Sports Awards: Double win for Bideford AFC
THE 2011-12 season will go down as one of the finest in the history of Bideford AFC.
One year after gaining promotion from the Western League, the Robins ran away with the first division south and west title in the Evo-Stik League Southern.
Without high expectations, an inexperienced team grew in belief and even surprised themselves by finishing 11 points clear.
Bideford were named Senior Team of the Year in the Journal Sports Awards and Sean Joyce, their manager since 1998, received the Coach of the Year prize.
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Keeping his team in the premier division is the latest challenge for Joyce, who is still taking in last term's triumph.
"It will live in our memories for years to come," he said. "We massively overachieved.
"I remember we played Paulton Rovers away in December and Sean Downing scored with the last kick of the game.
"We all just stood there with smiles on our faces when we realised we had gone top.
"After that, we just steamrollered the league."
By April, a 25-match unbeaten run had taken Bideford to the brink of the title and they clinched it with a 1-0 win over Taunton Town on Easter Monday.
"Sean Downing headed in the winning goal and for a North Devon lad to score the goal that took us up to a league we've never been in before was unbelievable," said Joyce.
While the success came from a collective effort, it was particularly special for Joyce, who had taken over as manager with the team at the foot of the Western League premier division.
"I think one of the biggest achievements was keeping Bideford in the league that first year," he said.
"I was a novice manager and I knew what a proud history the club had.
"I took it on when we were struggling and I said to my wife, 'If I get six weeks out of it, so be it'.
"Could I foresee what we would do? Not in a million years."
Now in his 14th season, Joyce has guided Bideford to five Western League titles and reached the semi-finals of the FA Vase.
"It's built on stability and trust," he said.
"I played at Wembley for Torquay United in front of 50,000 but last year was special.
"It wasn't just me looking after myself, it was me looking after 15 or 16 young lads.
"We've done it with a limited budget, with local lads coming up with a point to prove."
Bideford's success at the Sports Awards came against strong opposition.
The Bideford Bowling Club triple of Steve Bonetta, Neil Popham and Darren James were runners-up, having won the National Triples Championship.
Just two years after re-forming, Fremington FC were highly commended for winning the North Devon League intermediate one title and three cups.
For the coaching award, Darren Todd was runner-up for the second consecutive year after another outstanding campaign with Boca Seniors.
He guided the Barnstaple football club to the North Devon League premier division and three cups.
Mike Beagley was highly commended for his work with the Falcons Gymnastics Academy.
"Being sat here tonight is the nice part of football," said Joyce.
"You're competing with the cream of the cream from North Devon and I really appreciate it."