Wrexham A.F.C. has never really enjoyed a stellar go of things. The third-oldest professional football team in the world, Wrexham has spent much of its existence burbling away near the bottom of the U.K.’s football-league pyramid system. The club’s most storied moment—knocking the mighty Arsenal out of the F.A. Cup—happened three decades ago now, and the intervening years have only been increasingly unkind. Buried beneath a mound of poor results, ownership worries, and an unpaid six-figure tax bill, Wrexham’s future looked bleak.
But then Hollywood came knocking. Last year, out of absolutely nowhere, the actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney announced their purchase of Wrexham A.F.C., to near unanimous support from the club’s supporters’ trust. To say that their interest has turned the team around would be an enormous understatement.
The first competitive match under new management, against rivals Solihull Moors a month ago, was a sellout, with tickets reportedly being so hard to come by that stewards had to conduct postal-code checks at the gate. A vast, Hollywood-style WREXHAM sign has been erected on a nearby slag heap. The team’s shirts, which previously carried the name of a local trailer manufacturer, now proudly feature TikTok as one of their sponsors.
An upcoming FX documentary series, Welcome to Wrexham, is set to earn the club serious money. Suddenly this Welsh market town, repeatedly unsuccessful in its bid to gain official status as a city, is revitalized. Reynolds and McElhenney have bundled the locals into a rocket ship. Who knows how high they’ll soar?
In the end, the answer depends on two factors. The first is the true intentions of Wrexham A.F.C.’s new owners. And this, quite rightly, has some locals rattled. Actors aren’t exactly known for their long-term strategies, and the fear is that Reynolds and McElhenney will quickly get bored, give up, and drop Wrexham back into the murk. Factor in that Reynolds has made a career of investing in heightened kitsch, and the worry is that he bought a tiny out-of-the-way football club for nothing more than a joke.
Indeed, when the subject came up earlier this year during an interview with Glenn Howerton—the co-creator of McElhenney’s sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia—he expressed just as much bemusement as anyone else. “I don’t know what the hell that’s all about,” he spluttered, adding, “He’s not even a soccer fan.” If McElhenney’s oldest friends and colleagues are unclear about the motivations behind the purchase, there’s no telling how jumpy the locals must be.
A vast, Hollywood-style WREXHAM sign has been erected on a nearby slag heap.
Still, the pair do seem to have genuinely good intentions for Wrexham. A big step was the hiring of former Sunderland manager Phil Parkinson as manager, in which McElhenney apparently played an integral part. Big names are being drafted in behind the scenes, too. The club’s new advisers include the former technical director of the Football Association and previous chief executives of both the English Football League and Liverpool. The new owners are apparently keen to improve every element of the club, from front to back, and Parkinson is adamant that their enthusiasm for Wrexham is legitimate.
It helps that Reynolds and McElhenney are masters when it comes to playing the media. Last month, an episode of Apple TV+’s unabashedly charming sitcom Ted Lasso—about a good-hearted American football coach who is dropped into the world of English football—referenced Wrexham, with one character asking whether or not its new owners were genuine.
Reynolds and McElhenney shot back with a letter threatening legal action against Apple, unless they were awarded compensation in the form of the biscuits the coach bakes every day for his boss. The letter received tens of thousands of likes on Twitter, further boosting the visibility of both Wrexham A.F.C. and Ted Lasso. When Apple responded last week, sending a whopping 50 cartons of biscuits to the club, they all hit the headlines again. It’s probably worth pointing out that McElhenney’s newest show, Mythic Quest, also airs on Apple TV+.
The second, and most important, factor to consider is the team’s performance. And in this case things haven’t quite got off to the glittering start that locals expected. Of their seven matches so far this season, they’ve won three, lost one, and seen three result in draws. They are currently languishing at seventh place in the league, which isn’t going to set many hearts aflutter. When a fat injection of Hollywood cash can’t propel you above Grimsby Town, you have to wonder what can.
Then again, even if Wrexham were to prove unbeatable, true success would still be a long way off. The club’s current home is the lowly Vanarama National League. If the unthinkable happened and Wrexham beat every team they encountered 10–0, it would still take four years to climb the ladder to the Premier League, home to giants such as Manchester United and Liverpool. And if they somehow manage to get there, they’ll find themselves playing against clubs owned by literal billionaires. It’s impressive and altruistic of Reynolds and McElhenney to help Wrexham out of the toilet, but you can’t help worry that the Deadpool money will only get the club so far.
Still, these are problems for another day. Right now, Wrexham—both the club and the town—are still in their honeymoon period. It’s a rare and strange thing for a club like this to have a moment in the spotlight. Let’s not stop the party now.
Stuart Heritage is a Kent, U.K.–based Writer at Large for AIR MAIL