It was back in the 2004-05 season that I first met Neil Young.
John Hulse, who had led Rhyl FC to an unprecedented quadruple the season before, had added Neil to his management team to work alongside himself and assistant Lee Coathup.
John was delighted to bring “Youngy” on board. He told me at the time: “I see a little bit of me in him, a little bit of the younger me. I think he’ll go a long way in management.”
How true John’s words have become.
Last weekend, Neil’s Marine side, from the eighth-tier of English football, advanced to the third round of the FA Cup where they have secured a dream home tie with Premier League leaders Tottenham Hotspur.
It’s the stuff of fairy tales, but certainly not the first slice of success in Neil Young’s management career.
His first major highlight in Welsh football came in 2005-06, when now as number two to Hulse, the pair guided the Lilywhites to a second Welsh Cup in three years, beating Bangor City 2-0 in the final at the Racecourse, Wrexham.
Rhyl added the NWCFA Challenge Cup to the trophy cabinet that season.
His apprenticeship served alongside the master, it was now time for Neil to stand alone as a manager.
Young transformed Colwyn Bay’s fortunes after joining them early in the 2008/09 season.
In his first campaign, he lifted the Seagulls from the relegation zone to the play-offs in First Division North of the UniBond Northern Premier League.
The Bay missed out on promotion that time, but the season after secured a place in the UniBond Premier Division, beating Lancaster City in the 2009/10 play-off final.
A bigger challenge awaited when Neil was appointed manager of phoenix club Chester FC in 2010 – and what an impact he made!
His first season found him back in the First Division North he had just earned promotion from with Colwyn Bay. Young succeeded again, on this occasion winning the league title with the Blues.
Over the next two seasons, NPL Premier Division and Conference North championships were won.
Chester were now one step from the Football League, but their first season in the Conference Premier proved a bit of a come down and Neil left by mutual consent in January 2014.
Neil went on to have managerial spells at Stockport County (2015-16), Altrincham (2016) and Halifax (caretaker – 2018) before taking over at Marine on September 13, 2018.
Eight days later Alan Morgan, another ex-Rhyl man who played for the Lilywhites in Europe under John Hulse, became Young’s assistant.
In 2019, Marine were relegated to the Northern Premier League Division One North West.
It was the first relegation in their history, and followed 40 consecutive seasons at the highest level of the NPL.
Nonetheless, the club has stayed loyal to Young and Morgan and have certainly been rewarded with this season’s FA Cup adventure.
This is the second time the Mariners have reached the third round of the FA Cup. In 1992–93 they lost 3-1 to Crewe Alexandra and now they have got through seven matches for the right to meet Tottenham Hotspur.
Marine have beaten three Football League clubs (Barnsley, Halifax Town and Colchester United) in the history of the competition, the win over Colchester coming this season.
The North Wales connection at Rossett Park goes far beyond Young and Morgan, who formerly managed Llandudno and Aberystwyth Town in the Cymru Premier, plus Colwyn Bay, as well as being assistant to Neville Powell at Bangor City and part of management set-ups at Cefn Druids and Connah’s Quay.
Defender Anthony Miley, who provided the assist for Niall Cummins’ 120th minute winner in Sunday’s 1-0 second round victory over Havant and Waterlooville, was a class performer for Bangor City in the Cymru Premier, as well as representing Colwyn Bay and Conwy United.
James Joyce and Danny Shaw have played for Llandudno in the top-flight, while Ryan Wignall was a member of Connah’s Quay Nomads’ Cymru Premier title-winning squad last season. Adam Hughes was formerly with The New Saints.
I am unsure whether John Hulse remembers the conversation he had with me that day about Neil Young, but I’ve never forgotten it and what the Birkenhead legend said has certainly been proved correct.