Bournemouth's man of the people

Stephen Brenkley meets Trevor Watkins, the lawman turned saviour at Dean Court
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The Independent Online
Trevor Wat-kins was seven when his dad took him to Dean Court to see AFC Bournemouthfor the first time. They stood two-thirds of the way down the terrace at the Brighton Beach End, the Cherries beat Walsall 1-0 and Watkins was captivated for life.

As he grew up, went to university and became a lawyer in the City, Watkins watched from various places in the tree-lined stadium but his passion was unchanged. The Cherries were simply his team. Two months ago this cosy relationship was in serious danger of imminent severance.

The club, it was revealed, were more than pounds 4m in debt of which some pounds 2m was owed to their bankers, they were losing pounds 50,000 a month, the Inland Revenue was seeking a winding-up order in respect of its claim of pounds 250,000 and the Receiver had been summoned. Watkins knew he must act.

He was not alone in coming forward. Players and ex-players from Ted McDougall to Jamie Redknapp spoke, a community wore its collective heart on its sleeve and raised pounds 33,000 in a single night at a public meeting, a documentary film presented by Buster Merrifield called Pick of the Cherries will be out on Tuesday. But Watkins, 31, has become the standard bearer for all those thousands of half-forgotten fans for whom there is football life outside, often way outside, the Premiership. At first, he offered the expertise of his firm of solicitors to a board which was not only beleaguered but about to take Bournemouth out of the League.

Realising that they might be beyond salvaging, he was instrumental in setting up the AFC Bournemouth Trust. This was initially to enable the club to pay some of their outstanding creditors, not least collectors of various taxes. But gradually Watkins and his co-trustee, Ken Dando, who were elected by popular vote at the fervent public meeting late in January, realised that the trust could mount its own takeover bid. The plan now is for the community to own its own club and Watkins is already talking of ground redevelopment. He has postponed his planned October wedding.

The Trust received their first and vital legal fillip last Thursday when the Revenue's winding up petition was adjourned until 15 May. "I am neither relieved nor delighted by it," Watkins said. "I don't feel any emotion. It's very odd considering how much it means to me but perhaps I daren't show my feelings. There is still much to do, tough decisions ahead."

Still, such composure cannot conceal the depth of his affinity. In a packed train carriage on the way to a television interview after the adjournment of the hearing, Watkins said: "This club has been there for almost 100 years - it deserves to be preserved.

"The public meeting was unbelievable in a way. It's not something that you can explain easily perhaps. You know when you support a team like Bournemouth that you're going to get something to cheer every 10 years which keeps you going."

In this latter estimate, Watkins, himself a keen player of limited talent, may be seeing the world through cherry-tinted glasses. The club spent the first 47 seasons of their league existence in the Third Division (South) and the Third Division. They were runners-up in the former in 1947 and reached the quarter- finals of the FA Cup in 1958.

There have been three promotions, one to the old Second Division, and three relegations since, a defeat of Manchester United in the FA Cup in 1984 and precious little else. Their average League position since the war is 57th and they are likely to occupy almost exactly that this season. They are also likely to maintain, and could even reduce, a more startling statistic. In the post-war seasons, Bournemouth have conceded an average of 1.25 goals a game, a defensive record behind only Manchester United and Liverpool. Mel Machin's side have conceded 38 goals in 39 matches this season.

"The players have been remarkable throughout all this," said Watkins, who specialises in litigation. "But the whole thing has been remarkable. We are now in a position to do a deal."

This might be a trifle optimistic, for while the trust has pledges of more than pounds 1m it has so far only pounds 160,000 in the bank. Watkins insists that his hard-nosed instincts as a solicitor will outweigh his emotional ties as a fan. He now envisages a footballing utopia cum leisure complex, owned by the community for the community.

He should be wished well but if it happens it will be intriguing to see who has to go when the fans, as they presumably will, start chanting at some future date: "Sack the board."

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