It is approaching a decade since Eddie Howe started his first spell at Bournemouth and Jason Tindall, who has been alongside him every step of the way, including their 21 months at Burnley, has been casting his mind back to two defeats right at the start of their tenure that left them fearing the worst. “You think the next phone call is going to be: ‘Cheers guys, thanks for standing in but we’ve got so-and-so coming in tomorrow to take the club forward.’”
Howe’s assistant rarely gives interviews and has little inclination to spend time dwelling on the past, but he now feels it is as good a moment as any to persuade him to break both habits. Eight games into their fourth successive season in the top flight and Bournemouth, who were 91st on the league ladder when Howe and Tindall started working together at the start of 2009, are occupying sixth spot, tucked in behind Arsenal and Tottenham and only four points off the pacesetters Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool.
Averaging two goals and two points per game going into Saturday’s visit of Southampton, it has been quite a start and although nobody at Bournemouth is getting carried away, it does raise an interesting question as to what a realistic objective is for a club their size, especially given the power of the so-called big six.
“Just to be the best we can be,” Tindall replies. “Who knows what we can achieve? If we’d had this conversation six years ago [when they returned to Bournemouth from Burnley and took charge of a team at the wrong end of League One], we’d have been in dreamland to think we’d be where we are. We don’t want to put any kind of limits on it, saying we’re never going to do this or that; each year we’re striving to be better.
“It’s almighty tough to try to break into that top six – and I’m not saying that’s where we’re aiming, because we haven’t spoken about it. But when you talk about Man City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham – to try and get anywhere near them is incredibly difficult. We find ourselves amongst them at this minute in time through hard work.”
The Howe and Tindall double act has been an integral part of Bournemouth’s story. Aged 40 and born 14 days apart, they have spent the past 10 years virtually living in one another’s pockets. They share an office at the training ground and occupy the same space in the technical area. “I don’t really see that at many other clubs,” Tindall says. “I’d say I’m up with Ed on the touchline more so than probably any other assistant. We’re constantly talking to each other – it’s the way we’ve always been.”
Tindall is also known for being in someone else’s ear quite a lot. “I know where this is going,” he says, laughing. “I like to think that I get on well with fourth officials. I think I’ve got better with the way I approach them, being respectful. There’s been times as well, don’t you worry about that, where Ed says, ‘Go on, get into them’, so it’s not all my own doing!”
As former Bournemouth teammates who played alongside one another in central defence, the natural assumption is that Howe and Tindall were an obvious partnership. Yet they were never close off the field as players and, in the words of Howe, “didn’t really have a relationship”. When Howe left to join Portsmouth in 2002, they never stayed in touch. Asked whether they socialised together during their playing days, Tindall chuckles as he says: “Only at the Christmas party. And I won’t tell you the outfits he dressed up in.”
As a management duo, however, they clicked straight away. Tindall had been No 2 to Jimmy Quinn, who was sacked on New Year’s Eve in 2008, and he remained in that role when Howe took over. At the time they were the youngest management team in the Football League and not everyone warmed to the sight of two blokes in their early 30s winning matches. “You look across and there’s someone who has managed 300-400 games, you’re 10 or 12 games in and you can tell they’re thinking: ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’”
Those days knocking around League Two provide a frame of reference for Bournemouth’s position now, off as well as on the field. After a summer when they paid a club-record £25m for Jefferson Lerma of Colombia, it seems remarkable to think Howe and Tindall were once putting their hands in their own pockets to cover the cost of a fitness coach and a masseur. “We did that a few times, not just with staffing,” Tindall says. “The money wouldn’t have been there at the club at the time. It set us back a bit but looking back, it was worth it.”
In many respects the thinking back then was exactly the same as it is now, with Howe as driven as ever. Tindall describes Bournemouth’s manager as a “workaholic” and paints a picture of a man who is constantly pushing for improvement. Last season focused minds in that respect. Although Bournemouth finished a respectable 12th, it was regression in terms of the previous campaign and their own view was they had “underperformed”.
Losing the first four matches did not help and also strengthened their determination to “hit the ground running” this season. Fitness levels improved, a couple of extra pre-season friendlies were introduced and plenty of team-building exercises were organised to bring staff and players closer, even though the core of the squad has been together for a long time. There was tactical work, too. “We felt we needed to be better defensively as a team,” Tindall says. “And we did a lot of work on the training ground to try and put that right.”
The notable shift, though, has been at the other end of the pitch, with statistics supporting the perception there is more penetration and a little less possession about Bournemouth this season. Josh King, Callum Wilson, Ryan Fraser and David Brooks, who has proved to be an excellent signing from Sheffield United, have contributed 12 of their 16 Premier League goals. To put that tally in perspective, it took them until Boxing Day to score that many last year.
Like everyone at the club, Tindall has his feet firmly on the ground. There is a tricky run of fixtures around the corner and past experience has taught him how quickly things can change. At the same time, he could be forgiven for thinking back to those early defeats at Darlington and Rotherham and having a little smile. “I never thought for one moment the journey would pan out the way it has,” he says. “And who knows what the next 10 years is going to hold for this football club? Hopefully it’s more of the same. If not better.”