FAIRYTALES were meant to be part of football's past, along with other relics of the sport like terracing, a competitive English international side, and Jimmy Hill.
Then Bournemouth and Harry Arter came along. Second from bottom of the Football League six years ago, they are now heading to the Premier League this August, their quaint little ground readying itself for an upgrade and the visits of Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, and the rest.
A sporting miracle? It has to be. They were minutes from liquidation at one stage in the last decade yet from 2011 have been bankrolled by a Russian businessman, Maxim Demin, whose ego appears to be as large as his wallet.
Still, the money they have spent hasn't been astronomical. At £2.4 million, Tokelo Rantie is their most expensive signing and at £4,000 Arter, their second-generation Irishman, represents the best value.
By his own admission, his career was going nowhere fast when he signed for Woking as a 19-year-old. Surrounded by bad pros at Charlton, who were living off a big wage and a past reputation, he picked up the wrong traits before coming down to earth with a bang when he got released in 2009.
Moments like that can make or break a player and when Arter lost 5-0 to Bath in the Conference South that year, his career was on the edge. "Times like that did hit me. A lot of my friends were playing Football League, and there I was, Bath City away, getting beat 5-0. I thought 'maybe this is it for me'."
Yet it wasn't 'it'. Through force of will - and sound advice from his brother-in-law, Scott Parker - he decided to knuckle down and change his personality as well as his game. “When I was at Charlton, I was a teenager who thought he was a Premier League player, when I was nowhere near that. Young lads get in with the wrong crowd and look up to the wrong sort of player. I was looking up to players at Charlton at that time who probably thought they were better than they were.”
Parker, a seasoned pro, had a different outlook. Married to Arter's sister, Carly, he saw something of himself in the teenager. “Scott really came into my life football-wise and helped me stay motivated and try to stay as professional as I can. I should have listened to him earlier, but once I started learning from the way he lives, my career changed and I became a lot more level-headed. I couldn’t have worked any harder at Woking and at Bournemouth for what I have achieved so far.”
Hard work only gets you so far in football, though. Luck has to play a part, too. Where would Arter have been had Jason Tindall, Eddie Howe's assistant, not ventured out to watch Woking play in February 2010? Would he still be with Woking? Would he be playing professionally at all?
Something about Arter's game persuaded Tindall to return for a second look, then a third, before he persuaded Howe to make a bid. Howe did. Woking wanted £30,000. They had to settle for £4,000.
"I met Eddie Howe and it was almost like a job interview," Arter says. "He was asking me my likes and dislikes, my philosophy on football, what I wanted to achieve in the game. I still had dreams of playing in the Premier League and I told him that. I was confident in my ability. I remember him probably thinking he shared a similar ambition. I think he judged me on that one meeting."
Others were even quicker to judge. For a while Bournemouth's fans showered him with abuse. Gradually he grew on them. Now they wouldn't go anywhere without him. His aggression, his passion, his ability to constantly be in the right place at the right time, makes him stand out. This season he was voted their player of the year.
Along the way, Martin O'Neill noticed. The Ireland manager, who was introduced to Arter in the Craven Cottage car-park by Harry Redknapp, watched Bournemouth play more than any other club this year. Arter, specifically, was the guy he was interested in. Called up for the Poland game, he is in line to make his debut against England next month.
Then it's Premier League time. "It's what I have always dreamed of," he says.
Now that daring dream has become a staggering reality.
Big dreamers and big men fill the walls of Bournemouth's gym. Abraham Lincoln's speeches are written up there. So too a quote from Muhammad Ali. “What you are thinking is what you are becoming," said the greatest.
Last weekend, they fulfilled that fantasy. Whether the fairytale has a happy ending is another day's work. For now, they're happy to have got this far.