The world of football is ever-changing, but over the last 20 years there has been one constant in Bideford, standing on the touchline with his arms folded.

As the 2018/19 football season draws to a close, Bideford manager Sean Joyce completes his 21st season in charge of the Robins.

Joyce, who took over in the 1998/99 season, was honoured by the club and Bideford Town Council at Saturday's Evo-Stik Division One South match against Slimbridge with a long service award, recognising the work the long-standing Bideford manager has done in raising the profile of the club and the town.

More than 20 years ago, at the same time the Yorkshireman was getting acquainted with the dugout at the Sports Ground, Manchester United were on their way towards their historic treble, Cher was soon to top the charts for eight weeks with Believe, and Saving Private Ryan had just finished showing at the cinema.

Joyce was coming to an end of a playing career that had seen him start at Doncaster Rovers under the likes of Dave Mackay and Billy Bremner, before moving to Torquay, where he made more than 150 appearances for the Gulls, including a couple of appearances at Wembley.

He signed for Bideford in December 1996, playing 39 times and scoring two goals before a knee injury put an end to his playing career.

When joint managers Dudley Barry and Brian Shannon resigned as managers in 1998 Bideford were rock bottom of the Western League Premier, and it was then that chairman Jimmy McElwee turned to Joyce.

“The club was bottom of the Western League and couldn't get any lower,” said Joyce.

Bideford manager Sean Joyce. Picture: Matt SmartBideford manager Sean Joyce. Picture: Matt Smart

“Being honest with you I had never thought about managing and had never given it a second thought.

“They asked me and I spoke to people like Russell Musker who was Taunton manager at the top of the Western League, and he just said 'don't touch it with a bargepole'.

“Bideford used to be a massive, massive club, but had had about 20 years of doing nothing. They were only going one way and that was down.

“I took it on, maybe for the wrong reasons because I knew my football career was finishing with my knee, and I wanted to stay in football. I discussed it with the wife and she said take it, and I thought give them a month and they'll find you out and sack you. 20 years later they still haven't found me out, so I must be doing something good.

“Jimmy gave me the job and to be fair to him he saw something in me that I couldn't see and he always said it. He gave me the job and I took it, because I didn't want to let him down.”

Bideford climbed back up the table to finish the 1998/99 season fourth from bottom with 31 points, an achievement that remains one of Joyce's proudest moments as manager.

Two years later they were fifth and the following season the Robins were Western League Premier champions for the first time since 1983.

Picture: Matt SmartPicture: Matt Smart

The Robins went on to win the division four more times, including three consecutive titles from 2004 to 2006. Their 2003/04 campaign also saw them win the Les Phillips Cup, and reach the semi-final of the FA Vase.

After winning the Western League again in 2010, Joyce's Robins went a step further, joining the Southern League and winning Division One South and West in their second season. Four seasons in the Southern Premier followed, with the Robins peaking at eighth in 2014.

Going into the final match of the season, Joyce has overseen 1,048 competitive fixtures, winning 530 of them, with a win percentage of just over 50 per cent.

For all the achievements, which can also include keeping Bideford in the Southern Premier for four years, Joyce remains modest about them, and some of his personal highlights are some of the smaller moments.

He said: “I've seen the ground full with the FA Vase games we've had but it's not the big games, it's the little ones.

“There are too many highlights though. Starting and finishing a season can be a highlight for me, the lads that stick with me through the seasons, the likes of Kevin Squire and all the others who stuck with me.”

He added: “The achievements over the years that we've had, you come in my house and there's nothing like medals or this or that.

Bideford manager Sean Joyce was presented with a special long service award by Mayor of Bideford Doug Bushby prior to kick-off against Slimbridge. Picture: Matt SmartBideford manager Sean Joyce was presented with a special long service award by Mayor of Bideford Doug Bushby prior to kick-off against Slimbridge. Picture: Matt Smart

“I just take it week for week, that's all I've ever done and 20 years later I'm still here.

“I've never looked for longevity, but you just keep going, keep plugging on and build another team.

“Maybe the fans might want someone different, a different way of playing or a different style, but we have been successful, we've built a name up for ourselves and I don't want to let that go.

“This year has been a disappointment because we've had to change and change and change, but we still put a competitive team out there that teams in the league respect.

“I don't want to lose that respect. When I started teams would come down here, say what a lovely club Bideford are, beat you 7-0, eat the food, drink your beer and say what a well respected club you are.

“Then we started winning and they started saying we were big time, but we weren't, we just had that winning mentality and that's what I've tried to install in the lads now, even today.

“We played Bishops Sutton down here early on and they beat us 8-1. We had 17 paying spectators. To go from that to having 270 here today (against Slimbridge) for what is almost a nothing game just shows what we've built.”

Picture: Matt SmartPicture: Matt Smart

In an ever-changing sport, Joyce thinks the mental toughness of players is one of the big changes over the last two decades. A self-proclaimed 'dinosaur', he fears there's an over-coaching in football right now which can spoil players' enjoyment as they progress further.

He said: “I've played league games, but I'd play the same way playing at Wembley that I did playing on a football pitch in my local park. I just wanted to win the ball, win my tackles and enjoy myself.

“But the higher you go you get that taken out of you, and if I didn't enjoy it I would walk away.”

Joyce has no plans to walk away just yet, but is determined to make sure the club is in good stead when he eventually decides to step down. For now though, his focus is on rebuilding and developing his squad into a team that will push for promotion once more come next season.

He added: “For 20 years I've enjoyed it, but there were some seasons I haven't and some games I haven't. I've had a laugh and said what I've thought. I just enjoy being around football.”