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Happy birthday Greg Strong – 45 today

Celtic's Didier Agathe runs away from Motherwell's Greg Strong (Photo by Steve Morton/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Celtic’s Didier Agathe runs away from Motherwell’s Greg Strong (Photo by Steve Morton/EMPICS via Getty Images)

Today marks the 45th birthday of Greg Strong – a man who made quite an impact in North Wales football.

Towards the end of his long and distinguished playing career, the Bolton-born defender signed for Rhyl and was part of the star-studded Lilywhites team which won the Welsh Premier League title in 2008-09.

Strong became Rhyl player-manager the following season, and in 2012-13 made history by leading the only team ever to emerge unbeaten through an entire season in the tier 2 Cymru Alliance League, also winning the championship to secure a return to the Welsh Premier.

Before arriving in North Wales, Greg had a lengthy pro career representing a large number of clubs.

He played for Wigan Athletic, Bolton Wanderers, Blackpool, Stoke City, Motherwell, Hull City, Cheltenham Town, Scunthorpe United, Bury, Boston United, Macclesfield Town, Livingston, Dundee, Halifax Town, Northwich Victoria and Droylsden before landing at Belle Vue.

After earning caps for England schoolboys and youth, he started his pro career with Wigan Athletic in 1992.

He played two seasons with the Latics and then moved to his hometown club Bolton Wanderers in August 1995.

Strong made 22 appearances for Wanderers in four seasons, playing one Premiership game in 1995-96. That was on January 1, 1996, when Bolton lost 4-2 at Sheffield Wednesday and Greg came on as a second-half substitute for Andy Todd.

Neil Cox (left) and Greg Strong (right) of Bolton Wanderers (Photo by Tom Honan/EMPICS via Getty Images)

After the match, Bolton boss Roy McFarland was sacked and replaced by Colin Todd, under whom the team improved but were unable to stave off relegation.

During that four-season spell at Burnden Park, Strong was loaned out to Blackpool, where he made 12 appearances scoring one goal and Stoke City, where he played five times in 1998–99, netting once against former club Wigan.

He then moved to Scottish side Motherwell in the summer of 1999 where he became a popular player in two seasons at Fir Park, playing 74 matches and scoring three goals, including a tremendous controlled volley against Hibernian.

Greg returned to England in 2002 when he was signed up by Hull City.

After struggling to get regular games with Hull, Strong had loan spells with Cheltenham Town, Scunthorpe United and Bury before moving on to Boston United.

He spent a short loan stint at Macclesfield Town before moving to Scotland again to pen a deal with Livingston in 2005.

After a season and a half at Almondvale Stadium, Strong joined Dundee in August 2006.

However, he was released by the Dens Park outfit in late 2006, and on 8 March 2007, switched to Conference side Halifax Town.

He scored on his debut for the Shaymen after just four minutes, but was released by the club at the end of the season, joining league rivals Northwich Victoria.

Strong left Northwich in January 2008 and arrived at Droylsden, where he played for the rest of the season.

Greg Strong (back row – fifth left, holding cup) celebrates with his 2012-13 Rhyl FC invincibles

Then came the Welsh adventure at Rhyl.

After winning the WPL title in his first season as a player, also achieving the rare distinction of playing in the English, Scottish and Welsh Premier Leagues, Strong took over as manager at Belle Vue in 2009/10, replacing Allan Bickerstaff.

It was a tough baptism for Greg with the Lilywhites in financial difficulties.

Despite this, and having to rebuild his squad constantly due to departing players, Rhyl finished a more than respectable sixth in the WPL that season.

However, after failing to secure a domestic licence, the Lilies were demoted to the Cymru Alliance.

Strong stayed loyal to the club and worked hard to regain Welsh Premier status.

After finishing runners-up two seasons on the bounce, the Lilywhites got it right in 2012-13 in that campaign of the invincibles.

The Lilywhites’ first season back in the WPL was largely one of consolidation, but they did come within 90 minutes of qualifying for Europe.

Hopes were high that 2014/15 would be more successful, but the Lilies failed to make the top six at the mid-season split.

Despite a promising second phase, Rhyl were denied a place in the Europa League play-offs when they blew a 3-1 lead in their final game at Bangor City and lost 4-3.

This meant the end of Strong’s six-year tenure at Belle Vue, but he went on to achieve great success as chief scout at Plymouth Argyle, working alongside former Motherwell team-mate Derek Adams.

Argyle won promotion to League One in 2016-17.

A UEFA Pro Licence holder, Greg will always be remembered with great affection by many in North Wales football.

Happy birthday mate.

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