It is not often supporters pay £60 to watch their team suffer a thrashing and feel they have seen value for money, but Bournemouth’s fans were at Dean Court last night to see their opposition.
Real Madrid's presence on the south coast was highly-priced, for the Cherries and their fans, but the world's most glamorous football team delivered on their reputation. For many of the 11,722 present this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance chance to watch players normally seen only on television, in particular Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese troubadour unveiled his full repertoire of flicks and tricks thrilling a support who even cheered when he scored a trademark free-kick against their own team.
Ronaldo went on to score twice as Real waltzed to an easy victory against the newly-promoted Championship side. The margin of victory was substantial but the Cherries were not humiliated. Composed on the ball when they got possession, prepared to pass and play, they were a credit to their manager Eddie Howe. But for large parts of the match Real were camped on the edge of their area and, unsurprisingly, had a far sharper cutting edge.
The most incongruous friendly since Juventus chose Notts County to open their new stadium came about a chance conversation between the son of chairman Eddie Mitchell and a friend with good contacts. Real said 'yes', but at a price – believed to be £1m. Thus the £60 tickets (kids £30) sparking outrage among some fans, but eagerly snapped up by many others. Even with corporate hospitality retailing at £180 a head Bournemouth were not getting rich last night. This was a profile-raising exercise.
Bournemouth's players admitted they were disbelieving when the fixture was announced but proof that the fairytale was true came with Real's team-sheet. Aside from a trio of Confederations Cup combatants (Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Marcelo) who remain on holiday it was a near full-strength side. Ronaldo was in, along with Karim Benzema, Mesut Ozil, Luka Modric and Pepe. Isco, the £24m summer signing from Malaga was also included though £34m Asier Illarramendi was, like Arsenal target Gonzalo Higuain, on the bench.
Bournemouth, as befits a club with the Legends Cafe & Bistro built into the main stand, had a fabled name of their own. However Ted MacDougall, whose nine goals against Margate for the Cherries in 1971 remain an individual FA Cup goalscoring record, was here to open the new South Stand which is named after him. It's 2,500 occupants faced the sun but were relieved simply to be in, their tickets having been sold on a sale-or-return in midweek basis before the stand's safety certificate was granted.
When the players emerged the ground was a sea of cameraphones. Bournemouth had one advantage: Real only began training on Monday and this was the first game under Carlo Ancelotti's management, Bournemouth have been back for weeks and recently returned from a tour of Switzerland. That helped them match Real for the opening 20 minutes as the Spanish giants sought their stride with Brett Pitman going close to chipping the Cherries into the lead. However, Ronaldo had already sent a free-kick fizzing just over and had a backheeled shot saved by Darryl Flahavan. The keeper kept a clean sheet and was on the winning side the last time he faced Ronaldo – in Southend United's 2006 League Cup victory over Manchester United. This was to be a more chastening experience. After 21 minutes Modric was brought down 30 yards out and Ronaldo whipped the free-kick inside the far post.
Mohamed Coulibaly brought Diego Lopez into action for the first time with a low shot in response but Real stepped up a gear scoring three times in five minutes either side of the break. Isco slipped a pass though to Ronaldo who dummied Flahaven to the floor before he tapped in; Sami Khedira stabbed in an Isco corner; then, after Real changed their entire team at the break, Higuain strode through to score. The match became a rout, but at least it was a rout against stellar names such as Kaka, who hit the bar, and Angel de Maria, who added a fifth before Brazilian recruit Casemiro completed the scoring.
Howe said his players were sombre in defeat, being disappointed to lose, but the sight which summed up the mood of the night was that if home fans lining up to take photographs of the scoreboard at the final whistle to commemorate a memorable defeat.
'The club has been through so much in recent years," said Howe, "this was a special day for the fans who endured the tough times.'