SO, unfortunately, it has come to this.

The Echo was yesterday informed, just four hours before kick-off against Brentford, that our reporters and photographers were no longer welcome at Seward Stadium.

The communication from Cherries media executive Max Fitzgerald brought to a head weeks of needless and childish screw-tightening by the football club that had initially started with Echo reporters being banned from asking questions in Lee Bradbury’s post-match press conferences.

Then, ahead of Saturday’s match against Carlisle, we were told we would not be permitted to stand in on any of Bradbury’s interviews and had to remain in the press box.

Yesterday, more than 100 years of Echo coverage of AFC Bournemouth was brought to a halt by a board, management team and press office hell bent on forcing this newspaper away from our local football club.

Since Eddie Mitchell took charge as chairman in June 2009, helping save the club from almost certain extinction following the ill-fated reign of Sport-6, AFC Bournemouth had received more than 700 back page lead stories from this newspaper.

That coverage, had Mitchell paid Echo advertising prices, would have set back the club in excess of £840,000.

During his tenure, the Echo sports team has run several campaigns aimed at assisting the club through the hard times.

Our ‘End the Transfer Embargo’ quest was greeted by a huge response from supporters sick and tired of the Football League continually penalising Eddie Howe and his squad.

Soon after that, we launched our ‘Bums on Seats’ campaign to help arrest worrying crowd figures, despite the club being on the verge of something really special. They were promoted in a blaze of glory that season.

Bradbury, a player at the time, would have seen all this, but it clearly did little to impress him.

Since becoming manager, Bradbury has taken it upon himself to make life increasingly difficult for our reporters.

Just last week, Bradbury phoned one of our reporters because he was upset at our back page headline ‘IMMATURE’.

Bradbury, for the record, described his players as “immature” during his post-match interview at Sheffield Wednesday in front of the written press.

Following that edition of the paper, Bradbury and the Cherries press office stopped our men attending post-match press conferences.

That phone call was just one of many made to our reporters by Bradbury in recent months, with the Cherries boss, for example, keen to express his displeasure at our story with former scout Des Taylor in January.

Taylor simply wanted to point out what a great signing Scott Malone had been.

Mitchell, meanwhile, a man who approaches his own customers aggressively on the pitch, interferes in the home dressing room and swears on national radio, felt our coverage of his much-publicised misdemeanours had been unfair and “negative”.

Mitchell has, in the recent past, tried to tell us which headlines to write and which stories to cover.

Earlier this month, Mitchell invited us to write a story on how Russian Maxim Demin was “investing in him” and urged us to plaster this piece all over the back page. Incidentally, Mitchell’s request came in the aftermath of his radio rant and Irena Demin’s half-time visit to the home dressing room.

However, after being told in no uncertain terms that he did not edit the newspaper, the conversation ended abruptly. No chairman of any football club has the right to dictate to a newspaper.

So, our message to Mitchell, Bradbury and the Cherries media team is this: Give our advertising representatives a call, because the days of editorial backing for your football club are over until such time as you come to terms with what ‘free press’ means.

With a vibrant non-league football scene, a rugby club on the verge the National League proper, a speedway club dubbed the Manchester United of its sport and, lest we forget, the Olympic Games on the horizon, it’s fair to say the Echo will be just fine without AFC Bournemouth.

That, however, doesn’t excuse the fact the club is letting down its supporters, its customers, many of whom travel miles to watch the team week in, week out and it truly is a crying shame that it has come to this.

The Echo, though, would like to wish the players and fans, both innocent parties in this pointless spat, all the very best for the rest of the season and beyond.

Up the Cherries.