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Golden moments of North Devon sport in 2012

By NDJSport  |  Posted: January 03, 2013

  • OLYMPIC STAR: London 2012 gold medallist Helen Glover in Bideford with Andrew Wilson and his son, Riley, who was born on the opening day of the Games.

  • TEAR JERKER: Carrying the Olympic torch in Ilfracombe was emotional for Jonathan Edwards.

  • TAKING OFF: Bideford's footballers celebrate their promotion.

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Sports editor Andrew Jones looks back on some of the highlights of North Devon sport in 2012.

"WHEN our time came, Britain, we did it right," said Lord Coe of the London 2012 Olympics – a quote that also neatly captures the mood of what was arguably this country's greatest sporting year.

While the golden glow of the Olympic Games may not have quite reached North Devon, we too can look back on some notable highlights, recorded in the sports pages of the North Devon Journal and on this website.

There are no golden postboxes commemorating Olympic champions for us. To see one of those you would need to take a trip down the road to the village of Trull, near Taunton, home to Deborah Criddle, who won London 2012 Paralympic gold with the British dressage team.

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Perhaps we should award golden Journal newspaper stands to mark North Devon's high achievers in 2012.

There should be two in Bideford, where the town's football and rugby teams led the way.

Their promotion in 2011 was a hard act to follow but Bideford's rugby players had a good crack at it, finishing third in Tribute Western Counties (west) and retaining the Devon Intermediate Cup with a 51-17 thrashing of Okehampton in the final.

On the face of it, Barnstaple's rugby season was nothing special. But a fifth-place finish in National Three south west was a commendable effort. In a year that began with Barum's finest being paid for the first time, they proved worth every penny.

Bideford's football team were lifted to a new level when Sean Downing climbed high to head the only goal in an Easter Monday clash with Taunton Town – the 1-0 win securing the first division south and west title in the Evo-Stik League Southern and promotion to the premier division.

It rained that day. Of course it did. Rain has been a constant feature of our sporting year.

In the North Devon Cricket League, Filleigh finished second to North Devon – champions for the second time in three years – despite completing only half their games. Weare Giffard were bottom of the second division after playing only four of their fourteen fixtures.

Bideford were unable to repeat their title win of the previous summer but at least they lifted the League Cup, largely thanks to fireworks from Josh King who smashed 12 sixes in an unbeaten 126 off just 55 balls, inspiring a 187-run win over Heathcoat in the final.

Like Bideford in the North Devon League, North Devon were unable to retain their Devon League title. Hardly surprising after the departure of key players and the reduced availability of the Overton twins, they had to settle for fifth place. For Hatherleigh, though, there was a second successive promotion and they will be in the A division this year.

Craig and Jamie Overton had the sort of year of which dreams are made. It began with A-levels and a place in the England under-19 tour party – they even sat exams in Bangladesh. By the end of the summer, they were professional cricketers, having been awarded contracts and first-class debuts by Somerset as well as playing for England in the ICC Under-19 World Cup.

A dark cloud hung over Mill Road, home of Barnstaple Town, from the moment Steve James stood down as chairman in January.

The football club has had five managers this year – one of whom, Pete Buckingham, did not even take charge of a game – and were only saved from giving up on the 2012-13 season altogether by a couple of crisis meetings that finally unearthed willing volunteers to help run the club and raise much-needed funds.

Now, under chairman Warren Crossley and new manager Tom Bulley – at 22 thought to be the youngest in the club's history – Barnstaple can hope for better things in 2013. Although escaping relegation seems a stiff task.

In 2012, more than any year before, it was a legitimate question to ask whether Barnstaple or Boca Seniors were the town's strongest football side.

Boca, under long-serving manager Darren Todd, won the North Devon League and three cups, and hope in 2013 to step up to the Carlsberg South West Peninsula League. When so many football clubs are merely striving to survive, it is refreshing to see one showing the ambition to seek new challenges.

'Heroes' was a song of the Olympic summer and while the word may be used too readily in sport it was difficult to argue when Kevin Squire, the Barnstaple director of rugby, described one of his players, Nielson Webber, as "a bloody hero".

He ran seven marathons in seven days in February – an emotional journey to raise funds for Spinal Research UK and his girlfriend, Carly Taylor, who broke her neck in a fall in November 2011. Just over a year on from the accident, Carly, supported by 'Nelly', has recovered some movement and is working relentlessly towards her goal of one day walking again.

Where else should golden news stands be sent? To the Tarka Tennis Centre in Barnstaple, where Falcons Gymnastics Academy opened a gleaming new base, furnished with equipment used at the Olympics, and home now to an international champion after Joe Jones won gold representing Britain at the Austrian Future Cup. It is also where the annual AEGON GB Pro-Series Barnstaple tennis tournament goes from strength to strength – won in 2012 by Annika Beck, an 18-year-old German of whom the world will know much more by the end of this year.

Surfing would have a claim to be North Devon's 'national' sport. Will Bailey, Flora Lawton and Jobe Harriss became British champions, while Peony Knight won three titles in a memorable nine-day spell and Andrew Cotton continued to forge a worldwide reputation for taming monster waves.

Boxers Kyle England and Billy Stanbury fought their way to national titles, while Emma Tayler marked her return to North Devon after a four-year golf scholarship in Florida by claiming a county crown. On her home course, Tayler became Saunton's first Devon Ladies Championship winner in the competition's 88-year history. The club's success was doubled in October when its ladies team won Devon's Still Cup for the first time in 54 years.

Over at Royal North Devon, Jimmy Mullen made it to the England amateur team at the age of 18. As well as Mullen and the Overtons, boxer Jimmy Randall; rugby player Ben Vellacott; bowlers Steve Bonetta, Neil Popham and Darren James; surf lifesavers Ellie Parker and Lily Nichols; and cricketer Milly Squire were among the North Devon sports people to be called up by their country.

Some may one day become household names, like the famous visitors who sprinkled some stardust over North Devon sport last year.

Helen Glover, a month after winning Britain's first gold medal of London 2012 with rowing partner Heather Stanning, came to Bideford for the South Coast Championships regatta.

'Sir' Bradley Wiggins missed our stage of the Tour of Britain in September because of a stomach bug but Mark Cavendish was instantly recognisable to the thousands who turned out to watch.

Stage Seven of the Tour, launched the previous night by the atmospheric floodlit Barnstaple Criterium race, provided one of the two strongest memories of North Devon's sporting year, along with the Olympic torch relay, which came through our part of the world in May.

Who can forget the crowds lining the streets in North Devon towns and the sight of Jonathan Edwards, a triple jump gold medal winner, with a tear rolling down his cheek as he carried the torch past his old home in Ilfracombe?

When our time came, North Devon, we did it right.

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