GARETH OWEN - one of Wrexham’s all-time greatest players - had more reasons than most to celebrate another pulsating promotion campaign.

Just as he did 12 months ago, Owen was at The Racecourse to watch his old team secure promotion for the second season running.

But it’s amazing Owen was there to see it.

On September 11 last year, Owen fell onto the sofa at his Rhos home, suffering a stroke and triggering a series of life-changing events that he is only too happy to talk about if it means the fast-acting actions of his wife, Gemma, and step-son, Liam, can help others learn from what he describes as an ‘horrific’ experience.

A box-to-box midfielder, who was one of many talented teenagers to roll off Cliff Sear and Brian Flynn’s Racecourse production line in the late 80s and early 90s, Owen has ended up back at his old club as part of the Reds’ coaching team where his wife, Gemma, is head of the women’s football.

On that fateful 9/11 day, Owen was preparing at home for a workshop at Colliers Park.

“I suddenly found myself sprawled across the sofa, couldn’t move my right arm or right leg,” said Owen, now 52.

“My step-son Liam was in the house at the time and he thought I was sleeping. But I regained consciousness and managed to turn myself around.

“Liam’s only 15 and it was not a nice situation but he rang Gemma and if it wasn’t for Gemma, I wouldn’t be here. She spoke to me to try and calm me.

“I remember being bundled into a car and being taken to the Maelor Hospital where I had a MRI. I was in a bad way and it wasn’t looking good.

“They told me I had to get to Walton for emergency brain surgery and within a four-hour window. I got to Walton with 10 minutes to spare and they operated there and then.”

Owen then began the long road to recovery where he remembers what one nurse said to him in his early days of rehabilitation.

“I was up and walking within a week and having physiotherapy but I couldn’t speak and was having all my food liquidised and fed to me through tubes,” added Owen.

“It was hard-hitting but she told me ‘the old Gaz is dead’ and you have to create a new Gaz.

“That was so difficult to take in but it was one of so many emotional times for me in this recovery.

“Being told that half of my brain was dead was not good but I was then told that my hard drive wasn’t damaged but to use computer language my RAM was.

“It was such a hard process; I was in what can only be described as cricket pads to keep my circulation going.

“It broke my heart one day when one of the nurses had a football and rolled it towards me and, me, being an ex-footballer, I couldn’t control it. It was tough. I couldn’t speak and was communicating by a thumbs up or thumbs down.

“Then after about a month, in fact I think it was October 11, I said ‘alright mate’ to a visitor who was leaving the ward and I remember turning to Gemma, breaking my heart again, and saying: ‘Look, I just talked’.”

Owen’s speech is now improving day by day but not that you’d believe it was him you were talking to.

He sounded like Jan Molby on the other end of the phone but by the end of the conversation, he was more David Ginola.

“I don’t know what’s happened to my accent but Gemma loves it,” said Owen, who has kept his sense of humour throughout this harrowing eight-month period.

“Laughter has been our best medicine,” added Owen. “We have laughed all the time, we’ve had to. The fact you say I sound like David Ginola will make Gemma happy. He’s her favourite player and I was lucky enough to meet him on a FAW coaching course in Cardiff.

“You get told of how the brain works in mysterious ways. There are 80 billion neurons in the brain and I’ve lost 20 billion so I’m proud of myself that I’m recovering from this step by step.

“It was hard at first but you have to listen to the experts in this field and that’s what I’m doing.

“My speech therapy has helped and I’m having physio three to four days a week and I’m also in a group therapy session with three others, who have been through the same as me.

“It’s been intense, mentally and physically tiring but I have to say that being able to go and watch Wrexham has helped me get through this.”

Owen returned to The Racecourse for his first game back when the Reds beat Gillingham 2-0 on November 11 - just two months after suffering the stroke.

“The club have been great with me,” added Owen, who had been coaching the women’s U19s side. “Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin have made a real fuss of me and Luke Young and Ben Tozer have also been very supportive. I’ve had good chats with them.

“Wrexham Football Club has played a very important part in my rehabilitation and it was fantastic to celebrate another promotion.

“But there are so many others I need to thank. All the nurses and staff at the Maelor, in Walton and at the Deeside Hospital and obviously the surgeon who operated on me.”

And as for advice to others who may go through what Owen and his family have, he says take the FAST advice.

“I’d like to remind people of the FAST advice. That’s Face - ask the person to smile; Arms - ask them to raise both arms; Speech - ask them to repeat a sentence; Time - if you see these signs, call 999.”