Heart of Football

Welcome to Wrexham – The gang buys a club, and inherits a community

Every day, it’s a-getting closer

Going faster than a rollercoaster

Love like yours will surely come my way

A-hey, a-hey-hey

To a generation of people, to many generations of people, in fact, the above lyrics will transport them to the Buddy Holly song Everyday. Others may remember it more from its use in Stand By Me, Mad Men, or Lost. To me, and to the millions of people globally who tuned in to Disney +’s hit show about two celebrities buying a lowly Welsh football club, it is the theme tune to Welcome to Wrexham. As theme tunes go it is a stroke of genius. A gentle, easy-listening, yet poignant song that, when paired with the old-timey shots of Wrexham fans and the town itself, sets the show up for success from the off.

When news broke in the autumn of 2020 that North American actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney were taking over Wrexham A.F.C there was a mixture of excitement and scepticism in fairly equal measure. I find it hard to believe anyone didn’t like the pair; Ryan Reynolds had spent over a decade making comedies and blockbusters, being announced FHM’s ‘World’s Sexiest Man’ in 2010, whilst McElhenney had been developing his hit comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia since the mid-2000s.

If you are a UK based fan of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia then check out a link to my Etsy store.

They were funny men and they seemed like thoroughly likeable people, but businessmen? Or more to the point, football businessmen? To McElhenney, football had always been the Philadelphia Eagles, and Reynolds? I don’t know… CFL side the British Colombia Lions?

I watch a lot of English football, but it’s the Premier League. I keep tabs on the Championship, and I see the odd League 1 and 2 sides scores crop up on social media, but I’m a Dundee United fan, therefore I don’t pay close attention to the lower echelons of the English pyramid system. I knew the name Wrexham from years gone by, but they were a club who had fallen off my radar.

In September 2020 though, this takeover put them back on the map; in August 2022 when they released season 1 of Welcome to Wrexham on Disney +, they became one of the most known clubs in the English football system. I don’t have the data, but I’d imagine ‘Wrexham’ was typed into Google a lot more than any non-Premier League side, particularly from across the pond.

Usually when a working club gets an influx of cash, it is from dubious businessmen who are looking to get rich, famous, or both. Interestingly though, Reynolds and McElhenney already were rich and famous (though as McElhenney puts it in an early episode, he has TV money, Reynolds has movie money…). They came in and saw a project.

Of course they put in money – they want to take this club up the leagues – but they did it in a healthy way. They may have brought in players at a higher wage than a lot of their league rivals could and a manager from the higher leagues, but they didn’t rock the boat too much. Core members of the squad stayed over the duration of their first couple of seasons. They made few improvements to the iconic Racecourse Ground, but they appreciated that the stadium was important and didn’t want to change too much.

They brought in some sponsorship deals like TikTok, Expedia, and Reynold’s gin company, Aviation. I don’t see other teams in the division pulling in global mega-brands, but that’s just the way it is. You can besmirch it all you want, but these guys, while known for their fun, outgoing nature, aren’t playing. They want success and have the resources to improve things.

One of my main concerns going into this documentary series was that it was going to be a circus. The Rob and Ryan show, ft. a Welsh ‘soccer’ team. They feature, of course they do, but this is a show about Wrexham AFC. There are some episodes that show these guys a little more than others, but the beauty of this series is that it covers the team on the field, the players, the manager and most interestingly of all, the community.

We find out about Rob and Ryan, why they took over, how often they come to games and to what extent they keep tabs on what is going on while they are across the Atlantic. What we also discover is why star striker Paul Mullin dropped into the National League, beyond the financial incentive, about Wayne Jones, owner of local pub The Turf, and Shaun Winter, a true diehard fan and host of This is Wrexham – The Late Show podcast. We learn about Jordan Davies, his contact situations and connection to the fans, and the miscarriage suffered by his partner, Kelsey. We find out about Michael Hett, lead singer of the Declan Swans, and his battle with cancer. For everything revealed about the team, we soak up the ramifications on the people that are involved in the community.

I said before that the show is about Wrexham AFC, but in reality, it is a show about Wrexham. The town of Wrexham. The people of Wrexham. It is the football club that links everyone and everything in this town, and it is why this takeover has been so uplifting to see. Of course you can grumble at the perceived unfairness of it. If you support Halifax Town, Maidenhead Utd, Dagenham & Redbridge, or any team in that division then it must piss you off royally. But I prefer to think of it in the way that someone in your life, say in your office, wins the lottery. It’s natural to be jealous, but they are getting out of the day to day and experiencing something a little bit special.

The likeable nature of Rob and Ryan has been good for entertainment purposes. The quirky way that they translate phrases from English, to Welsh, to American, was so simple yet fun without being condescending, or taking the viewer out of the moment. The 7th episode – Wide World of Wales – saw the boys give a tour of Wales in various TV show formats, with their Sport Center parody being a personal highlight for me.

The owners do their best Sport Center parody

This show was more than just bits or gimmicks. They cared about their club. They took the time to talk to the fans. One episode saw them head to Wayne’s pub and meet with a few locals, listening to their concerns and giving a really honest account of their plans and rationales, all whilst throwing back shots. They would fly across for games when their schedule allowed, and they made every effort to watch games when they were Stateside.

It felt like it took Ryan Reynolds a little longer to fall in love. He was his charming self at every stage, but by his own admission he wasn’t a big sports fan growing up, and it felt like this was an investment which he was trying to warm to. McElhenney seemed hooked from the off, and the footage of him watching with his son at early o’clock at the weekends, Wrexham shirts and hats proudly dawned, felt genuinely… genuine.

Rob and his son got up at 4am for a game [image taken from Disney + S1. Ep2]

Flash forward a few episodes and they were hooked. The FA Trophy final, Wembley Stadium. The biggest game since the takeover, and a world away from their first game in the Covid restriction times. David Beckham, Will Ferrell, Ted Lasso Jason Sudeikis, and Kit Harrington were just a few notable names in attendance. The star power was showing.

Things didn’t go to plan with opponents Bromley taking the lead in the second half. Deep into stoppage time Wrexham put the ball in the net and the Wembley box with Ryan and Rob was bedlam. One of the season highlights was when the goal went in and Rob’s wife, and fellow It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia star Kaitlin Olson, jumps up in celebration and turns around to embrace her husband, who ignores her to jump into the arms of Ryan Reynolds. If you haven’t seen it then I highly recommend skipping to minute 4.20 of this Jimmy Kimmel clip and watching a minute or so…!

Skip to 4.20 to hear Kaitlin Olson recount the story from Wembley

Look, it’s an 18 episode season, with episodes ranging in length, and over such a duration that it would take a book to do it justice, not an article. The bottom line is that this series is good. This club is good. These owners are really damn good. It isn’t like an All or Nothing, this isn’t a top tier Premier League side. This isn’t a farce like the management in Sunderland Til I Die, and these aren’t lifelong fans like Steve Parish in When Eagles Dare. These are two celebrities that have stumbled upon a club, invested, and are doing well, on the pitch and off it.

At the time of writing they are fresh off a dramatic 3-2 win over fellow title-challengers Notts County, having won after veteran goalkeeper Ben Foster saved an injury-time penalty to keep them in poll position to win the league and gain promotion into League 2. I wish them all the luck in the world. Football, whilst still a magical sport, feels like it is losing its soul in a world of European Super League talk, VAR rants weekly, socio-economic problems and widening disparity between owners and fans.

Wrexham isn’t just a football team, it is a community, and this community have been in the dark for too long. They have been blessed with two investors who want to be involved, but are savvy enough to ask for help, and to bring in ‘proper’ football people to help guide the right decisions. I said at the beginning that I was sceptical about this takeover in 2020, and I know a lot of Wrexham fans were too. Well, on the cusp of promotion with a talented squad and an experienced manager, the future is bright. If you think the fans are still on the fence about Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney then just read the lyrics below. They are beloved in Wrexham. They’ve given the town a lift, and I get the feeling that this is only the beginning…

Less than a mile from the centre of town

A famous old stadium’s crumbling down

No one’s invested so much as a penny,

Bring on the Deadpool… and Rob McElhenney

Bring on season 2, and hopefully many more!

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