North Wales football’s greatest stories No6: Rhyl FC – the John Hulse era
John Hulse (second left) on his return to Rhyl FC three years ago to officially open a new club memorabilia room developed by Graham Cartlidge (left). Also pictured are then Lilywhites manager Niall McGuinness and managing director Mike Jones. Pic: James Curran

What John Hulse achieved as manager of Rhyl FC over six glorious seasons will never be forgotten.

Seven trophies won between 2002-08, including an unprecedented quadruple, as well as success in Europe…..what a story!

Easily one of the best periods in the club’s long history, on a par if not better than the post-Second World War silverware fest in the Cheshire County League.

The ultimate highlight of the Hulse era at Rhyl was the club’s four-trophy winning campaign in 2003/04, which boasted a first-ever WPL title and a first Welsh Cup success in over half a century.

But there were plenty of other achievements which have helped secure the Birkenhead-born boss legendary status at Belle Vue.

A promising footballer with West Ham United and Tranmere Rovers, Hulse’s playing career was curtailed by injuries as he was forced to retire at the age of 23.

Keen to embark into management, he accumulated experience in the West Cheshire League with spells at Higher Bebbington and Heswall. These proved fruitful as he claimed two championships and seven cup wins over the course of five years.

Hulse then entered the League of Wales by managing both Conwy United and Bangor City, guiding the former into the UEFA Intertoto Cup and the latter to Welsh Cup success in 1998 alongside former Everton and Scotland striker Graeme Sharp.

After 12 months as assistant to Lee Williams, Hulse became Rhyl manager in the summer of 2002.

His debut campaign brought about the club’s first-ever Welsh Premier League Cup, thanks to a 4-3 penalty shoot-out victory over arch-rivals Bangor City at Belle Vue following a 2-2 draw.

An amazing four trophies followed the next season, as Rhyl retained the League Cup by walloping Carmarthen Town 4-0 and pipped Total Network Solutions to the WPL title and Welsh Cup by the margins of a point and single goal.

They completed a four-timer by hammering Halkyn United 6-0 in the NWCFA Challenge Cup Final.

There was also a fairytale run to the FAW Premier Cup Final, losing 4-1 to a full-strength Wrexham at Belle Vue after astonishingly knocking out Football League Third Division Swansea City 2-0 in the semis and Barry Town 8-0 in the last eight.

More glory was to follow in 2005/06 as Rhyl landed the Welsh Cup for a fourth time in their history, defeating Bangor City 2-0 in the final at Wrexham’s Racecourse.

And the NWCFA Challenge Cup was won for an all-time record 16th occasion as the Lilywhites pipped Denbigh Town 2-1 in the final at Colwyn Bay.

Hulse was the first manager to lead Rhyl into Europe in 2004/05 on the back of their WPL title triumph. They lost 7-1 over two legs to Skonto Riga of Latvia.

The Merseysider then masterminded the club’s first-ever victory in European football over FK Atlantas of Lithuania in 2005/06.

Progressing on the away goals rule, the next round of the UEFA Cup saw Hulse pit his wits against former England manager Roy Hodgson, whose Viking Stavanger narrowly prevailed 3-1 on aggregate.

The summer of 2007 brought one of Rhyl’s greatest-ever performances under Hulse as they beat crack Finland side FC Haka 3-1 at Belle Vue in the UEFA Cup first qualifying round first leg, only to lose the return 2-0 and go out on away goals.

Hulse led the Lilywhites in 10 European matches in all, winning two, drawing two and losing six.

Rhyl FC trophies won under John Hulse

The Welsh Cup, won by Rhyl in 1952, 1953, 2004 and 2006

2002/03: Welsh Premier League Cup

2003/04: Welsh Premier League championship, Welsh Cup, Welsh Premier League Cup, NWCFA Challenge Cup

2005/06: Welsh Cup; NWCFA Challenge Cup.

Under his leadership the Lilies qualified for Europe five years in a row and in the latter five of his six seasons in charge the club never finished outside the Welsh Premier League’s top three.

They also reached five League Cup Finals in six seasons during his tenure.

Little wonder Hulse was made a life vice-president of the club in 2015. A legend.

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