Monday, 5 August 2013

Part 3: Rolling back the years with Steve Fletcher

Being released by Kevin Bond was probably the lowest point of Steve Fletcher's career in 2007. Callum Hart was also let go that year. Steve remembers Callum well with his loud coloured hair. "He was a strange one," he said. Steve remembers Callum being told to sort his hair out by the manager as it had two colours in it and it was a mess. Callum asked Steve what he should do. Steve replied "tone it down a bit." Callum though thought it best to turn up the heat and added another colour to his hair which was the last straw for Bond and he never played again for the Cherries.

Comedian Scott Charlton.
Steve remembers that when he was released at the time "it was devastating, but it also turned out to be the best thing". Sean O'Driscoll had left for Doncaster and Sam Vokes had come in and played well to keep Fletch out of the team. Every member of the squad went to see Kevin Bond, each half hour, to see what contract they would be offered. All the lads seemed to think Fletcher would be at least offered a one-year contract. But when Fletch went in he had hardly reached the chair before Kevin said, "Sorry Fletch, I can't offer you anything." Fletch was in shock but asked if he could at least help train the other strikers and bring them on, but Bond had decided it was time for Fletcher to move on.

Steve held it together until he saw all the messages of support for him on the web. There were some 750 messages of support and he broke down by the time he had read the second one. "It was the most terrible part of my career," he recalled. After 15 years he just got used to it. Then it was all taken away from him.But from then on he took nothing for granted and played every day as if it was his last. Steve feels he is now a better person and appreciates things off the pitch more now.

The Chesterfield move was easy for Fletch to take. He was 36 then and Lee Richardson offered him the chance to just have two days training a week and play the match on Saturday. "He made me feel wanted and it was curiosity as well as common courtesy that made me see what they had to offer," said Steve. He still has lots of supporters from those days and every time he goes to chesterfield they would sing "show us your guns." It usually would happen within the first few minutes of the game and Steve loved the support he would get from that crowd.

The Steve Evans case at Crawley Town was a bit different. "Steve Evans is the maddest person in football," says Steve. "He's off the planet." But he means it in the nicest of ways. Again it was a good move for Steve, it was only a two hour drive away and he only had to train a couple of times a week. Mark Stein was also at the club as physio.

Back to Bournemouth
It was a strange period of 10 days when Eddie Howe suddenly became manager at AFC Bournemouth and decided he wanted Big Fletch back. It was New Year's Day when Eddie got the job and Steve was still in contract having only been at Crawley for six months. He had six months to go on his contract and Crawley had a year's option on him. When Eddie called Steve said I can't get out of it. But Eddie was sure that he could sort it. Fletch was too scared to ask Steve Evans if he could leave, but Eddie said he would call him. "We were like two school boys," says Steve. "Go on then, do it," he told Eddie. Crawley were away at a game on a Tuesday night when Evans got the call from Eddie, just an hour and a half before the start of the game. He pulled Steve to one side and said: "You'll never guess who has been on the phone." Steve acted as if he hadn't a clue. When he was told it was Eddie he said: "No, really? What an earth could he want?"

The deal was pretty much done.  "Don't you b... well go and get injured," said Eddie to Steve. It was an easy decision for Steve. Evans knew he wanted to go and let him leave without any constraints as long as he could get a replacement in within 24 hours and Evans managed to do that. Evans knew what AFC Bournemouth meant to Steve Fletcher. If it was any other club he would not have let Steve go but if had been any other club Fletcher would not be in Evans office asking to go. That was the season of the great escape from -17 points. The Cherries were still 10 points adrift at Christmas.

Eddie Howe as manager
Working with Eddie has always been easy for Steve. They used to room mate together. Joining the team again when they were in such desperate need was surreal. Eddie had already lost his first two games in charge to Rotherham and Darlington. When Steve came down Eddie made the players line up and give Steve a guard of honour on the training pitch. Steve felt wanted again - he had come home.

The 3:1 win against top of the table Wycombe just set the team up to have the belief to stay up. Regarding Eddie Steve just says he is "top draw". "I respect him more than any other manager," he adds. The last two games against Chester and Grimsby were two of the most difficult games Steve has ever played in, but the team's character got them though. The team spirit with players like Brett Pitman, Liam Feeney, Jason Pearce and Anton Robinson was a bond that was so very strong. the goal Steve scored against Grimsby is his favourite moment of his career. "It was my defining  moment," he said. We had no chairman or director. The small squad meant Jayden Stockley was taken out of school to play.


The league One play-offs against Huddersfield in 2010-11 were another massive moment for Steve. It was his last chance to get to lay Championship football and he thought we were going to do it when we were 3:2 up in extra-time, but it was not to be. "It was the best team I played with," he said. "I was in floods of tears at the final whistle."

Then to see the team ripped apart with other clubs coming in for the players was simply heartbreaking. Only Jalal survived from the starting eleven against Huddersfield at the start of next season. But Steve does not blame the players they wanted Championship football and they deserved the chance to play at the higher level.

Assistant manager
The role as assistant manager under Lee Bradbury came about because Eddie Mitchell said I want you two to manage the club but don't mind which one is the manager. We had to work it out as to who was best to manage. Steve wanted to play on so therefore Lee took the manager's job. Now, Steve wishes he had not decided to play on. "It was the wrong decision. It's too much to play and be assistant manager." the duo did okay though going 11 games undefeated a record they finally lost when the had a defeat to Exeter City. Steve still loves his Walsall away goal when the shirt came off and he did his run. "The whole thing was a whirlwind and I wouldn't change anything," he said.

Eddie's return
Talking of Eddie and Jason's return Steve said he had no idea it would happen. "I was just shocked and overjoyed," says Steve. Fletcher had been at Plymouth with Carl Fletcher on loan carrying out another mini great escape. Paul and Shaun didn't manage to get it right on the pitch with the results and something had to change. Steve would have been outside with the fans when it was announced Eddie Howe was coming back. He recalls that not many Chairman would have been brave  enough to go out and face the crowd after the Walsall game, but Eddie Mitchell wants what is best for the club. "Bournemouth had lost its spark. Eddie was the missing ingredient," said Fletcher. "We were playing some good football, but simply weren't hurting teams."

The Eddie Howe factor is something special. "He will stay out and work with you on your game and be the last one in," said Steve. "He will work on the flaws in your game." When the team beat top of the table Tranmere 3:1 it was like deja vu. "A lady fan said to me it didn't matter about the result today, we got Eddie Howe back. I know what she meant, the result did matter but she had got her football team back that day."

Now everything is geared for Championship football. We have the stadium and training facilities and we do everything together.

Fletch's all time AFCB eleven - only slightly influenced by Eddie Howe who asked to see his sheet of paper and said "you have got to be kidding" with some of Steve's choices!

                                                            Neil Moss
Neil Young                             Ian Cox                  Eddie Howe           Warren Cummings

Wade Elliott                 Carl Fletcher (capt)         Matt Holland        Garreth O'Connor

                                          Mark Stein                James Hayter

Subs: Richard Hughes, Steve Robinson, Steve Jones, Brett Pitman, Efan Ekoku, Marc Pugh.

A number of personal items of Steve Fletcher's were auctioned off on the night including his last pair of boots that he wore for the Tranmere away game which went for £350. There was also an AFCB shirt signed by all the current squad which went for £150. Some poster displays of famous players were also won in the draw.

1966 World Cup England team signatures.
Tom Finney collection
English football legends.

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