Eddie Howe is currently planning for his second season in charge of Championship side Burnley, and while casting an eye over his past and present counterparts striker and club legend Steve Fletcher discussed the former AFC Bournemouth defender and manager’s Norwegian pop partiality!
With 712 appearances for the club under his belt, the subject of Dean Court’s ‘Steve Fletcher Stand’ is as ideal a candidate as there could ever be to identify the most memorable Bournemouth colleagues of recent times for music taste.
“Past players or managers (thinking)… Eddie Howe, he loves A-Ha! Yeah he went to see them in concert in Bournemouth the other year and he’s obsessed with them, so there you go.”
Steve has chosen the changing room music at the South Coast club in the past and his own collection encompasses old and new, with the 80s ska band fronted by the unmistakeable Buster Bloodvessel his earliest purchase!
“The first record I bought was Bad Manners ‘Special Brew’, I was born in ’72 and it came out in 1980 so I will have been eight years old. Every Saturday I used to spend my pocket money on buying singles from Woolworths, and it was on 7-inch vinyl back then.
“I like a bit of everything, I had musical influences like The Beatles and Elvis even though they were before my time, The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder. Nowadays I like The Killers, Kasabian, Tinie Tempah, Bruce Springsteen, I love U2, just whatever takes my fancy I turn to really.
“I love Eminem, I love Jay-Z, heavy metal I won’t listen to. Cheesy pop as well like Steps I’m not really a big fan of.”
The League One side’s pre-match sound system is relatively straight-laced and in line with a lot of modern musical preferences, though the topic of singing in front of the team opened up Steve’s recent memory to a certain Welsh midfielder’s effort, which he emphatically names as the worst he has witnessed!
“To be fair, before a game the music varies, there’s some hip-hop, some dance, some r&b, I love Oasis and that’s another that gets played. Out of the lads there’s not really any with particularly bad taste, the ones that probably do are those who tend to keep it as their hidden secret!
“I think I’ve got away with singing, when I first came to the club (in 1992) we never had to do it. It’s become popular since and it started as an initiation (at Bournemouth) about two years ago so I missed having to do it when I came back (rejoining the club for his second spell in 2009).
“From the good ones Wes Thomas wasn’t too bad, I think he sang The Drifters which was quite good. Dan Strugnell, one of our youth team players, did ‘Mr. Brightside’ (The Killers).
“Shaun MacDonald – people say they’re not very good before they do it but this geezer was unbelievable! The players have to stand on a chair when they do it and he had his eyes transfixed on something, I don’t know what it was but it wasn’t any of us!
“He did an Oasis song, I think it was ‘Wonderwall’, but he talked it instead. He never looked at anyone – it was from another planet!”
Steve’s start in the professional game came with his hometown club Hartlepool United, joining as a Youth Training Scheme player in 1988 on a two-year apprenticeship. He credits former Tottenham Hotspur and England defender Cyril Knowles as the manager who he owes his career to, after he gave Steve his chance in the first team in August 1990 despite the teenage striker almost expecting to be released after injury troubles and no experience with the senior squad at that point.
“I’d only played a handful of youth and reserve games and was put in the first team squad so it was unbelievable to then have the opportunity to be a professional coming from the youth team. As a hometown lad there were high expectations of me and I bided my time, I wasn’t a regular starter week in week out but I remember my debut away at Chesterfield.
“I scored the winning goal (the third in a 3-2 win for Pools, a tap-in after a rebound off the post) and to be given a professional contract having only played once before that was a dream.”
Hartlepool gained promotion that season from the Fourth Division (now League Two) in 3rd place but Steve’s mentor Knowles had been diagnosed with a brain tumour in early 1991 and the ex-international left-back would sadly pass away that summer. In 1992, Steve made what felt like a move abroad to him when leaving his native North East for Bournemouth on the South Coast, signed by current Stoke City boss Tony Pulis for £30,000. It was to be the beginning of an association with the club that, save a two-year spell away from 2007 to 2009, has lasted for twenty years.
The ‘Great Escape’ of 1994/95 is still fondly remembered by Cherries supporters as Steve played his part in the team surviving in Division Two (now League One) against all the odds under manager Mel Machin after a horrendous start to the campaign. Steve established himself as an integral asset through his influence and typical battling displays in the traditional target man role and a wonderful day arrived in 2003 when promotion to the third tier was secured after relegation the previous year.
Having been beaten by their opponents in the league just a few weeks before, Bournemouth defeated Lincoln City 5-2 at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium with Steve’s half-volley the first goal of a glorious game for Sean O’Driscoll’s side. That game also saw the frontman’s hulk-like ‘shirt behind the head’ celebration, something I saw the following year as he scored for Bournemouth against my team Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough in a 2-0 win in Division Two. The yellow card rule for those kind of celebrations had been an inconsistency at that time but it became a compulsory booking in 2004/05 with Everton’s Tim Cahill memorably being sent off at Manchester City after doing it while already booked. I reminded Steve about his goal at Hillsborough in the mid-week March 2004 game and he places the moment highly in his all-time list.
“It was my 500th game and I’d started doing the celebration in the play-off final the season before and just kept it as my thing to do when I scored. Nowadays you get a yellow card for it but I’m not scoring too many so I don’t have to worry about it!
“To play against Sheffield Wednesday though who were by far the biggest club in the division and to score at Hillsborough, on my 500th game and for the team to win, was great and ranks up there as one of my best memories.”
The 2004/05 season saw Steve break the club appearance record held by his manager Sean O’Driscoll, as well as scoring his first ever career hat-trick when netting all three in a 3-2 victory over Brentford on New Year’s Day 2005. Steve was let go by the club in 2007 by manager at the time Kevin Bond and he spent a season and a half with Chesterfield and Crawley respectively. Bournemouth were relegated from League One in 2008 following a 10-point deduction for entering administration and were docked 17 points the season after. This left them with a fight for Football League survival under young manager and long-time playing servant Eddie Howe but incredibly the club returned from the brink to ensure their League Two safety. Steve had returned ‘home’ in January 2009 and he enjoyed a moment befitting of a fairytale as he got the winner in a 2-1 victory over Grimsby to secure safety from the drop – his 100th league goal preceding a joyous pitch invasion at the final whistle.
‘Super Fletch’ featured regularly as Howe guided the team to promotion back to League One in 2010 with key goals in narrow wins over Torquay United and Crewe Alexandra. He would also become player/assistant manager to Lee Bradbury in 2011 following Howe’s appointment as Burnley manager, a season ending in a remarkable achievement of reaching the play-offs before semi-final disappointment against Huddersfield Town on penalties. Last season he spent a brief spell on loan at League Two Plymouth Argyle as the club survived relegation from a precarious position under Steve’s former Bournemouth teammate and namesake Carl.
Steve had stepped down as Bournemouth assistant in November and scored a dramatic last-minute equaliser in January as the Cherries snatched a 2-2 draw at Walsall – Steve picking up a booking for that old celebration mentioned earlier! He has witnessed the rough and the smooth of the club’s fortunes in his time, including administration on more than one occasion, but sees a great opportunity now for reaping the rewards.
“We had the new stadium in 2001 and as much as everyone loved the old Dean Court it was a huge step in making the club more of an attraction for players. We’ve been in administration twice, had points deducted and seen people lose their jobs and I think there’s a lot of clubs of a similar magnitude who’ve been through the bad times but now is a good period for us.
“We’ve been fortunate enough to have good investment to bring in good quality players and it’s the best the club’s ever been with the way it looks so we just have to replicate it out on the pitch.”
Turning 40 late next month, Steve has yet to decide whether next season will be his last but manager Paul Groves and chairman Eddie Mitchell have made it clear that he has a role to play on and off the field. With Sky Sports punditry and even a cameo in a film on his extracurricular activities list there are certainly options for the seasoned striker.
“First and foremost is to keep playing, I’d love to carry on coaching and the new manager doesn’t mind that. I’ve spoken to the chairman and he wants to utilise me in a lot of ambassadorial stuff so I’ll be helping the club in that way and I’ll be able to get an insight into that side of things if I want to go down that route in the future.
“There’s a film in September I’m in and if I fall into that kind of stuff in the future so be it but it’s not something I’m pursuing. Everything’s second place at the moment to training and being involved with playing but it’s good to have your finger in a lot of pies.”
The focal point of many Bournemouth attacking plays over the last two decades, winning a place in supporter’s hearts through his endeavours, important goals and many, many assists, Steve, who had his testimonial against Portsmouth in 2003, is synonymous with the club. From his debut in 1992 against Preston North End, to partnering close to a century of strike partners in the red and black and recovering from numerous operations to still be raring to go as he enters another year at the club he loves, Steve has been through it all with the Cherries and not many have a stand named after them while they’re still playing. Many have come up against him and teammates have come and gone, so a great way to end is by asking his toughest opponent and a 5-a-side line-up he’d choose comprising the best he has ever played alongside.
“When you’ve played as long as I have you become friends and associate with a lot of the players you come up against but Andy Morrison who played for teams like Manchester City and Huddersfield was an absolute animal! I was talking to Paul Wotton at Plymouth about him and with it being his hometown club he was telling me some of the stories from when Andy used to play there.
“He’s not the type of lad who you could say ‘we’ll sort it out in the tunnel afterwards’ to! He was a handy lad off the pitch so when he gave you a clout from behind I think it was best not to say anything!
“The best I’ve played with, does it count if we’ve only had them on loan? Jermain Defoe, James Hayter, and Rio Ferdinand and John O’Shea even though we only had them for about ten games.
“I’m trying to think of some of the best keepers I’ve played with… (after suggesting Neil Moss to him having remembered the Bournemouth fans chanting his name at Hillsborough once!) yeah go on I’ll have Mossy, he’ll moan otherwise!”