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Who is Bideford AFC's top goalkeeper?

By NDJMark  |  Posted: January 25, 2013

  • Former Bideford goalkeeper Ryan Draper

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North Devon Journal and thisisnorthdevon.co.uk sports writer Mark Jenkin looks back at the changing faces in the Bideford AFC goalkeeping jersey.

YOU don't win anything without a good goalkeeper so the old adage goes.
Bideford have enjoyed four seasons of progress with their rise from the Western League to the Evo-Stik League  Southern premier.

But it is interesting to note they have made that climb without a regular player between the posts. 

Manager Sean Joyce has called upon seven different men to wear the goalkeeper's jersey since 2009.

And the constant change does not seem to have harmed the team's chances.   

Paul Hider and Tim Sandercombe are currently battling for a starting place at the Sports Ground. 

As Joyce said earlier this month: "They are vying for the position. I just want competition for places. It will make us a better team."

Ryan Draper was a reliable member of the squad which won the Western League premier division in 2009-10, keeping 16 clean sheets along the way.

Perhaps, Draper will be best remembered by Robins' fans for his first spell at the club, playing a key role in the team which reached the FA Vase semi-final in 2004.

He was outstanding in the fourth-round tie at Billlingham Town when Biddy gained a memorable 4-2 win in the North East. 

Draper is from the school of goalkeeping where sound positional play is more important than flashy 'one-for-the-cameras' saves.

He once said: "All keepers are good shot-stoppers but it's distribution, coming for crosses and communication that make you a better keeper."

Matt Armstrong-Ford took over from Draper and had a decent season on Bideford's first foray into the Southern League in 2010-11.

Since returning to his native South Coast, he has been in the headlines this season as part of the Hastings United team which reached the third round of the FA Cup.

The national press picked up on the unusual story of the goalkeeper who has served as a safari guide, tennis line judge and has worked as a naked butler.

Sadly for Armstrong-Ford, he did not play for Hastings in the third round against Middlesborough after failing a late fitness test.

Last season was one of Bideford's finest on record, running away with the first division south and west championship – and three different goalies played their part.

Ollie Chenoweth was a calm and assured presence during the first half of the campaign. Having been released by Plymouth Argyle the previous year, the League Two club realised what were missing by re-signing him on a professional contract.

Grant Fisher was the South Devon teenager asked to take Chenoweth's place and showed promise, particularly in away wins at Hungerford Town and Paulton Rovers.

However, Joyce wanted a more experienced goalkeeper and signed Hider from Saltash United for the remaining 14 games of the season.

Hider kept seven clean sheets during the run-in and proved himself to have razor-sharp reactions, even if his kicking distribution could sometimes be erratic.

That is not a criticism that could be labelled at Mark Coombe, arguably the finest goalkeeper to play for Bideford in the Joyce era. 

A dodgy knee meant Coombe could not always kick but he would regularly throw the ball accurately to team-mates beyond the halfway line.

He also had total command of his area and would happily put his head in where the boots were flying.  

Kenny Griffiths, too, was known for his excellent distribution during several distinguished seasons.

This term, Hider regained his place after losing it during the early part of the season to Sam Hutchings, who was signed from Bridgwater Town.

After impressing on his debut in the 2-1 defeat to Banbury United, Sandercombe now seems to be the preferred choice.

As Joyce has shown in the past by axing reliable keepers like Draper and Griffiths, he is not afraid to make the big decisions.

Regardless of who plays in goal, however, Bideford's success has generally been built around a solid defence.

And with Joyce calling on 15 years of experience in the dug-out, they remain in safe hands.

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