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Page last updated at 13:51 GMT, Sunday, 26 April 2009 14:51 UK

Fletcher relishes Cherries escape act

Steve Fletcher (left) celebrates with strike partner Brett Pitman
Steve Fletcher (left) celebrates Bournemouth's escape from relegation with strike partner Brett Pitman (Picture: Mick Cunningham)

By Mark Mitchener
BBC Sport at Dean Court

In moments of crisis, when the chips are well and truly down, football clubs often look to a familiar, well-loved figure to galvanise the fans and lift everyone at the club.

A fans' favourite during his playing days, Eddie Howe became manager of Bournemouth in January, with the club teetering on the brink of relinquishing their 86-year League status.

After the south-coast side were narrowly relegated from League One last term after a 10-point deduction for entering administration, they were docked a further 17 points at the start of this season for exiting administration without a Company Voluntary Agreement, as were Rotherham. Off-field problems, coupled with a protracted takeover battle, have threatened the club's existence all season.

But while Newcastle United would look to a Kevin Keegan or an Alan Shearer as their latest saviour, Howe - the youngest manager in the League at 31 - had a Cherries talisman of his own up his sleeve: Steve Fletcher.

Although the Magpies' battle to stay in the top flight may go to the wire, Fletcher enjoyed a fairytale ending on Saturday by scoring the winning goal in Bournemouth's 2-1 victory over Grimsby, which prevented the Cherries from joining Luton in non-League football.

Howe joked: "I don't know who writes the big man's scripts, but I'd like to meet him.

"When the goal went in, I just shook my head and thought it could only happen to Fletch."

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Fittingly, it was the 100th league goal of Fletcher's career, but it came after a night when the veteran target man, who has made over 500 league appearances for the Cherries, was as nervous as the fans.

"Maybe it was written in the stars, as I'd been on 99 league goals since the Bradford game a month ago," he explained.

"I had a horrible night's sleep - I woke up at one o'clock, woke up again at four and eventually got out of bed at 10 to seven, so by nine o'clock I realised I'd been up half the night, but the adrenaline was just going through my body."

The striker had already attained legendary status at Dean Court in a 15-year spell that resulted in him becoming the club's record appearance maker, before being released by former manager Kevin Bond in 2007.

Fletcher, who will be 37 in June, was winding down his career at non-League Crawley Town when he got the call from Howe.

January 2009: New boss Howe welcomes Fletcher back to Bournemouth

"As soon as Eddie asked me if I was interested in signing, I got out of my contract at Crawley thanks to the manager Steve Evans - so he'll be one of the first people I thank," he explained.

"He said if it had been anyone but Bournemouth, he wouldn't have let me go, as he knew how much this club means to me."

When Howe replaced Jimmy Quinn on New Year's Eve to become the Cherries' third manager of the season, they were seven points adrift of 22nd place, and had recently crashed out of the FA Cup at non-league Blyth Spartans - while ex-England international Darren Anderton had retired.

"I came to three games earlier in the season, and the negativity around the place was terrible," said Fletcher.

"It must have been horrible for the boys to win games but still be on minus points.

"It wasn't the Bournemouth I knew and loved - I think everyone had resigned themselves to going down.

Steve Fletcher celebrates after scoring for Bournemouth in their 2003 play-off final win at the Millennium Stadium
That was right up there with the Millennium Stadium

Steve Fletcher after scoring in the 2-1 win against Grimsby

"But the pivotal game was a 3-1 win against Wycombe in January - my first game back and Eddie's first home game in charge.

"We had nearly 6,000 here that day, and all of a sudden the belief from the squad and the supporters was that 'we can stay up' - just from that one victory."

Howe agrees that bringing Fletcher back was one of the most important decisions of his fledgling managerial career.

"I didn't think it was really a risk in the situation we were in - it was a must," he insisted.

"The big man's getting on in years, but he's a fantastic pro with a fantastic attitude. He's a great influence and can be very proud of himself."

Fletcher can now look back on "an awesome day" and recalling their memorable 5-2 play-off final win against Lincoln at Cardiff in 2003, he conceded that Saturday's game was "right up there with the Millennium Stadium.

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"It was 100 times better than the 'Great Escape' in 1995 where we had nine points at Christmas and stayed up - because we'd got ourselves into that position by not winning games.

"This time, we'd been penalised with 17 points and had to fight against everything happening off the pitch, not knowing if the club's going to be around from week to week and not getting paid.

"But Eddie's made sure we've just concentrated on our jobs on the pitch. We don't know what's happening more than any other supporter, but hopefully it will get resolved now.

"This club should never have been in this position, where we're one game from going into the Conference - it must never happen again.

"On New Year's Day, I was running up and down the line for Crawley at Woking in front of a few hundred people, and thinking 'what am I doing' - so four months down the line, this has just been a dream.

"It's a momentous achievement, and I'm just proud to be part of it."



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see also
Bournemouth 2-1 Grimsby
25 Apr 09 |  League Two
Fletcher set for Cherries record
24 Feb 09 |  Bournemouth
Fletcher seals Cherries return
22 Jan 09 |  Bournemouth
Fletcher keen on Cherries return
21 Jan 09 |  Bournemouth
Crawley beat Terras to Fletcher
23 May 08 |  Crawley
Spireites move to sign Fletcher
14 Jun 07 |  Chesterfield
Club releases Mr Bournemouth
08 May 07 |  England
Bournemouth's cult heroes
15 Apr 05 |  Football Focus
Cherries treble thrills Fletcher
02 Jan 05 |  Bournemouth
Bournemouth win seals promotion
24 May 03 |  League Two


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