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Save Rhyl FC: 2003-04 v 2008-09 – who was the best?

It is one of those questions which could be debated for hours on end at the local boozer – and probably has been!

Which Rhyl team was the best? John Hulse’s Welsh Premier title winners of 2003-04 or Allan Bickerstaff/Osian Roberts’ champions of 2008-09?

Statistics-wise, almost everything points towards the 2003-04 squad being the greatest the Lilywhites have produced in Wales’ top flight.

Hulse’s heroes achieved some truly extraordinary things that season.

They got through a phenomenal 57 matches, often playing three times a week, and with a main squad of just 17 players (who featured in 10 games or more) they managed to win four of the five competitions they entered and finished runners-up to Football League side Wrexham in the one they didn’t.

Of those 57 matches, they won 44, drew 9 and lost just 4.

The four defeats included a 4-1 reverse to a full-strength Wrexham in the FAW Premier Cup Final, just three days after the Lilies had beaten TNS in the Welsh Cup Final. Those players must have been pretty tired by the time they faced the Dragons at Belle Vue.

Rhyl also lost 1-0 to TNS in a League Cup first leg clash, but won the return 3-1 to progress 3-2 on aggregate, rendering that defeat in Oswestry totally meaningless.

The Lilywhites also went down 3-0 at Newport County in a Premier Cup group encounter, but travelled down south for that match two days after winning an exhausting 3-2 battle at TNS.

And as Rhyl progressed from that group anyway, the Newport loss also counted for nothing.

Perhaps the only defeat of that season that could be classed as disappointing was the 2-1 setback at Haverfordwest on the second weekend of the campaign.

Had they avoided losing there, then Rhyl would have had an invincible season to add to all their other achievements.

The majority of the 2003-04 squad were at Belle Vue the previous campaign, Hulse adding a mere handful of players during the quadruple-season.

Despite that remarkable feat of losing just the one league game, Rhyl still only won the title by a point from TNS. Proof also, that they were pushed all the way, but had the mettle to see it out.

While adding the Welsh Cup and League Cup to the title completed a stunning treble, let’s not forget the Lilywhites also lifted the NWCFA Challenge Cup.

John Hulse (second left) on his return to Rhyl FC four 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

Maybe by 2003-04, the once very prestigious competition had lost much of its stature, but to many of us it was still a great cup to win.

It also meant Rhyl had captured a four-trophy haul in the same season no other North Wales club has, or probably ever will, achieve.

Another thing to consider is that 2003-04 team were assembled through far more modest resources than many who have been crowned Welsh Premier champions over the years.

It was more a squad of experience than youth, tried and tested and all peaking together. A remarkable team spirit and a legendary manager.

Forward to 2008-09 and the second Rhyl team to land the WPL title.

This squad was far more expensively assembled, a bit of a dream team in fact, with the management able to go out and sign virtually whoever they wanted within reason.

Still, it must be said that you can bring a high-cost pool of players together and it can look great on paper, but you still need the ability to get them to gel.

And gel that Rhyl team did.

Osian Roberts was part of Rhyl FC’s management team in 2008-09 before going on to be the Welsh national team assistant-boss (Pic by David Rawcliffe/Propaganda)

Unlike their 2003-04 predecessors, the 2008-09 side won just the one trophy, but it was the big one – the Welsh Premier League championship, and they did it by a wider points margin than the Lilies heroes of five seasons earlier.

In truth, that 2008/09 team should have been crowned as invincibles.

They lost just twice in 34 league matches, both at home to average opponents in Port Talbot Town (2-3) and Cefn Druids (3-4).

Rhyl should never have lost those matches, it appeared in both that they had taken their foot off the pedal. Everything was coming too easy to them.

Still, a loss that season, be it in the league or in the Welsh Cup and League Cup at the hands of arch-rivals Bangor City, never knocked Rhyl’s spirits or belief.

They just went out and won the next game. The Lilies ended the season with a superb 18-match unbeaten run, 17 of those games producing wins. And they did not lose a single away fixture in the WPL.

The Class of 2008-09 were tremendous to watch: Neil Roberts, Josh Johnson, Greg Strong, Jamie Reed….almost everyone was a star name. Just 19 main players used over the season.

The way they hammered Llanelli 5-1 at Belle Vue and swept TNS away on their own 3G surface was ruthless.

Sadly, that team was built on a heavy budget. The season after it all went wrong, riches turned to rags and Rhyl ended up being demoted – an almost unthinkable situation compared to the title celebrations of 12 months earlier.

Two fantastic and two very different sides – Rhyl 2003/04 and 2008/09.

A close contest, but I would rate the 2003/04 crew as the better. Four trophies, a Premier Cup Final, just four losses in 57 matches and a single league defeat all campaign. Immortal.

Rhyl FC 2003/04 main squad

Chris Adamson, Lee Atherton, James Brewerton, Tim Edwards, Gareth Evans, Stuart Graves, Lee Hunt, Michael Jackson, Marc Limbert, Chris McGinn, Andy Moran, Gary Powell, Mark Powell, Paul Smith, Steve Walters, Gareth Wilson, Robbie Wood.
(Under 10 starts: Grahame Austin, Mark Billingsley, Nicky Brookman, Martyn Chalk, Andy Davies, Deiniol Graham, Craig Hogg, Steve Hoult, Scott Millington, Gary Roberts, Michael Walsh, Stewart White)

Competition stats
Welsh Premier League: Played 32 Won 23 Drawn 8 Lost 1 Goals For 76 Goals Against 26 Points 77 Final Position: 1st (champions)
Welsh Cup: Played 6 Won 6 Goals For 15 Goals Against 4 (Winners)
League Cup: Played 7 Won 6 Lost 1 Goals For 16 Goals Against 4 (Winners)
NWCFA Challenge Cup: Played 3 Won 3 Goals For 12 GA 3 (Winners)
FAW Premier Cup: Played 9 Won 6 Drawn 1 Lost 2 GF 20 GA 10 (Runners-up)
Total match record
Played 57
Won 44
Drawn 9
Lost 4
Goals For 139
Goals Against 47

Rhyl FC 2008/09 main squad

Mark Connolly, Luke Holden, George Horan, Josh Johnson, Craig Jones, Michael Jones, James Kelly, Lee Kendall, Paul O’Neill, Carl Owen, Gareth Owen, Jamie Reed, Chris Roberts, Neil Roberts, Luke Sherbon, Greg Stones, Greg Strong, Danny Williams, Matthew Williams.
(Under 10 starts: James Brewerton, John Gann, Craig Garside, Sam Heenan, Matthew Holt, Marc Lloyd-Williams, Gary Powell, Paul Pritchard, Tom Roberts, Carl Ruffer, Gareth Wilson)

Competition stats
Welsh Premier League: Played 34 Won 29 Drawn 3 Lost 2 Goals For 95 Goals Against 29 Points 90. Final position 1st (champions)
Welsh Cup: Played 3 Won 2 Lost 1 GF 13 GA 1 (eliminated round four)
League Cup: Played 5 Won 3 Lost 2 GF 13 GA 3 (eliminated quarter-finals)
NWCFA Challenge Cup: Played 1 Won 1 GF 6 GA 0 (disqualified)
Inter-Toto Cup: Played 2 Won 0 Lost 2 GF 3 GA 9 (eliminated round one)
Total match record
Played 45
Won 35
Drawn 3
Lost 7
Goals For 130
Goals Against 42

Attention all Rhyl fans…..

Rhyl Football Club has just days left to save itself.
The Cymru North club requires investment/ sponsorship of circa £175k to meet total operating costs through to May 2021. 
This amount includes a provision for a 1 year rent guarantee which is required under the lease but no debt repayments. This would enable the club to move to the next pre season revenue earning cycle, hopefully, post Covid 19.If you can help please e-mail chairman Paul Higginson at sponsorship@rhylfc.co.uk  The deadline date to save the club is April 17.

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