NEIL ROBERTS remembers taking in the moment when Wrexham finally ended their and his 15-year non-league nightmare.

“It was the day when all ghosts of Christmas past, all the negatives that had happened in my life, were laid to rest,” said a relieved Roberts, who was continually reminded - blamed by some - that he was captain of the Reds’ team that surrendered Wrexham’s place in the Football League in 2008.

He watched Wrexham gain promotion from the National League alongside his daughter, Mia, in the directors box as his old team beat Boreham Wood.

Lots have happened since that horrendous night at Hereford United and Roberts - Wrexham-born-and bred - was only too happy to open his closet and reveal the highs and close-to-death despairing lows as he sat proudly in the front table seat of his new wine bar in the centre of town.

Part of that journey since being booted out by Brian Little 16 years ago includes living the high life at mega-rich Manchester City, playing in Europe with Rhyl and the time he wanted to end his life when signing himself into The Priory Wellbeing Centre in Manchester.

“A lot has happened but I’m exactly where I want to be now and life’s good,” said Roberts, less than a month into opening Vault33 in High Street, in a business set up with two of the pals he used to play football with for Garden Village, Craig Thomas and Geraint Lewis.

“What I’m doing now ticks every box and I couldn’t be happier.

“I’d also like to thank my partner Bev, our beautiful six kids and two grandchildren and my close family and friends. They all play such an important part in supporting me and I want them to know I’ll never forget.”

But it was quite the opposite for Roberts that dark day in 2018 when he freely admits: “I just didn’t want to be here.

“I signed myself into the Priory in Manchester. It was the only thing that could fix me.

“The room was that small my arms touched both walls. I had a guy, called Everton, watching me 24/7. They took my belt, my laces. I didn’t speak, I didn’t eat and didn’t drink. But it saved me.

“The only thing I can relate to is watching the film ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and that’s me.

“I was vulnerable; I was desperate for help. It was a mixture of everything. It wasn’t that I was drinking so much, or taking drugs - I’ve never done that.

“It was depression, anxiety and probably a fact that I’d parked things in the past, put on a brave face and not dealt with them at the time, like I should have done.”

One key moment in Roberts’ career that he did park was the time he was shown the door at Wrexham just days after the Reds’ relegation from the Football League was rubber-stamped.

“I’d gone into training for a meeting that was planned with manager Brian Little and his assistant Martin Foyle and about how we would go forward the next season in the Conference and how I could combine coaching and playing,” added Roberts.

“So I drive in and there’s Stuart Webber, who was groundsman at the time and he comes up to me and says: ‘Hi Robbo, I’m really sorry mate’.

“Excuse me, I said, sorry for what. And he said sorry to hear you’re leaving. I couldn’t believe it.

“I meet Brian Little and shook his hand and I didn’t go back to the club again for three or four years.

“I’d given my all for my hometown club over the years. I played games despite suffering concussion. I’d made the club £750,000 from my transfer to Wigan and I remember doing an interview with The Leader to say I’d walk back to Wrexham when I came back to sign for Denis Smith from Doncaster in 2006.”

Roberts’ release from Wrexham mirrors the exit of his daughter, Mia, from the women’s team at the end of their promotion season to Welsh football’s elite.

The story features in The Welcome to Wrexham documentary with Roberts revealing: “I was best at putting on a brave face and parking it, instead of really dealing with it.

“But when your daughter goes through the same as I did and found out that she was being released because her friends had seen something online, it’s not right.

“The club should take more care with moments like this as decisions like this can challenge you for the rest of your life.”

Post-Wrexham for Roberts was good even if joining Rhyl in the League of Wales wasn’t considered the sexiest move in his life.

But it worked out a treat for Roberts, who was still a wanted man at the age of 30, turning down offers from Darren Ferguson at Peterborough, Luton and Rochdale to sign for Rhyl.

And it was a case of ‘Oh I do like to be beside the seaside’ for Roberts, who led Rhyl to a domestic double and a European excursion.

“I was on good money there and the move seemed right,” said Roberts.”My uncle played for them and my mum and dad were from Prestatyn and it just seemed right,

“I managed to get Danny Williams, Jamie Reed and Josh Johnson to sign for us and Rhyl’s vice chairman at the time was Paul Higginson, who was vice-chairman at 20th Century Fox.

“I was always heading to his offices in Soho Square and one of my regular travelling companions was Gary Speed.

“He’d got the Sheffield United job and he wanted advice on how to deal with press and after being a mentor to me, I recommended Paul.

“I love Gary and I still think about him all the time. His death affected me at the time and it still does now.

“But I did help his widow, Louise, in making making sure their sons, Ed and Tommy, managed to get away from everything at such a dreadful time.

“I managed to get Ed and Tommy - who are such amazing young men - scholarships in the States and I know Louise was grateful for that as she wrote a piece in Gary’s biography.”

Roberts then landed a top job with Manchester City where he was involved in recruiting top-quality talent from all over the planet to sign for the Premier League champions.

But Roberts’ roots will always be in Wrexham, and just like he did, he’s keen to see the town’s talented teenage footballers make it into Phil Parkinson’s first team.

“Phil’s doing a great job and two promotions says it all about the job he’s done,” added Roberts.

“But Wrexham fans love to see one of their own playing week in, week out and that has to be one of the number one aims for the club.”

As for the doors of Vault33 being open to Wrexham players, fans etc, Roberts added: “Being a Wrexham lad, I know all about having good bars in the town.

“We want Vault33 to be a safe haven for anyone, and especially women, to know they can come here and have a good night and be able to get a taxi home.”