IT has been described the ultimate rags to riches success story.

But in truth there are no words that do justice to the highs and lows experienced by AFC Bournemouth and their supporters over the past two decades.

The club play their first Premier League match on Saturday, 18 years after fans first faced the prospect of their team being consigned to the history books.

Money had been tight for some time, but when the receivers were called in, the reality shocked everyone.

Matt Holland, team captain at the time, recalled: "The players knew something was wrong because there were many occasions when we hadn't been paid on time. It was a common occurrence for the club to wait for a home game so they could use the gate receipts to pay the players.

"But on the Friday before we were due to play Bristol City, the receivers came in and said to the players it was up to us whether we wanted to continue playing. We could forfeit the fixtures instead. Had we said we didn't want to play, we could have all left on free transfers.

"We had a meeting on our own and every single player said no, they wanted to play.

"We went to Bristol City who were near the top of the table and beat them 1-0, I think. That showed the spirit and togetherness within what was a very young team."

A few days later, a nervous Matt took to the stage at the Winter Gardens concert hall to address around 3,000 anxious Cherries fans, telling them that camaraderie in the dressing room was strong and they would be trying to carry on as normal.

"I was only young and I hadn't been in the game that long. It was a pretty daunting experience," he said.

A staggering £35,000 was raised that night and the meeting provided a platform for a small group of supporters who had set up a trust fund in the hope of buying the club.

The most prominent of them, Trevor Watkins, said: "When I was at the Winter Gardens at 4.30pm on that Tuesday, having only created the trust two hours earlier, to see people queuing up and to hear the noise they made, to have almost as many people as at the last home game, that was a tremendous positive message to everybody that we had something worth saving.

The Trust Fund bought the club, enabling the Cherries to make their first ever Wembley appearance, against Grimsby in the final of the Auto Windshield Trophy in 1998.

In April 2001, the Cherries moved out of Dean Court while their new stadium was built.

Their return in November 2001 was a triumphant one, beating Wrexham 3-0, but the club ended the season with relegation to the third division.

The following season, financial problems resurfaced with a vengeance and the club was forced to launch a Save Our Stadium appeal.

Supporters were asked to raise £2million in six to eight weeks. New chairman Peter Phillips launched Cherryshare, enabling supporters to buy shares. It raised around £700,000, enabling the club to retain ownership of the ground, but problems remained.

On the pitch, the Cherries were in fine form. The season ended with an amazing play-off final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, where AFC Bournemouth beat Lincoln City 5-2 to secure a return to Division Two.

But in 2004, with Bristol and West Investments PLC applying to repossess the stadium, fans were again asked to bail out the club through Cherryshare II. Selling the stadium was deemed the only way to secure the club's long-term future.

Two months later the club began negotiations with Structadene, which bought the stadium in December.

The Cherries’ £7million debt mountain had been reduced to around £2.24m but the club now had substantial rental payments to meet and spent the next few years trying to bring in new revenue.

HM Revenue and Customs served a winding-up order on the club, and the Cherries went into administration in February 2008 with debts of £4m, resulting in a 10-point deduction and relegation to League 2.

It was probably only the club’s on-the-field success that kept the Cherries alive. Despite starting the 2008/9 season on minus 17 points, former player Eddie Howe, who had returned to manage the club he supported as a child, galvanised the team to perform the greatest of all Great Escapes and stay up.

There were more financial problems and legal actions and in 2010 another HMRC winding-up order. Despite a threadbare squad and a player embargo, the club secured promotion to League One.

There was real disappointment when Howe and assistant manager Jason Tindall left the club to go to Burnley in 2011 but the club found momentum on the pitch and almost made it back-to-back promotions.

The 2011/12 season would have been unmemorable, but for the arrival of Russian millionaire Max Demin as a shareholder. His investment, combined with the return of Howe and Tindall, saw the club clinch promotion to the Championship in 2012/13.

Most fans couldn’t imagine anything better – until this year.

Dorset Echo:

A print of the 1899 Boscombe FC team

The early days of AFC Bournemouth, by Michaela Horsfield 

THE Cherries story began over a century ago, when many football teams in the town, with the exception of the Poppies, were connected to transport, water, electricity and gas companies.

Boscombe FC, as it was then known, emerged from the disbandment of Boscombe St John's Lads' Institute in 1899 after a small group met at a house in Gladstone Road, Boscombe.

Mike Baldwin found a large framed picture of the first team some years ago when he was renovating his home in Malvern Road, Bournemouth.

"There can't have been many pictures like this one as it has a pencil signature of the photographer W.Hazel of the Royal Central Photo Co., Bournemouth, on the front. To have your picture taken then would have been expensive," he said.

One of the players in the first team was Eddie Richardson, who lived in Ashley Road, Boscombe. He stayed with the club for about seven years.

"Whilst he was with Boscombe he received three silver medals," said his proud grandson John Richardson from Southbourne.

"One medal was from the Dorset FA for the 1905-06 season and the other two were awarded in 1906 and 1907 and were from Hampshire FA".

Eddie's son Arthur emigrated to Australia where he played football as a semi-professional in the 1920s.

Janette Paulley's great grandfather Fred 'Bimbo' Boys, was also one of Boscombe's first players although he is not in the team photograph.

She has a couple of posters of his early football career. One is when he played in the Bournemouth and District Junior Football League Inter League match in April 1899 at Pokesdown Football Ground in Castlemain Road. Admission was threepence and women watched free.

The other poster is of the Hampshire Junior Cup 2nd round when Boscombe FC played Lymington at Pokesdown on November 17 in 1899. Admission was still the same but all had to pay.

"Fred said the team used to get changed at the Pine Cliff Hotel and sixpence was put in their boots after the game as payment", said Janette of Southbourne whose brother Ashley Coombes played for Poole Town in the 1970s.

Training was seen as unnecessary. Occasionally they met outside in Pokesdown in the evening to save the cost of hiring committee rooms.

Boscombe's first match in the Bournemouth and District Junior League against Christchurch Royal Artillery in October 1899 ended in defeat.

It cost the club £5 10s a season to hire the pitch at Castlemain Road before they moved to Kings Park.

Boscombe didn't win anything until 1905-6 season when they lifted the Hampshire Junior Cup and continued to have success. In 1923 they were accepted into the Football League and became Bournemouth and Boscombe Athletic FC.

In 1949 the club celebrated its golden jubilee with three weekend social functions including an Old Players' Dinner at the Prince's Hall, Grand Hotel, Bournemouth, attended by 70 former players.

The event was covered extensively in the Echo. The oldest player present was Harry Hunt who had seen 78 seasons and 'gathered at one special table were four members of the original 1899-1900 team - Eddie Richardson, aged 73, 'Bimbo' Boys, 72, 'Pedlar' Palmer, 72 and 'Jumbo' Hockey, 67'.