Fletch is pick of bunch for Cherries

Monday 13th May 2013 18:31

Steve Fletcher: A true Bournemouth legend

Steve Fletcher: A true Bournemouth legend

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Bournemouth FanZoner Ash Hover speaks to Cherries legend Steve Fletcher following his decision to hang up his boots for good.

Born 300 miles from Dean Court in 1971, who would have thought Hartlepool-bred Steven Mark Fletcher would fall in love with AFC Bournemouth on the south coast of England.

'Fletch', as he is known to team-mates and Bournemouth faithful alike, was handed a professional contract with Hartlepool in 1989, before going on to establish himself as a regular in Cyril Knowles' starting XI. And it was with Hartlepool that his Bournemouth career began, when then-manager Tony Pulis took a liking to the 6ft 2ins striker and put a bid in for him during the close season.

Since then, Fletcher has etched his name into Cherries folklore, scoring 128 goals in 728 appearances, netting under eight different managers in a red and black career that has lasted a phenomenal 18 seasons at Dean Court.

Fletcher enjoyed many highlights during his time at the club, including scoring at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to help the Cherries to promotion to the third tier of English football via the play-offs in 2003. But Fletch has one clear favourite moment as an AFC Bournemouth player.

"The Grimsby goal," he said. "I've played at Wembley which is an absolute boyhood dream. I've got my one and only hat-trick, broken the club record, scored in the Millennium Stadium in the play-offs and got promoted a few times, but that Grimsby goal meant so much for the club."

To be 10 points adrift from safety in League Two and score the goal that kept the Cherries in the Football League was "incredible", he said.

Having played 514 league games for the club since joining in 1992 and breaking the club record for most league appearances, Fletcher was released at the end of his contract by Kevin Bond - a decision that left the striker devastated having settled down and raised a family on the south coast.

And it was his family that kept Fletcher glued to the south of England. A brief spell at League Two side Chesterfield was cut short due to "family reasons", and he was subsequently left without a club until May 2008, before Steve Evans signed him onto the books at Crawley Town.

But things were never quite the same for Fletcher, who hit the back of the net just seven times during his spell away from the Cherries.

However, in January 2009, 31-year old Eddie Howe, a former team-mate of Fletcher, was named the man to take over management of the Cherries. One of his first jobs? To bring Mr AFC Bournemouth home - a return that Fletch couldn't be happier about, since describing Howe as his "favourite manager", crediting him for "galvanising my career when it was going nowhere".

It was that return season that Fletcher would go on to score the goal against Grimsby that kept the Cherries in the Football League, having pulled off the impossible after being deducted 17 points for going into administration at the end of 2008.

As Fletch began approaching his 40s, he admitted he began "thinking about other things than football", but his love for the game was always the "pivotal factor" in his life. And despite his age, he remained the strong, physical targetman he had always been and his red and black journey was not due to end just yet.

For one of the very few moments in his life, Fletcher was left "speechless" in April 2010, when it was announced that the North Stand at Dean Court was to be named after him - an act that remains, to this day, the only stand to be named after a player who is yet to retire.

Fletcher would go on to play a role on and off the hallowed turf of Dean Court, though, as he became assistant manager, alongside Lee Bradbury, after Eddie Howe departed for Championship side Burnley. And although stepping down just a few months after taking the position to focus on his playing career, Fletch admitted last week he would "like to stay involved with the first team" after his retirement, possibly eyeing another coaching role at the club.

Having turned 40 in the summer of 2012, Fletcher appeared mainly from the bench in what would be his final season at the club. A campaign that saw them promoted to the second tier of English football for just the second time in their 114-year history. Fletcher appeared in a Cherries shirt for the final time in their closing game of the season, an away fixture at Tranmere Rovers, where he came off the bench to a choir of 3,000+ travelling fans all chanting "there's only one Steve Fletcher".

After the game Fletcher was physically moved by the occasion, as he broke out in tears in an emotional interview with AFC Bournemouth's Kelly Somers. Was this to be the end of the road for super Fletch?

"It was the toughest decision I've ever made in my life," he said.

Fletcher hung up his boots for good on May 3 2013 after an incredible 24 years of professional football and admitted he feels "it's the right time to step down", and he can now "open up a new chapter in the life of Steve Fletcher".

"My mind's telling me yes, but my body's telling me no," he said - a tad different to the hit R Kelly song, but Fletcher leaves a huge footballing legacy behind him at AFC Bournemouth, which he admitted is his "one true love". He thought he was 'Peter Pan', thinking his dream could go on forever. But nonetheless, he agreed he could "never have even dreamt about his amazing achievements as a kid, kicking a ball around the streets of Hartlepool".

Although it "broke his heart" to call time on his playing days, he declared he has "spent over half my life on the south coast and I'll spend the rest of my life here and hopefully play a major part in Bournemouth moving forward". The club, as Fletch feels, is "where it belongs now".

To hear more about Fletch's retirement thoughts, visit www.player.afcb.co.uk

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