IT'S more than 20 years since Graham Whittle, a member of Wrexham's greatest-ever team, was last inside the Racecourse following a bitter parting of the ways shortly after the most successful spell in the club's history.
But the former midfield pocket battleship, now 51, somewhat bulkier and less mobile than he once was, put aside his long-held grievances on Saturday to answer a call to arms which triggered an amazing response from football lovers across the country.
Wrexham's current plight also brought Whittle's team-mate, Bobby Shinton, back to the scene of his finest moments in the game and their unscheduled reunion was joined by striker Dixie McNeil - the three legends sharing memories of happier times.
Whittle, his professional career ended by injury at the age of 28 and his future mobility saved only by operations to fuse together the bones in both ankles, said: "I had to come today because I felt it was the right thing to do.
"Whatever has happened in the past, this is a great club and it doesn't deserve to be in the mess that it is at the moment."
His sentiments were shared by a North Wales public awakened from its apathy by a week of unprecedented media focus and further boosted by supporters of Football League clubs the length and breadth of the country.
The kick-off was delayed by 15 minutes as the turnstiles clicked through a 7,833 crowd - the largest for almost two years - and the noise from the fans then shook the under-threat stadium to its foundations.
In such circumstances the football was almost an irrelevance, although Wrexham had opponents Bristol City on the ropes until a contentious penalty settled the visitors' nerves, as veteran City midfielder Scott Murray admitted.
"The crowd got behind them and it's always an intimidating place to come to," he said afterwards..
"It was difficult but the main thing for us was to get three points while the main thing for Wrexham was to keep the club in business.
"So the first goal was important in order to quieten down the crowd."
Until the controversial 36th-minute turning point, Denis Smith's fired-up Dragons had the better of an uncompromising battle, Dennis Lawrence just failing to convert a quickly-taken free-kick by Darren Ferguson and City goalkeeper Steve Phillips making a fine save to deny Mark Jones a goal on his full league debut.
Unbeaten in more than a dozen previous outings, the visitors rode their luck in the 25th minute when another Jones effort from the edge of the penalty area was blocked, the rebound falling to Steve Roberts, whose first-time effort came back off the crossbar.
After a sluggish start Tommy Doherty and Tony Dinning began to function in City's midfield and it was from Doherty's through ball that striker Leroy Lita won the spot-kick.
His acceleration left Lawrence struggling and Andy Holt's challenge, though minimal, was contact enough to persuade referee Keith Hill and Mickey Bell stepped up to beat Matt Baker.
While Smith was adamant no offence had been committed, even City player-manager Brian Tinnion went close to admitting the referee had got it wrong.
"We've had dodgy penalties against us this season," he claimed. "We had one at Torquay in the opening game of the season that was absolutely no way a penalty. Today Leroy was about to take a shot, he was fouled and a penalty was given. That's the way it goes."
The Racecourse boss, however, insisted Hill's decision changed the course of the game.
"Up until the decision we were on top, we'd hit the bar, the keeper made a good save from Mark Jones and I was happy with the way things were going," he said.
"But the referee decided it was a penalty. Apparently the linesman on the far side didn't think it was, but the one man who mattered did."
But Wrexham could have no arguments about City's second goal, which came in the final minute of the first half. Chris Llewellyn was dispossessed too close to his own goal and with defenders out of position, Murray drove an angled shot past Baker.
And the home side, desperately needing to regain a foothold in the game, shot themselves in the foot again seven minutes after the re-start.
Luke Wilkshire's initial corner kick was cleared out to Bell, whose wayward shot appeared to be going harm-lessly wide until an unmarked Steve Brooker pounced to divert the ball into the net.
It was game over, a fact acknowledged by Smith, who immediately withdrew Hector Sam and Lawrence in view of their gruelling midweek World Cup trip and in anticipation of another crucial league match at Torquay United tomorrow evening.
But if the Dragons were even tempted to contemplate damage limitation, the crowd would not let them, a renewed wall of sound making a mockery of the scoreline.
Wrexham responded gamely, Jones going close with another long-range effort before Spanish substitute Juan Ugarte turned smartly to fire over the crossbar.
Content to attack on the break, City might have added another but for Baker. He saved well from Lita before Craig Morgan's challenge prevented Brooker knocking home the rebound, and the goal everyone wanted to see finally came 13 minutes from time when Chris Armstrong despatched a probing through ball from Ferguson.
There was never a chance of a fairy-tale comeback against the well-marshalled visitors, although the woodwork again denied Wrexham a modicum of respectability when Armstrong's looping header in the third minute of added time looped over Phillips to hit the bar.
Tinnion was generous in his post-match appraisal, saying: "We knew Wrexham would be fired up because they've had a difficult week. The crowd were superb. "I'm sure Denis Smith had his side wound up but we got the goals at the right time and it knocked the stuffing out of them. But they came back strongly, fair play to them, and under difficult circumstances they battled for themselves and for the club today."
For his part, Smith said he was perhaps wrong to play his Trinidad internationals, who did not get back to this country until late on Friday.
"We went for an attacking midfield and that might have caught us out a bit and the two lads coming back from Trinidad looked a bit leggy.
"But there were some good points. Mark Jones didn't do too badly, although he dipped in and out of the game more than I would have liked, and I thought Juan Ugarte looked lively when he came on.
"We came up against a team who were clinical in their finishing, but we've got to live with that and accept at times we are going to be beaten by better teams. But I believe when we have everyone fit we can compete with teams like Bristol City."