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Marc Pugh: I was scraping the barrel before heading to Bournemouth

Marc Pugh’s nine years at Bournemouth have transformed both his career and the club, catapulting them to the Premier League.

It was a remarkable race which resulted in the Cherries more than holding their own against elite opposition to finish in the top half of the table.

In 2010, when Pugh joined a small, old-fashioned club that had just been promoted from League Two, few could have imagined the steep rise that would ensue. For the delicate midfielder, who had previously rebounded in the lower divisions, it was a dream come true.

“It was absolutely amazing. It was amazing for the fans, for the club, for the players. Everyone really participated. The gaffer, Eddie Howe and Jason Tindall, along with the coaching staff, did an absolutely phenomenal job, ”Pugh said.

“They’ve worked tirelessly, day in and day out, to be the best they can be, and they’ve instilled that into the club, from top to bottom. It was an amazing trip and a pleasure to be a part of it. It all came through hard work, determination and the will to succeed.

After rising through the ranks at Burnley, Pugh was released without making a single first-team appearance. He gained experience with Bury and Shrewsbury Town before an excellent season at Hereford United brought him to the club’s attention where he would achieve legendary status.

“I scored three goals against them – two in the home game at Edgar Street and another when we faced them away towards the end of the season,” Pugh said. “When I moved to Bournemouth the scout said he had been watching me for a while.

“I played two very good games at the right time. Sometimes it’s a question of timing in football. They made me shine and the rest is history.

Along with having two of his best performances against Bournemouth, Pugh has scored 13 goals in 40 appearances for a struggling Hereford side. Eddie Howe took note, signing him to a three-year contract, not knowing where it would end up taking him.

“I scratched the barrel, going from club to club, until I was 23 years old. When you sign for Bournemouth in League One, it is only in your wildest dreams that you can find yourself in the Premier League. Sometimes you just have to pinch yourself.

Pugh was among a core of players – Steve Cook, Harry Arter, Simon Francis, Charlie Daniels and Matt Ritchie – who helped the Cherries secure two more promotions. Their solidarity on and off the pitch has been a major factor in the club’s success.

“It was amazing. We had a great relationship and we were very close. We all lived close to each other and we went out for coffee. We had a really good team unity. No character has. tried to disrupt the mood around the place, and it was really lovely.

“Everything was right there. Because most of us were from lower leagues, we wanted this success for ourselves and for our families. To create a better life. Everyone wants to play in the Premier League and compete against the best players in the world. This is what we were striving for.

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READ: Harry Arter: Thought I was as good as foreign PL players, but I was wrong

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Aside from a brief gap at Burnley, Eddie Howe was the manager throughout Bournemouth’s ascent to the top. Pugh enjoyed working with him, appreciating his honesty, work ethic and attention to detail.

“He wants what is best for each individual. I always try to surround myself with positive people and I think he does too.

“He did a lot of work behind the scenes on the training ground. He wanted us to stay on the training ground to improve and develop as players. It was a big deal for me. He made me the player I am today and I have to thank him a lot.

“One of his greatest strengths is his character. He’s very emotional which is a good thing because he knows what every player needs, whether it’s an arm around him or to give him a little boost. He was really good with it.

They have formed a close bond and continue to stay in touch.

“We have had an incredible relationship, not just on a professional level, but also on a personal level. I knew if there was something wrong I could go to his office and talk to him.

“I could have an honest conversation with him. If I was out of the squad I felt very happy to come in and ask what I needed to improve.

“We are very close and we are still talking now. What he has done for club soccer simply cannot be underestimated. He was the first at the door every day and the last to go out. The success the club has enjoyed is not down to luck or chance, it is out of sheer determination and hard work.

In Pugh’s third season with Bournemouth, they won promotion to the Championship and would have secured the title without a late turn on a dramatic final day.

A missed penalty from Brentford allowed Doncaster Rovers to score a game-winning goal in the 94th minute at the break, sending them over the Cherries, who were unable to draw a 0-0 draw with Tranmere Rovers. But even that couldn’t dampen their enthusiasm to reach second tier for the first time in 23 years.

Pugh continued to improve under Howe. Never blessed with speed, he became sharper and more decisive in his movements. Loving to chop in one direction then in the other, he had always supported himself to beat a man and had taken the plunge.

“With the sessions Eddie organized, I got a lot smarter in my game,” he says. “The higher you go, the smarter you have to be on the football field.

“I had to be smarter than the opponent because they were so fast and athletic. I tried to improve my finish and creativity in training, just to be the best version of myself.

After an encouraging season of acclimatization, Bournemouth were at their best on the way to the league title, collecting 90 points and scoring 98 goals.

Pugh contributed with nine, including a hat-trick in an 8-0 loss to Birmingham City, but the most important came against Bolton Wanderers in the penultimate game.

Matt Ritchie’s deep cross hit Pugh, who dropped the ball and pretended to shoot with his right foot before moving it to his left and shooting from the far post. The crowd erupted, setting the tone for a 3-0 victory and the joyous scenes that followed.

“For all the hard work we put in this season, it got us promoted. The celebrations were some of the best of my footballing career, that’s for sure. Everyone came out and had an amazing night because we knew we were going to enter the Premier League. “

Howe added a few players that summer, including Josh King, Glenn Murray and Tyrone Mings, but the Bournemouth side remained weak on the Premier League experience. Of the team that started the opener, a narrow loss to Aston Villa, only four had played at this level before.

Weeks later, Bournemouth claimed their first victory, beating West Ham 4-3 in an epic match at Upton Park. Callum Wilson won a hat-trick, with Pugh also on the scoresheet. At 28, that was the time he had worked his whole life.

“It was an incredible game. We went up 2-0, they brought it down to 2-2. I remember scoring to make it 3-2 and it was my first Premier League goal. Everything else was a bit of a blur because it’s going so fast, and you just have to enjoy it while you’re doing it.

Although Pugh was always convinced he could face the demands of the Premier League, there were still a few test matches against high-quality opponents. One side-back in particular stands out as the toughest he has faced.

“Antonio Valencia, when I played against him at Old Trafford,” Pugh said. “They had 70% possession and he was playing just like a winger. He was staying so high and it was really hard to mark him. He was fast, he was strong, he was good with the ball. He had everything you need in a full back.

In 2018, as Bournemouth started to feel established in the Premier League, the squad were evolving. Money had been spent to get stronger.

Off wide, Ryan Fraser and newcomer David Brooks fared well, leaving Pugh in the shadows. It was difficult to leave Dean Court, but he had to for the sake of his career.

“I had a really honest conversation with Eddie right before I left. It was around November, December and I hadn’t presented much.

“I told him, ‘I need to go out and play some games.’ It was then that I left on loan to go to Hull City. I spent an incredible four or five months there.

“It was really tough leaving Bournemouth but I knew I wasn’t going to play a lot of football and that I wasn’t going to get a new contract. I had an amazing farewell in front of all the fans. one of the best days and it will be remembered for a long time.

Pugh made 312 appearances in total for Bournemouth, scoring 56 goals and contributing to the most successful period in the club’s history. They had never played in the Premier League before, let alone with such fearlessness and attacking intent.

After this period of productive loan at Hull, Pugh joined the Queen’s Park Rangers. Still living on the south coast, there was a lot more travel and the old certainties of football were quickly shattered by the coronavirus pandemic.

Pugh’s contract was not extended due to the financial impact of games played behind closed doors, and he is now clubless after a short stint at Shrewsbury.

Whatever the future, the 33-year-old is already preparing for life after retirement, investing time in his passion for food and fitness.

“I couldn’t boil an egg eight years ago. When we were promoted to the championship I tried to look for ways to improve my performance. I took a nutrition course and learned a lot. He showed me foods that feed you, foods that help recovery, superfoods, that sort of thing.

“I started to cook and loved it. I developed a real passion there. I read endless books and listen to podcasts. I’m crazy about the nutrition and fitness side of things. I consider myself a bit of a health freak now, ”he laughs.

This focus on self-improvement served Pugh well during his rise in the Divisions. Even when playing at the highest level seemed like such a distant prospect, he never wavered in his belief that one day he would. His persistence paid off.

“I had a lot of skeptics. I’ve had a lot of people say I’m not good enough, especially from a young age when I was released by Burnley and Shrewsbury.

“But I always continued to believe. I always imagined that I would play in the Premier League and test myself against the best, and I’m proud that I did.

By Sean Cole


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