Tributes to two Rhyl FC stalwarts who feel more pain than most at club’s demise

Graham (furthest left) at the opening of the Rhyl FC Museum in 2016 alongside former manager John Hulse, Lilywhites boss of the time Niall McGuinness and then club managing director Mike Jones. Picture: James Curran

Over the past few days hundreds if not thousands of Rhyl FC followers across North Wales and far beyond will have felt a sense of mourning after the club announced it was to fold.

No rescue package could be found to save the 141-year-old club, four-time Welsh Cup winners, Cheshire League champions on three occasions and twice Welsh Premier title holders, so the process of liquidation began.

It is a crippling blow, not just for the town, but Welsh football as a whole to lose one of its most distinguished clubs.

And while so many are feeling the pain, two club stalwarts in particular would have experienced it hardest – Graham Cartlidge and Kevin Warner.

Many tributes have been paid to Lilywhites players and managers past and present this week, but Messrs Cartlidge and Warner are more Rhyl FC through-and-through than any of them.

Graham turned 70 last October. For most of those years he has been involved in the football club through various roles, all carried out with pride.

His first association was playing for the juniors in the 1960’s and he then started helping out around the ground doing vital maintenance tasks in the mid 70’s.

Towards the end of the 70’s and into the early 80’s he helped form the very successful supporters association which played an important role as the team progressed through the North West Counties League into the Northern Premier.

Graham had been kitman for the club for the majority of the last few decades after first being asked to take on the role by the late Terry Murphy.

His work around the ground is legendary. In recent years he had also been chief fundraiser for the Lilywhites and his seat-selling initiative raised thousands for the club.

Just ask anyone with a pinch of knowledge about Rhyl FC and Graham’s name is one of the first they will mention.

A past winner of Denbighshire County Council’s Unsung Hero award for his volunteering work with the Lilies, Graham further made his mark on the proud history of Rhyl FC when he collected mounds of memorabilia to set up a club museum at Belle Vue.

Vintage photographs, programmes, shirts, signed footballs, posters…..they were all there. Now they are in storage ready for show in what will hopefully be the next chapter for football in Rhyl.

When asked about his Rhyl highlights over the years, Graham cites great days such as when the Lilywhites defeated Barnsley in an FA Cup second round replay at Old Trafford in 1970, promotion to the Northern Premier League in 1984 and in more recent times everything to do with seasons 2004 to 2010, when the Lilies won the Welsh Premier and Welsh Cup twice and represented Wales in Europe for 6 successive campaigns.

Graham took last week’s news especially hard, but he has already indicated he may play a part in the formation of a new club.

Kevin Warner (third from left) at a Rhyl FC legends gathering in 2012. Also pictured (l-r): Barry Roberts, Chris Espley, Andy Moran, Steve Jones, Dean Martin, Dave Walker and Mike Jones. Picture: Tony Mottram (freelance)

Kevin Warner is known as a quiet, unassuming man, but when it comes to passion for Rhyl FC he is unstoppable.

Over the years, Kevin has filled almost every role possible within the football club.

People still remember with fondness his testimonial as a player back in 1984 against Everton, where he doubled up with the late, great Selwyn Morris to celebrate more than 10 years’ playing service.

Kevin went on to play a lot of football for the reserves before retiring as a player, but he went on to give many years more service to the club, including a stint as physio.

His most recent role was head groundsman at Belle Vue before stepping down in 2019.

Lots of people associated with Rhyl FC have been in my thoughts this week, but none more so than Graham and Kevin.

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