Bideford’s new forwards’ coach James Starkey hopes to use what he learned in seven years with Barnstaple in his new role at King George V.

Starkey, 30, is back at KGV in player-coach capacity as number two to head coach Jordan Petherbridge.

Having gone through the youth ranks at Bideford, and established a regular place in the front row, Starkey departed for Barnstaple in 2013 to play rugby two divisions higher at South West Premier Division level.

Barnstaple spent two seasons at the next level up in National Two before dropping back down again, playing the likes of Bishops Stortford, Canterbury and Bury St Edmunds.

Starkey believes he has learned a lot during his time at Pottington Road and is keen to share it back at Bideford.

James Starkey. Picture: Bob CollinsJames Starkey. Picture: Bob Collins

“What struck me most when I went to Barnstaple was the structure of everything,” said Starkey.

“The players knew exactly how they were supposed to go about playing the game and what was expected of them.

“I saw Bideford play a couple of times at the end of last season and have a good idea what the players can do.

“If we can put structure in place to harness the quality players already at the club then, with a bit of work, we should progress on the field.”

One of the attractions for Starkey of returning to Bideford is the chance to put use the experience he gained with Barnstaple over seven seasons at a much higher level.

But leaving Barnstaple was not an easy decision for Starkey to make.

“In many ways it was disappointing to leave Barnstaple,” said Starkey.

“It was a heart-wrenching decision to leave Bideford in the first place and just as heart-wrenching to leave Barnstaple.

“Two years ago I told the Barnstaple if they were promoted back to National Two I would be unable to commit to playing.

“It was not the rugby – although tough, I always enjoyed it – but the travelling to away games which could be difficult because of my work commitments.

“The last time Barnstaple were in National Two South there was an away game at Bury St Edmunds that I could not travel to with the team the night before.

“Instead, myself an Ollie Mason left home at five in the morning to drive to Suffolk, played a game of rugby then drove straight home.

“When the time came to make the call saying I would not be staying with Barnstaple, it was not that difficult in some respects, and really tough in others.”

Starkey said two promotions were among the many highlights of his time at Barnstaple.

“Of all the games I played in the most memorable was our play-off win at Tonbridge Juddians in 2016 that won promotion to National Two South the first time,” said Starkey.

“It was nip-and-tuck all the way through then going into injury time Tonbridge went 30-28 up.

“Somehow we kept the ball alive for five or six minutes then won a scrum penalty and Jordan Petherbridge put it over from 40-odd metres.

“It was a great win with the last kick of the game and let’s just say the next day or so is a bit foggy.”

Starkey said one thing he will miss is the Pottington Road atmosphere on match days.

“The crowd for home games is fantastic – and playing in front of a big one for a Devon derby was a great experience,” said Starkey.

He added: “I made lifelong friends playing for Barnstaple and I look forward to going back there for a beer or two.”