WREXHAM (Wales) — The “crash course” in club ownership has been called by the two Hollywood stars who purchased a struggling team in English soccer’s fifth division with the lofty goal of making it a global force.
Rob McElhenney tweeted last week, “I’m watching the PLAYERS MOP the FIELD to continue playing,” he was an American actor and director. He is now one-half of Wrexham AFC’s new ownership.
“I have never seen anything similar.”
Wrexham residents have been looking in disbelief for quite some time.
Nearly a year has passed since McElhenney, Ryan Reynolds, a Canadian-born actor, completed their $2.5 million takeover at Wrexham. This 157-year-old Welsh club was in such dire straits that its supporters had to twice save it from bankruptcy.
Friends planted the seed of buying a European soccer club. They sought advisors to help them find a club with history, that was not in a bad position, and that would be a major contributor to the community. Wrexham was the right choice.
It’s the third-oldest professional club in the world. They used to draw 20,000 fans in the 1970s. In the 1990s, they won the FA Cup. However, the club has been languishing at the non-league level where some semi-professional teams have been since 2008. It is located in an industrial area of 65,000 people, near the northwest English border. It is close to the soccer hotbeds Liverpool and Manchester.
The purchase was approved to the astonishment of all involved in English and Welsh soccer. McElhenney & Reynolds immediately made big promises to make improvements to the stadium, playing team, and leadership structure, as well as major investments in the women’s squad. This has helped Wrexham stand out in a time when many other clubs in the English Premier League are in financial trouble due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Phil Parkinson, Wrexham manager, said that “I can remember when it first broke on the news. It seemed a bit surreal.” “But, since I spoke to them, you know how serious they are about making this club a success and leaving a lasting legacy.”
As you walk through the tunnel to the Racecourse Ground, you will notice the massive stand (known as “The Kop”) to your left. It is currently being renovated and is covered with a large red banner. It is home to Wrexham’s new sponsors TikTok and Aviation Gin, which are globally recognised brands that have traditionally been out of place at this level.
The season-ticket sales have almost tripled from 2,000 to 5,800 and home game attendances have exceeded 8,000. This is better than most clubs achieve in the third or fourth tiers, and an unheard-of figure at non-league level.
The men’s team has seen an increase in players for Reynolds and McElhenney’s first full season. One player was signed for 200,000 Pounds ($270,000), almost a club record. There’s also a new chief executive and coach with decades of experience in the English Football League and the three lower divisions.
Behind the scenes advisors act as intermediaries between the board’s new owners and those who hold important leadership positions in British soccer. These include former Liverpool CEO Peter Moore and former Football Association technical director Les Reed, and Shaun Harvey, former CEO of the English Football League.
The push to place Wrexham on the world soccer map is still ongoing.
It was recently the first non-league club to be featured on FIFA, a popular video game. McElhenney (750,000) and Reynolds (18,000,000) both use their large Twitter followings to promote the club. They also comment on games, as McElhenney did when Wrexham’s match was cancelled because of a wet pitch.
In what could be the most important game-changer, Wrexham has been the subject of an all-access TV documentary that charts its transformation under new ownership. FX has placed a two-season order for “Welcome to Wrexham”, with Reynolds and McElhenney as the executive directors. This could be a true-life adaptation of Emmy Award-winning U.S. comedy, “Ted Lasso.”
FX said that the documentary would explore “the town, the club and Rob and Ryan’s crash course on football club ownership.” Camera crews were present at the club for much the past year.
Luke Young, Wrexham captain, stated that “Everywhere you travel there’s an camera.” “Despite how many times crew members say, “Be yourself and do what’s naturally,” you still do it to a certain extent, but then you think, “Should I say that?” But they have said they won’t hang you out to dry.”
Is Wrexham being used to make reality TV shows, or is it purely being used for that purpose? The club’s transformation is massive and all the money spent by new owners suggests otherwise.
It is not clear how long Reynolds or McElhenney will stay. Wrexham, both the soccer team as well as the local community, has seen a boost from the new owners and the increased exposure. Fleur Robinson, who was recently appointed CEO, stated that the club now has new members from Los Angeles to New York, and especially Philadelphia, where McElhenney is a native and inspiration for Wrexham’s new green away uniform.
The owners were interviewed on American chat shows about their latest project.
Robinson stated, “There hasn’t been a day gone past when the football club wasn’t mentioned in some manner on a national and global scale.”
McElhenney and Reynolds have both promised to visit Wrexham when pandemic-related travel restrictions will be lifted. They’ll also watch the team, currently at half the National League table after nine games.
They could visit anytime, and could receive a warm reception.
Robinson stated, “There is such a buzz around town, so this is what everybody is waiting for. To see them.” They’ve purchased a club but have not yet seen it. They are as excited as people from Wrexham about coming here, I’m sure.”