AFTER fourteen years of treading water, the oldest professional football team in Wales could finally be on the verge of promotion back to the English Football League this weekend.

If other results fall favourably and the Dragons win away at Dagenham & Redbridge on Sunday, they would win the National League outright and be promoted automatically.

It’s only a ten minute drive from my house to Dagenham’s ground, I’ve had the fixture in my diary since it was announced before the start of the season, Wrexham have sold all 1,500 of their allocated tickets, and for reasons out of my control, I can’t go.

It would have been my ninth Wrexham game of the season, and the perfect conclusion of this season’s chapter on a personal level for me – my first ever Wrexham game being a turgid 2-1 loss on a drizzly day at Dagenham’s Victoria Road in October 2019.

READ MORE: Wrexham take National League promotion battle to final day

My girlfriend thinks I’ve suddenly become obsessed with football, having never been to a game of my own free will until relatively recently and then travelling so much this season – including five away games and three at the Racecourse. I’ve even bought two Wrexham shirts this year (and a scarf, obviously).

The National Wales: Wrexham supporters during a 2015 FA Cup tie at Stoke. Picture: Chris Fairweather/Huw Evans AgencyWrexham supporters during a 2015 FA Cup tie at Stoke. Picture: Chris Fairweather/Huw Evans Agency

There was even the rainy Tuesday night in early March that I went to Dagenham again to see them beat Maidenhead 3-0.

Maybe my falling head over heels in love with Wrexham, and football in general, looks like a recent development, but I think I should have seen it coming for years.

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In 2015 I moved to Leyton in East London, only a hundred yards from Leyton Orient’s ground on Brisbane Road. My GP’s surgery was in the stadium, with his office overlooking the pitch.

I would be answering the doctor’s questions about my low moods and how my medication was affecting me while trying to sneak a peak at the immaculate, lush green pitch behind him. Just dying to know how the grass felt on what looked like a Subbuteo pitch.

On matchdays Leyton comes alive, there’s a real buzz and you can see how important the club is not just to the area’s economy, but to its community. I was developing a soft spot for football that had never existed in me, and Wales’ immortal Euro 2016 campaign seemed to lock it all in.

The National Wales: Ollie Palmer scores in a 3-1 win over Halifax Town, at the Racecourse, in March.Ollie Palmer scores in a 3-1 win over Halifax Town, at the Racecourse, in March.

One particularly sunny, spring day in April 2018, the atmosphere was a little different. The numbers of people spilling out from the pubs onto the streets were much larger than usual. Then I twigged that all these people were unmistakably speaking with north Wales accents.

Life in London is living cheek to jowl with an incredibly diverse population. Everybody’s different, and nobody quite fits in and that’s what everybody has in common with each other. It’s hard to find where you truly belong.

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The O’s were my local team, but Wrexham’s fans were my people.

The alienation that I’d felt when I was depressed the year before seemed really distant on this day. It felt like my tribe was in town but had gone again before the sun had even gone down.

The National Wales: Wrexham fans during a 2013 final at Wembley. Picture: Huw Evans AgencyWrexham fans during a 2013 final at Wembley. Picture: Huw Evans Agency

Real life (ie the birth of my daughter) got in the way, and I was unable to see Wrexham playing the following season, but I was able to go on my own to see that awful game in Dagenham the following year.

It was an awful performance, and the only highlight was some not-so-diplomatic criticism of a particular Wrexham player from a travelling fan who happened to be sat only ten feet from that player’s family who, shall we say, firmly objected to the criticism.

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Police and stewards were keeping the Wrexham supporters apart, it was nervy, edgy and completely intoxicating. I was hooked.

The Covid-affected season obviously meant I couldn’t see Wrexham again until after the new owners took over, and what a journey it’s been since then.

The National Wales: Hollywood pair Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, who bought Wrexham, last year, with a young fan at the Racecourse. Picture: Club photographer Gemma ThomasHollywood pair Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, who bought Wrexham, last year, with a young fan at the Racecourse. Picture: Club photographer Gemma Thomas

The whole squad have mostly been outstanding this season, and the large cohort of new signings, always at risk at this level of being accused of being “mercenary footballers”, have taken to the club to their hearts and this has been reciprocated by the fans.

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It's been incredible travelling to London commuter towns this year and being greeted in local pubs by a wall of red shirts all singing about how star striker Paul Mullin is super, about how manager Phil Parkinson is super, and about how rich the club is (ie “f***ing rich”).

I’ll never forget the cold wind blasting our faces in the away end at Wealdstone in February and the 88th minute equaliser, followed by the 95th minute winner and the absolute mayhem that followed.

It felt like payback for freezing my toes off at Dover during an awful game that Wrexham won with a fluke goal three months previously.

The National Wales: Wrexham won the Welsh Cup for a record 23rd time in 1995 after defeating Cardiff City who were tied with the Robins on 22 cup titles. It was the last time the Bluebirds were able to compete for the trophy with the final played at the National Stadium, Cardiff. Picture: Huw Evans AgencyWrexham won the Welsh Cup for a record 23rd time in 1995 after defeating Cardiff City who were tied with the Robins on 22 cup titles. It was the last time the Bluebirds were able to compete for the trophy with the final played at the National Stadium, Cardiff. Picture: Huw Evans Agency

If Wrexham win promotion on Sunday, it’s payback for all the loyal fans who remortgaged their houses and raided the family piggy bank in order to save the club from unscrupulous owners in 2011.

If Wrexham aren’t promoted automatically, they’ll qualify for the playoffs, and in current form will be difficult to beat. There’s also the small matter of the FA Trophy final a week after the match at Dagenham. I’ve already got my ticket.

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