really tough thing to do to leave. I’d come close many times before then, but that was the one that seemed the right move at the time.
Harry, and his assistant Jim Smith (both below), were really good. They were totally different again to Sean, but I learned a lot – even if injuries meant I didn’t really kick a ball for them.
I was watching a lot, and analysing from afar. Theirs was a team that got promoted to the Premier League, and stayed in the Premier League. It was a great experience.
There’s no doubt that my injuries accelerated my move into coaching. Without them I would have continued to play; with them, I was forced to look at the game differently.
"Bournemouth's fans raised £21,000 to buy me back again"
I knew I wouldn’t be playing very long after the serious injury I got at Portsmouth. I was well aware that my career was going to be cut short – I could feel it in my body – so I was looking at alternative ways to find employment in the game.
There’s also no doubt that that period has made me a better manager. I felt very isolated and alone – not through any fault of Portsmouth – and, when you’re in that place, you feel detached from the bubble that is football. Even though I wouldn’t have wanted it for myself at the time, in hindsight it was probably a very good thing for me.
Bournemouth were able to buy me back in 2004, through what became known as EddieShare, when the supporters raised £21,000 to fund my return. I felt embarrassed, because I wasn’t sure how I was going to perform and hadn’t played for two years.
I hoped I wasn’t going to let everyone down. People had invested a lot of money – from their own pockets – for me to return. They were maybe imagining the old me, but a different player was coming back.
But that also strengthened my bond with them. It was further evidence that the people at Bournemouth are unbelievably loyal, and unbelievably generous. It also told me that they must have liked something about me in that first period. Thankfully, I found a different way to repay them.
My knee injury eventually forced me to retire in 2007, but Kevin Bond (below), then our manager, gave me the chance to move into coaching, and that proved to be everything. Without that support from him, the rest would never have followed.
I’d needed an opportunity, and someone to see that I could have an impact on a coaching team, and ideas that were going to be of substance. The club had no money – certainly not for scouts – and I’d volunteered to do a report for him in a game I actually played in. That was somewhat bizarre an experience, but I think he valued that feedback.
I was very fortunate; that opportunity meant I didn’t have time to dwell on the fact that I was out of the game as a player, and wasn't left with time to overanalyse it all. I was straight into a new job, and I had to learn everything from the very bottom.
"This was worse than the bailiffs coming and not getting paid"
I knew very, very early that it was a totally different profession, and that I didn’t have much of a playing career to stand against – so I would need to earn the respect of players through my coaching. They were brilliant days.
You’re learning by doing. I didn’t take too many sessions in those early days – Kevin was hands-on and wanted to do the majority of the coaching – so I watched and learned from him and Rob Newman.
I was also given the chance to go into the club’s Centre of Excellence, and to lead that. I only did so for around 30 days, but I learned so much. I was coaching eight-year-olds and 14-year-olds – different ages every night. I had to go back to teaching how to pass and control the ball, stripping it back to basics – but that was key.
By the time I was given the manager’s job on a caretaker basis in 2009, things were really bad. I’d seen the club struggle financially before, so it wasn’t unique.
"I tried to get the chairman to change his mind about offering me the manager's job permanently. I thought he was mad"
I’d been used to not having my wages paid on time – it was almost expected. Bailiffs coming in also wasn’t unique. But this was a little bit different. It was worse.
This time there wasn’t a clear voice coming from the top, saying that we were going to be okay, long-term. There were lots of unknowns; internally, we were very worried about what the club’s long-term prospects looked like.
We lost the first two matches I oversaw, and after the second I remember my phone ringing. When I looked, I saw that it was then owner Adam Murry, who I’d been dealing with, and I thought: “Right, it’s going to be goodbye here.”
Instead, he said: “We want to offer you the job permanently.” Which took me by surprise. It also gave me a lot of respect for Adam, because he took a hugely brave decision.
"We were fighting against the authorities, and the unfairness"
I thought he was mad and tried to get him to change his mind, but he was adamant. I was very fortunate that he was the man in charge.
The remainder of that season was a real rollercoaster, which was a really good introduction to management. Some days we were up, but on most it felt like we were getting knocked down.
I remember chucking away a lead at Lincoln, and some tough defeats among some good wins. It never felt like we were getting there – it always felt like we were too far away from safety. And, as everyone knows, it was only the second-from-last game when we actually achieved it. Within six months, I’d tasted everything that management can throw at you.
There always seemed to be obstacles getting chucked in our way. The following season we had to work through a transfer embargo, although that was a turning point for me because I learned that I had to get the best out of what I had. Again, that was a brilliant thing so early in my career – getting the best out of the resources you have is the challenge that we all face.
"My playing career being short of success has since driven me"
Our success came in creating an environment where the players felt they were fighting for an objective and a goal. When we were staying up, we had a point to prove; we were fighting against the authorities, and the football world, and the unfairness of our situation.
Even if the next season the anger went, the spirit remained, and in promotion we were fighting for something positive. The basis of what we do today was formed in that second year.
You can moan about your transfer budget or the facilities you have, but you can still find a way to get around those things if you’re smart with what you do. That built my mindset of being the first person on the training pitch every day, and the last person to leave it.
Working with the players on a one-to-one basis, really getting to know them, trying to understand them and their weaknesses, and attempting to improve them – that approach has never changed.
"Everything here has been built on the spirit of the group"
Due to my playing career not being particularly successful, and never winning anything, I always felt my career was short of the true success that I absolutely craved. So that was a good thing, mentally; I never took things for granted, and maybe always looked at them pessimistically at the start, because I’d been used to something going wrong in my playing career.
I assumed that that would be the same in my managerial career, and that’s fuelled me to chase success on an obsessive level. I’m still doing that now.
When we were chasing promotion from the Championship – by then, I had spent almost two years at Burnley before returning, and the club had been promoted from League One – our ambitions were being met with resistance from the outside. A lot of questions were being asked, suggesting we couldn't continue to go forward.
Thankfully, once the players began to believe that we could play at that level, results began to come. The transfer market also became key – whereas before everything was built on the spirit of the group, now we were able to bring in some very good players.
"Once in the Premier League, you could feel the pressure"
I was under pressure from the owner, who wanted instant success. It couldn't come quickly enough for him so, at the time, promotion from the Championship didn't seem to come as quickly as it actually did.
I also still remember the feeling of real disappointment when we had a really good run towards the end of that first season there, but then tailed off towards the end and missed out. Had we missed our best chance? In hindsight that was also key, however – we wouldn’t have been ready for the step up at that stage.
The job that the players, and the team behind the team, did the following season was unbelievable. The manner in which we achieved promotion. The style. I still look back on those games as some of the best football we've played.
We’d just managed to be that little bit more consistent than everybody else. The sequence of results we needed when we beat Bolton to go up was bizarre – fate just seemed to fall our way, even if you create that for yourself.
"'We've just lost three of our best players. What now?’"
We had goalscorers throughout the team – some players were producing the best football of their careers – and the team was really, really hungry. They were determined to taste the Premier League.
Then, once we were there, you could just feel the pressure – from the media, and even from our own supporters. We wanted to try to use that as a positive. A motivator.
We spent some money and were quite brave in the transfer market, because we had a lot of players who had never played in the Premier League. That transfer business was instantly almost wiped out.
In the space of a week. Max Gradel and Tyrone Mings, who we’d signed, joined Callum Wilson in suffering serious injuries. It was a hammer blow, because all of our pace seemed to go in a week. I think a lot of our players were wondering: “We’ve just lost three of our best players. What’s going to happen now?” That was a time when we needed to be really mentally strong.
"It's getting harder to have longevity as a manager, but it's not impossible. You have to reinvent yourself, or the team"
Even in the time I’ve been back at Bournemouth, the job’s changed. The demands around it increase. The fundamentals are the same: you’ve got to train the players well; you need a good relationship with them; and you must have a common goal. Those things don’t change.
It’s around those things that the changes happen – the demands on your time, the media exposure. That’s not just for me, but the players as well. You’ve all got to get used to that demand.
It’s also getting harder to have longevity in modern-day management. It’s not impossible, but it seems there’s a real demand for change, and overreaction, whether or not you’re successful. But I do think there can be longevity – it’s just that you have to reinvent yourself or the team along the way to keep everything as fresh as possible.
In that time, it’s also been important that the club has retained faith in us. During a season at this level, there will be times when you don’t win; that’s where our style of play and tactical approach has been really important.
We’ve always tried to be positive, to attack, and to take the game to the opposition. We’ve never sacrificed our principles, and those things count for you when you’re under pressure and need a result. The goodwill of the crowd has also been absolutely key, because they’ve stuck with us and helped us. Eventually, we’ve got there together.
In those moments, at times you just have to go back to basics and the fundamentals you’ve always relied on. That’s what we’ve tried to do, and hoped that it’s been good enough – when the players need confidence, they just want simplicity.
I’ve never tended to question: “What if this doesn’t go well? What happens next?”
You’ve just got to let nature take its course.
That relationship with the fans, again, has been absolutely key. The players are playing in an environment that you want to be as positive as it can be. When there have been times we haven’t won, and the team’s been under pressure, they’ve always backed us.
That’s often how we’ve ended up coming out of bad runs – the team can play in an environment that means we can play our football. We play such a distinct way that if they are under pressure, or players are thinking negatively, it won’t work.
It’s partly because of that that I’ve always believed I can achieve all of my ambitions at Bournemouth. Whether the reality proves different, and what the future holds, I don’t know. But I’ve never believed in limitations and people telling you that you can’t do things.
If we’d done that at the start, we probably wouldn’t have gotten out of League One.
Author: Tony Hodson