Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
BOURNEMOUTH’S incredible journey from certain collapse, just six-years-ago, to seal a place in the English Premiership on Monday night — and a cash windfall of more than £100 million that comes with that — provided world football with one of its greatest fairy-tales.
Only an incredible 19-goal swing, should Bournemouth lose this weekend, can stop them from taking their place in the Premiership next season and that, too, could be dependent on their rivals winning handsomely.
As the English club, and its city, toasted their finest hour in the team’s 125-year history, one of the heroes who made this improbable dream come true was veteran defender, Simon Francis, who two years ago was the team’s Players’ Player of the Season.
Now, Francis, a veteran who has played for more than half-a-dozen clubs in his professional career and last year signed a three-year deal with the club, can look forward to a substantial pay rise — thanks to the riches that come with playing football in the English Premiership.
Francis is one of the players who shared the dressing room with Peter Ndlovu, when the legendary Zimbabwean forward finally called time on his romance with English football, at the end of the 2003 /2004 season, after a highly successful European adventure in which his silky skills drew comparisons with iconic Irish superstar George Best.
Eleven years after Ndlovu waved goodbye to English football, having arrived as a raw teenager at Coventry City before exploding into a genuine star who would spend about a dozen years in that country’s top two leagues, some of his teammates in his swansong season at Sheffield United continue to scale great heights in the game.
Francis, who struggled for opportunities in that Sheffield United team when Ndlovu was in his final season, has reinvented himself at Bournemouth and was part of the group of players who all, but secured the team’s first ticket into the Premiership next season.
Four years ago, Francis was struggling at Charlton, then a League One side, something he had felt before in a career that has taken him to Grimsby Town, Tranmere Rovers, Bradford and Southend, but has flourished at Bournemouth and finds himself on the verge of even celebrating qualification into the Premiership as a champion of the Championship.
As fate might have it, Francis’ finest hour could come today at his former club Charlton Athletic with victory for Bournemouth and Watford’s result going their way, giving them the ticket into the Premiership next season as champions.
A loss, though, won’t matter much, in terms of their promotion as they have already secured one of the two automatic tickets into the Premiership unless, of course, there is a 19-goal swing against them in today’s match.
“It has been a while since I was there (Charlton). I captained us to victory over them on the opening day of last season when we blew them away. To be honest, I don’t take so much notice of them anymore,” Francis told the Daily Echo.
“It was a year or two of my career which could have gone better, I won’t lie. But it doesn’t mean that much to me now.
“Saturday (today) will be a nice way to end the season and if we can get the three points then you just never know about the title.
“We’ve been up there most of the seasons to finish as champions would be absolutely excellent. It’s in Watford’s hands and if they go up as champions then they deserve it.
“Regardless of their result, we will still be promoted to the Premier League and that is the ultimate aim.”
Not bad for a Bournemouth team that, six years ago, was battling administration and financial ruin, after being deducted 17 points in League Two and facing the real possibility of going out of the Football League.
But there has been an incredible turnaround of fortunes for the team, now owned by a Russian billionaire, and next season they will take their place in the Premiership and all the riches that come with such a promotion.
Francis is not the only member of Peter’s Old Boys Club, in the Zimbabwe ace’s final season in English football, who has been doing well.
Phil Jagielka, the Everton skipper, was part of that Sheffield United dressing room and after being sold for £4 million two years after Ndlovu left, he has grown from strength to strength and, last year, he was named the Toffees skipper to replace the departing Phil Neville.
He continues to lead his club with distinction and after taking them into the Europa League this season, he has also led them to four victories, in four league matches, against Manchester United, including their biggest win over England’s biggest club since 1984 when Everton won 3-0 at Goodison Park last Sunday.
Jagielka signed a long-term deal with Everton, which ends in 2017.
“We are delighted Phil has agreed to commit his long-term future here at Goodison Park. Phil is a hugely important and influential player and I, like many Evertonians, look forward to seeing him play in a Blue shirt for many years to come,” club chief executive, Robert Elstone, said.
Last September, Jagielka scored a screamer of a last-minute equaliser, described by his coach Roberto Martinez as one of the best goals he has seen in his life, to steal a point in a Merseyside Derby against Liverpool.
“When you see someone like Phil Jagielka taking responsibility, someone who has got a lot of unfair criticism from the outside, that’s a real example of how to face adversity, take responsibility and no-one deserves more than him the feeling of scoring such a special goal in front of the Kop,” Martinez told Goal.com.
“That’s as good as I’ve seen. I don’t think I’ve seen a better strike in live football.
“It helps that it’s in the last minute, it’s at Anfield and it’s for my team – that’s why maybe it’s the best strike I’ve ever seen.”
OTHER MEMBERS OF PETER’S SWANSONG SEASON IN ENGLAND
Paddy Kenny, 36 yrs, (goalkeeper) – Ipswich Town; Robert Kozluck, 37 yrs, – IIkeston (Northern Premier League); Robert Page, 40 yrs, – Port Vale manager; Stuart McCall, 50 yrs, – Glasgow Rangers manager; Andy Parkinson, 35 yrs, – Prestatyn Town (Welsh Premier League); Kristian Rogers, 34 yrs, – Port Talbort Town (Welsh Premier League); Wayne Allison, 46 yrs, – Bradford City coaching staff; Steve Kabba, 34 yrs, – retired; Michael Tonge, 32 yrs, – Millwall (on loan from Leeds); Izale McLeod, 30 yrs, – Crawley Town; Mark Rankine, 45 yrs, – Football Agent; Alan Wright, 43 yrs, Blackpool coach; Mike Whitlow, 47 yrs, – head coach, youth team, Burton Albion; Kevin Hurst, 29 yrs, – Southend United; Ian Ross, 29 yrs, – Boston United; Dominic Roma, 29 yrs, – Gainsborough Trinity (Conference North League); Jonathan Forte, 28 yrs, – Oldham Athletic.