Pools to Bournemouth - but is it the end of the road for Fletch?

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AFTER a typically long, tiring League 1 season Stephen Fletcher was more than ready for a break in the sun with his wife and children.

But relaxing around the pool or the beach doesn’t stop his mind ticking football.

That’s the way it’s been for ‘Fletch’ since he was an eager teenager trying to impress then Pools gaffer Cyril Knowles - who spotted the talent and professionalism in a man who loved football and offered him his first full professional contract.

Twenty four years on and that love of the game remains - his professional approach has never faltered.

“If somebody had told me when I started out I would still be playing when I was 40 I would have just laughed,” admits Steve.

But his long career has not developed by chance, insists his dad, Peter, 67, who has followed Steve every step of the way.

“He has always been so, so dedicated,” said Peter, who owns the Princess Helena pub, in the town, with Steve’s mum, Pat, 65.

“When he was a kid it was all he knew, football, and even when he got into his late 30s, that dedication has never faltered.”

Peter recalls going away with Steve and his wife, Lynne, 40, and the couple’s two children, Danni, 15, and 12-year-old Emily in the summer last year. Even then the striker was out running, keeping in shape and preparing for the season ahead.

Peter oozes pride as he chats about Steve’s career - and so he should.

Steve has walked out on to the famous Wembley pitch, scored at the Millennium Stadium and made 728 appearances for Bournemouth since moving south from his home in Hartlepool 21 years ago.

And last season, at 40-years-old, Steve ticked off another of his career-long goals as Bournemouth shrugged off a poor start to hit form and get promoted to the Championship under the guidance of Steve’s long-time friend Eddie Howe.

But his dream of playing even one game in the second tier of the English game may never be realised after he announced his retirement from the playing side of the game earlier this month.

But, as he readily admits, it would be naive of him to completely rule out pulling on the red and black of the club which has a unique place in his heart, and has named a stand after him, ever again.

“Never say never in football,” said Steve - a reflection he knows as a fact with more than two decades in the game.

“I’m in discussions with the manager,” he admits openly.

“The manager and me grew up together, I used to run with him and room with him, we’ve been close for a lot of years.

“We are looking at a few options and in the process of trying to find something which suits both parties.”

While Steve has spent more than 20 years in Bournemouth he admits the first result he always looks for comes Saturday afternoons is that of Hartlepool United. Cue the second bittersweet feeling to the end of the campaign as the two clubs will now be playing two leagues apart following the relegation of his hometown club.

“It’s not nice to see Pools go down,” he said. “They put a little run together and I thought they might have a chance but they just left themselves too much to do after the start they had.”

When he heads home from Turkey, Steve admits he is in “limbo” as to where he goes next.

With the experience of various appearances on Sky, the media route is an option, as is management after he enjoyed his short spell as assistant manager of Bournemouth.

“The media is something I am interested in,” he said.

“And I have done things to make sure that if that opportunity comes along I am ready for it.”

But what about the possibility of heading back to Hartlepool for a place in the dug-out?

“I enjoyed my spell as assistant at Bournemouth, management is something I am interested in,” he said.

“Right now I want to stay in Bournemouth, I don’t want to move away.

“But anyone who says they can’t see themselves doing this or that in football is playing a dangerous game.

“Never say never in this game.”

Regardless of what happens this summer – or for the rest of his career, Steve can look back with pride – as Peter and Pat have done throughout his career.

“Our Steven is absolutely wonderful,” said Pat.

“He’s always been such a professional on and off the field.

“I know there’s no room for sentiment in football but I would love to see him realise his dream of playing in the Championship, even if it’s just for one minute.”