“It’s put us on the map,” says Richard Williams as he reflects on an eventful year since Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney made a small Welsh town international news by buying Wrexham football club. Williams, a long-suffering fan and reporter for local newspaper The Leader, was given the chance to interview Reynolds and McElhenney when they visited the club’s Racecourse Ground in October.
“It was surreal,” he said. “I’ve been covering Wrexham for 18 years and for all those trips to Braintree away on a Tuesday night when you’ve seen Wrexham lose 3-0, that just made up for all of it.” He is not alone, with excitement still palpable in the north Wales town despite mixed results on the pitch. Wrexham, who play in the English league system, are proud to boast they are the third-oldest professional football club in the world, with past glories including an FA Cup win over Arsenal and a European Cup Winners’ Cup triumph against Porto.
Now they find themselves in the National League, the fifth tier of the English game, struggling to make it back into the Football League despite the financial backing of their famous owners.
Without the Wrexham Supporters Trust (WST), the club may have ceased to exist a decade ago due to financial troubles. “Deadpool” star Reynolds and McElhenney, most famous for his role in
comedy series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, took control from the WST a year ago with an initial o2 million ($2.7 million) investment. Money has continued to flow in. Improvements have been made to the Racecourse and there are plans to redevelop the old Kop end, which would increase the ground’s capacity to around 16,000, up from 10,500.
Eyebrows have also been raised at the transfer fees and wages. Last season’s League Two player of the year Paul Mullin and January signing Ollie Palmer, bought for a club-record o300,000, have been enticed to drop down the leagues to strengthen the promotion push. On the field, there has been no quick fix, with Wrexham seventh in the table, nine points off the sole automatic promotion place. But the mood remains buoyant around the town and the feeling persists that the club is on the up again, with Reynolds and McElhenney assuring fans this week they were “only just getting started”.
“You could even argue watching us that if you didn’t know the club was under new ownership, you’d have no reason to suspect anything had changed,” James Kelly, a former board member of the WST, told AFP. “However, away from the pitch the buzz it has created in the town and the atmosphere of full houses at the Racecourse on matchdays is just brilliant to see. On that side I’d say it’s probably gone even better than we could have ever wished for.” Attendances have pushed towards 10,000, while a membership scheme launched last year has attracted 20,000 sign-ups from all over theworld.
“It’s fantastic to see those high attendances,” Wrexham’s CEO Fleur Robinson told AFP. “Many fans hadn’t been previously for many years because they weren’t happy with the way things had been run and people who had never been before have been drawn in by the Rob and Ryan effect. We’ve got a huge catchment in the north of Wales that we need to nurture.”
The changing times at Wrexham are evident even in the kit the players wear. Social media platform TikTok replaced local company Ifor Williams Trailers, for whom Reynolds and McElhenney produced a video that went viral,as the shirt sponsor for this season.
Wrexham now boast more than 100,000 TikTok followers and have seen a 260 percent rise in shirt sales over the past year. The highs and lows of life in the National League are to be captured in a
documentary titled “Welcome to Wrexham.” Yet there is no sense of fans feeling their club is being used as a vehicle to create content.
“Even if the documentary is a major factor to their involvement, I’m not sure how many people would mind if we were back in the Football League as a sustainable, community-focused club,” said Kelly.
Source: WREXHAM, United Kingdom, Feb 12, 2022 (BSS/AFP)