Unforgettable seasons – 2008-09: A second Welsh Premier title for unstoppable Rhyl

Rhyl celebrate a wonderful 2008-09 title success. Picture: Tony Mottram

The Welsh Premier League has been won by a North Wales club just six times in its 28 seasons.

Our champions have been: Bangor City (1993-94, 1994-95 and 2010-11), Rhyl (2003-04 and 2008-09) and Connah’s Quay Nomads (2019-20).

Other title winners (for reference): The New Saints 13 times, Barry Town 7, Llanelli 1, Cwmbran Town 1.

So far, Grassroots North Wales has celebrated the championship successes of Bangor (1993-94 & 1994-95) and Rhyl (2003-04).

Today we focus on the Rhyl ‘Dream Team’ of 2008-09 in our mini-series Unforgettable Seasons.

Lilywhites dominate from start to finish

Rhyl’s second Welsh Premier League title success in 2008-09 was totally different to their 2003-04 triumph.

Their first championship win under John Hulse was part of a unique quadruple, the likes of which may never be repeated by a North Wales team.

It was also achieved by a squad built on fairly modest resources, comprising experienced talent the majority of whom were at the club the season before.

Forward five seasons to 2008-09 and Rhyl managers Allan Bickerstaff and Osian Roberts capitalised on the availability of a generous budget to assemble a star-studded group which included Welsh internationals with Football League background.

It seemed that a big name was arriving through the door at Belle Vue almost daily.

One-time Wrexham stars Neil Roberts, Gareth Owen and Danny Williams, ex-Premier League defender Greg Strong, former Manchester United prospect Matthew Williams, gifted front man Jamie Reed. The list was endless….

Rhyl had lost 8-3 on aggregate to Ireland’s Bohemian in the Inter-Toto Cup in June 2008, but two months later, when the Lilywhites kicked off their Welsh Premier campaign, the squad had strengthened considerably.

An incredibly exciting time to be a reporter. I was getting invited down to the ground on a regular basis to interview the next big signing.

Unlike in 2003/04, the Lilies won just the one competition in 2008/09 but it was the big one – the Welsh Premier title.

Rhyl lost just twice in 34 league games, shock home reverses to Port Talbot Town (2-3) and Cefn Druids (3-4) where they probably took their foot off the pedal more than anything else, but overall they were a class above everyone else.

How the title was won – Rhyl FC 2008-09

1 – Aug 16, 2008
Rhyl 3 (Greg Stones, Neil Roberts, Jamie Reed) Newtown 0

2 – Aug 23, 2008
Caernarfon Town 0 Rhyl 1 (George Horan)

3 – Aug 30, 2008
Rhyl 5 (Greg Strong, N Roberts 2, Reed, Josh Johnson) Llanelli 1

4 – Sep 5, 2008
Porthmadog 0 Rhyl 3 (Reed, N Roberts, Craig Jones)

5 – Sep 13, 2008
Rhyl 2 (Reed 2) Haverfordwest 0

6 – Sep 21, 2008
Neath Athletic 2 Rhyl 2 (Stones, Reed)

7 – Sep 27, 2008
Rhyl 0 Aberystwyth Town 0

8 – Oct 10, 2008
Rhyl 2 (Paul O’Neill, Horan) Connah’s Quay Nomads 0

9 – Oct 18, 2008
Rhyl 3 (Gareth Owen, N Roberts 2) Carmarthen Town 0

10 – Nov 8, 2008
Rhyl 3 (Gareth Wilson, Johnson, 1 OG) Caersws 1

Gareth Owen

After 10 games

Won 8 Drawn 2 Lost 0 GF 24 GA 4 Points 26

11 – Nov 11, 2008
Bangor City 0 Rhyl 2 (Reed, N Roberts)

12 – Nov 15, 2008
Rhyl 2 (G Owen, Matty Williams) Port Talbot Town 3

13 – Nov 21, 2008
Airbus 1 Rhyl 3 (Strong, N Roberts, C Jones)

14 – Nov 29, 2008
Rhyl 7 (M Williams 3, Stones, G Owen, Wilson, Johnson) Welshpool Town 1

15 – Dec 6, 2008
The New Saints 0 Rhyl 3 (Stones, Horan, N Roberts)

16 – Dec 12, 2008
Rhyl 3 (Stones, Horan, N Roberts) Cefn Druids 4

17 – Dec 20, 2008
Newtown 1 Rhyl 2 (M Williams 2)

18 – Dec 27, 2008
Rhyl 7 (G Owen 2, Reed 2, M Williams, Johnson, O’Neill) Prestatyn Town 2

19 – Jan 17, 2009
Rhyl 2 (Strong, N Roberts) Porthmadog 0

20 – Jan 24, 2009
Haverfordwest County 1 Rhyl 3 (G Owen, Luke Holden, N Roberts)

After 20 games

Won 16 Drawn 2 Lost 2 GF 58 GA 17 Points 50

21 – Feb 7, 2009
Rhyl 4 (N Roberts 2, Holden 2) Neath Athletic 2

22 – Feb 10, 2009
Aberystwyth Town 0 Rhyl 1 (Reed)

23 – Feb 21, 2009
Gap Connah’s Quay 2 Rhyl 3 (Chris Roberts, N Roberts 2)

24 – Feb 28, 2009
Rhyl 4 (O’Neill, Strong, Mark Connolly, Holden) Caernarfon Town 0

25 – Mar 3, 2009
Welshpool Town 0 Rhyl 2 (Horan, N Roberts)

26 – Mar 7, 2009
Carmarthen Town 1 Rhyl 2 (Reed, Holden)

27 – Mar 13, 2009
Rhyl 4 (Horan, G Owen, N Roberts, Reed) Bangor City 1

28 – Mar 21, 2009
Caersws 0 Rhyl 3 (M Williams 2, C Jones)

29 – Mar 29, 2009
Port Talbot Town 2 Rhyl 2 (O’Neill, Stones)

30 – Apr 4, 2009
Rhyl 1 (M Williams) Airbus UK 0

After 30 games

Won 25 Drawn 3 Lost 2 GF 84 GA 25 Points 78

31 – Apr 11, 2009
Llanelli 0 Rhyl 1 (N Roberts)

32 – Apr 13, 2009
Prestatyn Town 1 Rhyl 4 (Strong, G Owen, Luke Sherbon, Reed)

33 – Apr 18, 2009
Rhyl 2 (N Roberts, Connolly) The New Saints 1
The title was secured in front of 1.514 spectators at Belle Vue.

34 – Apr 25, 2009
NEWI Cefn Druids 2 Rhyl 4 (Connolly, Horan, M Williams 2)
Rhyl ended the season on an 18-match unbeaten run – 17 of them wins.
The Lilies took the title by seven points.

2008-09 League record

Played 34 Won 29 Drawn 3 Lost 2 Goals For 95 Goals Against 29

GOALS (95)

Neil Roberts 20
Jamie Reed 13
Matty Williams 12
Gareth Owen 8
George Horan 7
Greg Stones 6
Greg Strong 5
Luke Holden 5
Josh Johnson 4
Paul O’Neill 4
Craig Jones 3
Mark Connolly 3
Gareth Wilson 2
Chris Roberts 1
Luke Sherbon 1
Own Goals 1

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)

PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON

Neil Roberts

Aug 30, 2008
Rhyl 5 (Strong, N Roberts 2, Reed, Johnson) Llanelli 1

One of Rhyl’s greatest performances of the Welsh Premier era as they took reigning champions Llanelli apart in front of S4C’s live cameras at Belle Vue.
The Lilywhites ended a 10-match sequence without a win against Peter Nicholas’ side with a stunning display of attacking football in front of a crowd of 937.
After a flying start from the hosts, a Rhyl goal was inevitable and it arrived on 18 minutes when Neil Roberts brilliantly chested the ball down for Greg Strong to volley home from close range.
Totally against the run of play Llanelli equalised on 38 minutes when Stuart Jones’ header looped into the net.
Rhyl rightfully restored their lead within a minute when Jamie Reed bravely beat keeper Morris to the ball to score.
The game was all over as a contest following a three-goal spell in 10 scintillating minutes from the Lilywhites after the turnaround.
Neil Roberts scored with a vicious volley from the edge of the box before magnificently heading in an Owen cross.
Belle Vue was in raptures when Reed’s shot was saved but Josh Johnson snapped up the rebound.

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