The truth behind Lewis Grabban’s attempted summer move to Bournemouth, why our fans are starting to fall out, the myth of the Fairytale Cherries and everything you need to know about a hoooge match. Dan Brigham talks to Bournemouth fan and writer Gareth Davies
Dan: Hi Gareth. Best get this one out of the way, then: Lewis Grabban. Or, as he appears to be more commonly referred to in Norwich, Shithead Grabban. I've always rated him, and felt he can score goals in the Premier League, but after everything that went on it was really time he left.
I'm not so keen on him going to a relegation rival, but it's difficult to turn down so much money for someone who's not even on the Norwich bench. I remember him being booed by the Bournemouth fans last season, so how's the reaction to him returning gone down? And do you think he's likely to start much this season, or are Benik Afobe and Glenn Murray going to be ahead of him?
Gareth: Who? Him? Oh well, as you’ve asked nicely, I will give my two penneth’s worth: Lewis Grabban is a very good footballer; we agree on that one at least. He must be good, or why else would Norwich pay all that money for him? We laughed all the way to the bank as a ‘good’ player isn’t worth £3 million, nor £8 million for that matter, but let’s get back to where it all started.
Grabban scored 20+ goals in our first Championship season and so instantly became our hottest property without actually setting the world on fire. But he scored 20+ goals you say? He did, but missed as many chances again.
Then Norwich come knocking and even us, moneybags Bournemouth, couldn’t turn down your offer. Poor old Lewis became public enemy number one. Took the money and run didn’t he. No, he went to a club that at the time, June 2014, looked far better equipped to get into the Premier League. He thought that this would be an improved career move – I would have too. But for some reason, reasons only known to Lewis Grabban, it didn’t work out at Norwich.
The Rotherham incident was unfortunate and looked bad for Grabban and Norwich, but I felt for the poor bugger. It was obvious that he wanted out and Alex Neil was digging his heels in; why not just let him go? As you said, perhaps it was because Bournemouth are considered one of Norwich’s main relegation rivals? Or that Neil hates us like all your fans do? Possibly a bit of the first, nothing to do with the second, obviously, but more likely the explanation was that Grabban didn’t become a Cherry in August because the deal to take Dwight Gayle from Palace to Norwich collapsed.
In fact I know for certain that was the explanation: Grabban was sat in the Bournemouth car park waiting for the deal to be confirmed.
Bit of karma, said many of our fans: wouldn’t want him back anyway, poor man’s Callum Wilson. Then our Cal makes a mess of his knee at Stoke and, bollocks, we need a striker. Hang on, I know somebody, thought the messiah – that’s Eddie Howe by the way, not Grant Holt – Grabban is still not even making the bench, we’ll pay a stupid amount because we’re not a fairytale anymore.
The rest you know so let’s cut to the chase: it’s a good deal for both clubs, we paid too much but if it keeps us up who cares and everybody who hated him 18 months ago are now welcoming back like the prodigal son.
Will he actually play? I’m not sure although I would say it’s between Grabban and Afobe to play that Wilson role. Howe rates Murray as more of an impact sub as his lack of speed doesn’t really fit in with the Bournemouth mandate of forwards with pace, but he is useful late in a game to come on and score winners at Chelsea, for example.
Dan: So Grabban did nearly sign in the summer? Well, at least we got a point against Arsenal by keeping him…
Was the reported £3m bid for John Ruddy genuine, and do you think Bournemouth will be back in for him? And where else are you targetting in the transfer window? I still think having Andrew Surman as your holding midfielder - as neat as his passing is, and as hard as he works – is one of your major weaknesses this season.
Gareth: I believe there was some interest in Ruddy, but did we bid £3 million? I would think not and am led to believe any move for Ruddy was part of the Grabban deal. I can’t see us going back in during this window as Artur Boruc has been inspired since returning from injury and locking himself in a dark room for a fortnight after gifting Harry Kane a hat-trick against Spurs back in October. Everybody wrote him off, me included, but he’s been brilliant and made two incredible saves against West Ham on Tuesday so I can’t see us bringing in another ’keeper.
As for further additions, well, we wanted a striker and have got two already so that’s one box ticked, but I would say a central midfielder is also a priority. Granted Harry Arter, Dan Gosling and Surman have been great – safe to say the latter’s career has blossomed after leaving Norwich, sorry – but if one of those get injured we’re in trouble. Jonathan de Guzman, the Napoli midfielder who played for Swansea a few years ago, is a name that won’t go away so we’ll wait and see.
Dan: A lot of Norwich fans seem rather bitter about Bournemouth's money (usually the same fans who want us to spend more money...). I think if you can't get excited about a small club playing some cracking football under a young manager in their first-ever top-flight season, then maybe you're into football for all the wrong reasons.
However, it's probably true that the fairytale story has just been exploded in a shower of dollars. You might still have a League 1 ground, but you're very much offering top-half Premier League money now. Do you think it's sustainable, and how does it differ from what happened to the likes of Portsmouth, QPR and Southampton?
Gareth: Bitter? You lot are getting like Watford! What is it with clubs in yellow? Wolves are at it too, we’ve only got Oxford to piss off and that’s the lot!
Seriously though, it’s that clubs are genuinely worried about an outsider upsetting the establishment. I’ve lost count of the times the small ground and fanbase dig has been fired in and to clear this up beyond all reasonable doubt, we never would have got to the Premier League without money.
But you need the right people to spend it and right players to earn it. Howe, as you alluded too, has got us playing some great football and surely it’s good for the game to have a club with a story that’s a little different to the rest. Some are still saying that the media darlings, fairytale club etc are kidding everyone by paying huge transfer fees in this window. Well, let me tell those clowns something: the fairytale ended as soon as promotion to the promised land was attained. A £100m TV deal might have something to do with that, not a Russian petrochemical magnate who has invested around £20m before this season.
Is it sustainable? Probably not, but are Chelsea sustainable? Are Manchester City sustainable? No and no but if someone’s prepared to fund a project, then it will be until they decide otherwise.
Dan: The bitterness also seemed to work both ways. There’s quite a lot of anti-Norwich sentiment on the Bournemouth messages boards and in the comment sections of the local paper. Seems sad really – we're two promoted sides playing good football – but are you expecting a testy atmosphere on Saturday?
Gareth: It does work ways, which is a real shame. I’ve always had a soft spot for Norwich, my best mate went to University there, they’ve always been renowned for have a passionate support and then there’s Delia. Any club who lets a pissed celebrity cook onto the pitch at half-time to encourage supporters to back the team are a good bunch if you ask me.
Trouble is though, social media, message boards etc just give idiots a vehicle to express their views and that starts a tit-for-tat feud. Pathetic, really, and thankfully it won’t have any bearing on Saturday’s atmosphere. It will be tense, but that’s got nothing to do with jousting keyboard warriors or Grabban, just the fact it’s a huge Premier League game for both sides.
Dan: It is hooge. After we both suffered 3-1 defeats in mid-week – yours was Dimitri Payet-inspired and ours was Gary O'Neill-lunging-in-like-a-right-bollock-inspired – has this become a must-win for Bournemouth do you think?
After a good run before Christmas, Bournemouth haven't won in their last four matches and there seems to be a lot riding on this one, with Sunderland's and Newcastle's form picking up a bit.
Gareth: Must win for both sides. Obvious I know, but winning games against the teams in a similar situation to ourselves is an absolute necessity. Although we haven’t won since before Christmas, we’ve still played ok, not in the second half on Tuesday unsurprisingly, but like I said previously, this is a si- pointer and I would struggle to find anybody to disagree.
Both the North-East teams have improved, but the transfer window will be vital. I fear for Swansea – when your captain jumps ship to one of your relegation rivals then alarm bells are bound to ring. Villa have gone so with Swansea looking a mess too, I think that’s two places filled. The third, who knows? Three points for either Norwich or Bournemouth on Saturday will go a long way towards it not being them.
Dan: Has anything changed since Norwich won easily at Carrow Road back in September? Any personnel changes or tinkering with the style of play? How do you see the team being set-up on Saturday?
Gareth: Lots! Captain and top scorer from last season suffering long-term injuries, more investment at board level and more importantly, Howe has adapted his eye-catching brand of play to suit the rigours of Premier League football. Yes we’re still attack minded, but playing an extra man in midfield has tightened things up defensively no end after a couple of real thumpings back in the autumn.
I can’t see Howe deviating from his now preferred 4-5-1, but who plays the lone striker role will be key. Afobe? Grabban? Regardless of our opponents, I think Grabban is better suited to playing that way opposed to Afobe. Yes the ex-Wolves man is big, strong and powerful, but will he stretch centre-halves like Grabban does, thus setting up attacking opportunities for midfield workhorses Arter and Gosling? I’m not so sure.
Dan: Finally, what's your score prediction and where do you think both teams will finish at the end of the season?
Gareth: Grabban to score a hat-trick? Get dogs abuse from the visiting fans? Or score the winner for us? All are not unthinkable, but regardless of who scores and how, I would take a win of any kind.
We need 6 to 7 wins to stay in the Premier League and 3 points on Saturday would be another crossed of that list. I’m going for 2-0 Bournemouth and you-know-who will be somehow involved in something that will get lips moving and keyboards working overtime come 17.15.
As for both clubs’ final position, I think there are at least three teams that are worse than Bournemouth although a lot hinges on the new signings gelling with the rest of the squad pretty much straight away. Regarding Norwich, I think they are one of those teams that over the course of 38 games will finish below Bournemouth, but remain a Premier League club for 2016-17.
Dan: Thanks Gareth. We’ve got a terrific record (Newcastle aside) against teams around us in the league, and that Wembley win in May seems to have taught us how to play in high-pressure games. So I’m going for 2-1 Norwich, with Grabban missing a sitter/scoring an equaliser in injury time…
Gareth Davies is a freelance writer and contributor to Bournemouth's award-winning match programme. You can follow him on Twitter at @garphied