Byron Bay FC are losing more than just a coach next season as Damon Bell steps aside.
Following an incredible tenure in charge, the familiar face on the Rec Grounds bench departs the club not only as their most successful coach ever, but a father figure and mentor to many.
Aside from a sabbatical in 2015, Bell has been part of the furniture at Byron Bay since reluctantly joining as head coach in 2013. Taking control of both the Premier Division and Premier Reserves, Bell took the two teams to 14 finals in his six-year tenure at the club, winning an incredible 11 trophies.
Bell has a rich history in football but hasn’t always been active in the region. After finishing his playing career in the NSW State Leagues for Lane Cove and Ku-ring-gai, Bell moved to Federal 30 years ago but took a ten-year break from football.
That decade-long wait was well worth it though with Bell coaching juniors and the region’s youth representative program before having a stint at both Palm Beach and Bangalow. Bell even sat on the board of Football Far North Coast for a time, but it will be his tenure at the Rams – where he won two of his three Coach of the Year awards – which turned him into a regional household name.
Prior to Bell coming on board, Lismore clubs had won the past six championships. Incredibly, the Cyril Mayo Cup had only left Lismore five times in the 64 years prior to Bell taking charge. This Lismore dominance continued to drive Bell to succeed season after season.
“It was one of the things that drove me: I was over the Lismore clubs being the dominant force on the Far North Coast and I told myself that we can change this,” Bell explained.
And change it he did. What followed was an incredible run which saw the Rams become the dominant force in the region, winning three Cyril Mayo Cups as grand final winners, three Pointscore Championships and one ANZAC Cup.
Notably, Byron Bay became the first non-Lismore club in history to win the treble when the record-breaking 2017 squad won all three trophies on offer: league, grand final and cup.
But it wasn’t just football where Bell made an impact at the Rams, he played a mentor role to many of the club’s senior footballers.
“At this level it’s all about managing personalities. Each year in the squad you’d have 32 players aged between 16 and 38 who all had different problems. So each season you would end up being a social worker too, and that definitely wasn’t in the job description when I signed-up.
“You find a lot of these guys don’t have father figures and as their coach you turn into that father figure. Even for people who are well into their 30s: they tell me things and it turns into a heart-to-heart. It’s as if they’re your son, not just some guy you play football with a couple days a week.”
You won’t get many arguments from his players that Bell was different from most coaches they’ve had in their careers, with all players having their own example of what made Bell unique.
The self-proclaimed “grumpy old bastard” was known amongst the playing group for having some of the most unique half time team talks, on occasion they could not have been less about football with memorable examples including life issues such as drug taking and climate change.
With the turn of the decade and a new competition format coming in 2020, the 62-year-old feels that now is the perfect time to step aside.
“It’s been a good journey at Byron Bay but you know when it’s time to go. I’ll certainly miss game day but I won’t miss training, and I’m looking forward to going away: I’ve got brothers so I’m going to go travelling and help them out a bit.
“I’ll still come and watch: you’ll see me sitting down with Vlad [Knaus] on game day having a laugh on the sideline.”
Damon Bell Achievements
Years at Byron: 2013-14, 2016-19
Cyril Mayo Cups: 2013, 2017, 2018
Premier Division Pointscore Championships: 2014, 2017, 2019
ANZAC Cup: 2017
Premier Reserve Grand Final Champions: 2016, 2017
Premier Reserve Pointscore Champions: 2016, 2017
FFNC Coach of the Year: 2017, 2019