Other Names: Dean Court
Cheapest Season Ticket Price: £550
Pie: £3.50 (and homemade)
AFC Bournemouth’s Dean Court is perhaps one of the most intimate grounds that has ever graced the Premier League’s modern era. It boasts a capacity of only 11,360 and is the smallest stadium to ever feature in the League – Oldham’s Boundary Park stadium could in fact host around 10,600, but that was back in the First Division Era. Adding to this, The Vitality Stadium would actually be the smallest in the Championship too, behind even Rotherham’s New York Stadium. However, this has not stopped Eddie Howes’ Bournemouth from mixing it with the big boys in the Premier League and after a slightly worrying 16th place finish in their first season; the Dorset club placed 9th and 12th in their third and fourth seasons respectively, beating the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal on the hallowed Vitality turf. The Cherries currently sit 6th with 20 points and are on course for their best season yet in the Premier League; but how did they get to this point and what’s the story behind the little Dean Court that Bournemouth fans call home?
Now unlike the previous stadium in this series, The Emirates, Dean Court is much older than Arsenal’s modern arena. The ground was constructed in 1910 by Boscombe FC on a little patch of land given to them by the Cooper-Dean family, a rich landowning family in the Bournemouth area – subsequently this is where the name Dean Court comes from. Now the involvement of the Cooper-Deans in the football club does not stop there – even though football experts are split 50/50 on the matter.
We all know that AFC Bournemouth’s nickname is the Cherries, assumedly because of the cherry red colour of their home kit. However, some gurus have proposed otherwise that Bournemouth are called the Cherries because of the cherry farm, owned by the Cooper-Deans, which was positioned next to Dean Court. This would be a slightly more romantic image than just being nicknamed after a colour.
Moving on a few years and the stadium itself only started to resemble slightly what we see now after Boscombe FC reached the Division 3 South of the English Football League. This saw the first major development for the club which then became named Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic. Obviously with greater competition comes greater crowds, and the club’s first game in the Football League at Dean Court, on the 1st September 1923, drew in 7000 locals to witness a draw with Swindon Town.
The old hierarchy of the club saw this as an adequate enough reason to improve the ground’s infrastructure and to do this, they purchased materials from the British Empire Exhibition at the Old Wembley. The new stand they constructed could hold 3,700 sitting fans, and more additions were made to the Cherries’ stadium in 1936, when a covered area was added at the southern end of the ground to protect the Bournemouth & Boscombe Athletic faithful from adverse weather conditions. 12 years later came the next serious development at Dean Court with the club adding a roof to the stand on the western side of the stadium, mainly thanks to the 25,495 who turned out for an FA Cup match against Manchester United in 1948. Taking into consideration the current capacity of the ground, there is no surprise that, still to this day, this is the record attendance at Dean Court.
Any further developments at the Dean Court site were limited until 2001 when the ground was fully renovated due to the footballing progress the side had made. In 1987, a young and spritely Harry Redknapp took the Cherries into the English Second Division for the first time but they were relegated a couple of seasons later after an explosive 1-0 loss on the final day of the season to Leeds United. This marked a very dark day for the town and the football club. Serious violence ensued after the match, mainly on the part of Leeds hooligans, who caused £40,000 worth of damage in the Dorset town and injured many police officers. The consequences for the football club were huge and the Cherries were restricted from hosting home games on Bank Holidays, traditionally a high-gate receipt day, until 2003.
Back to Dean Court and the renovation that took place in 2001 meant the club, which was now AFC Bournemouth, had to play their first few games at AFC Dorchester’s ground. Dean Court, or the Fitness First Stadium as it was known then, was reopened in November as a three-sided ground, with the pitch having been rotated 90 degrees. The empty side of the ground was half-filled in 2005 with temporary seats but this was the extent of Dean Park development in the 2000s, which turned out to be a difficult period for the club.
In the latter stages of the decade, AFC Bournemouth endured some serious financial turbulence and they found themselves on the edge of liquidation in 2008 – supposedly within minutes of missing their administration payment. This meant that ground improvements were very much restricted and in fact when a temporary stand was erected in the 2010/11 season to fill the undeveloped side of Dean Court, it was removed a season later due to diminishing attendances.
The seaside club finally achieved the unthinkable under Eddie Howe’s stewardship and were promoted to the Championship in 2012/13, a few years after being on the brink. A 2,400-seater permanent section was then added, which finished the construction of the Dean Court we know today and have seen in the Premier League since 2015.
Two years ago, AFC Bournemouth released a video online of the proposed extensions to Dean Court which would boost the stadium’s size by 30% to a 14,000 seater capacity. A bigger stand would be built behind one of the goals and the corners of the ground were planned to be filled in. However, unsuccessful negotiations with the stadium landlords Structadene, a property investment firm, have forced the club to search for a new home; with AFC Bournemouth Chairman Jeff Mostyn citing the ridiculous asking price of landowners as the reason behind their looming exit from Dean Court. Restriction also came from the local council, who didn’t agree with any stadium expansion at the current site due to its location. Mostyn has since come out and ensured that AFC Bournemouth will be playing at a completely new stadium by the 2020/21 season ‘to create a legacy of AFC Bournemouth becoming an established Premier League club’.
The eventual exile from their home since 1910 will no doubt be a miss for Cherries’ fans and the wider Premier League in general. The Vitality Stadium undoubtedly offers an intimate matchday experience which is unrivalled. It is a place which has a real rawness and history to it and it shows that glamour isn’t necessarily needed to make a football club successful.
Nevertheless, in a few years’ time we will see AFC Bournemouth in a new stadium which will be much more modern and clinical than Dean Court. Jeff Mostyn and the club will hope that this new ground will reap serious financial benefits to support Eddie Howe’s current high-performing squad and that its development will create new horizons for AFC Bournemouth.