The Wrexham Phenomenon: A Movie Club

Actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney made Wrexham AFC a global soccer phenomenon. How is it that Hollywood stars are leading a Welsh club to success?

Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney

Photo: Gemma Thomas/Wrexham AFC

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Leer en español: El fenómeno Wrexham: un club de película

It happens in the movies, it happens in life. Hollywood has taught us that nothing is impossible, not even for a couple of actors to go from saving a bankrupt football club to bringing it back to professionalism. The line that divides fact from fiction is very thin, and that is something that Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney know perfectly well. With only two and a half years in charge of the board of directors, both artists have returned the illusion to a city with the promotion of Wrexham AFC from the National League (fifth division of the English league) to League Two (fourth division) after fifteen years.

At a time when many of us are witnessing the success of the "Ted Lasso" series, which is set in the world of soccer and which could easily be starred by Reynolds or McElhenney, they have gone further by starring in their own sports movie in life real. In the blink of an eye, the club increased its income exponentially, from the sale of shirts to the number of subscribers, something that is largely due to the investment of the actors. Of course, every start is slow and full of skepticism, and this new era for Wrexham was no exception.

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To the Rescue of Wrexham

The question that locals and strangers have been asking since the end of 2020: Why Wrexham? The answer to that mystery was seen on April 22, when the Welsh club beat Boreham Wood 3-1 to finalize their promotion, and a hundred fans invaded the pitch to celebrate the feat. That love, that union and passion for colors, was what led Reynolds and McElhenney to choose this club.

Talking about Wrexham is talking about tradition, since it is the third-oldest British club in the world of football. It was founded in 1864 and has a quite varied history, full of some successes in the FA Cup and great performances in the extinct European Cup Winners' Cup, but also with critical moments, in which it was close to disappearing on more than one occasion. Precisely, in 2020 it was experiencing one of those complicated situations, sunk in the fifth division, with no hope of coming out. And it is that since 2011, a group of investing fans had formed the Wrexham Supporters Trust to take over the reins of the club and thus save it from bankruptcy, only that the situation was already untenable.

At this point in history is when Hollywood knocked on the door. Reynolds and McElhenney. Through their RR McReynolds Company, they paid €2.5 million to become the new owners of the club, a decision that changed Wrexham's life forever. This personal project was not only intended to prevent the club from disappearing, but also to give it a makeover, strengthen the community around the club and, of course, promote it back to the more professional divisions of the English league.

The response from the fans, at first, was disbelief. Football today is full of sheikh-owned teams and this seemed like one more, since most imagined that it was all going to be a marketing strategy and that the two actors were never going to be so tied to Wrexham. However, the opposite happened. It was increasingly common to see them in the stands of the stadium. In addition, the main focus of their investment has been for the institution to do really well and maintain its essence. And it is that in the 158 years of its founding, the two best signings that the Red Dragons have had are Reynolds and McElhenney.

Fulfilling the Objectives

The relationship between the club, the city and the new owners was getting better and better. With the arrival of the actors in Wrexham, the eyes of more and more people were placed on the small town in Wales. The objectives were being met step by step, and what for many was just an illusion was already becoming a reality. Beyond the economic effort to sign players and start the reconstruction of its stadium, the club's main strategy included a rebranding of the brand. It included TikTok as a main sponsor and the development of a documentary series under the name "Welcome to Wrexham", which is available for streaming thanks to Star+.

Next on the to-do list was something the club hadn't achieved since 1977: a league title. Certainly, the National League is known for being a practically amateur category and something far from professionalism. As if it were a movie script, Wrexham and Notts County reached the decisive match equal on points and with the possibility of taking advantage in the final stretch of the championship. With 12 minutes to go, the Red Dragons scored 3-2 to go ahead, but in the last breath of the game, the visitors had a penalty to equalize the actions. However, 40-year-old veteran goalkeeper Ben Foster, a former Manchester United player, saved the shot to return his team to the lead.

Thus, it was that on the penultimate day, again playing at home, Wrexham did their homework against Boreham Wood to seal a historic promotion. The cheers of the fans invading the field, as well as the tears of emotion from Reynolds and McElhenney, went around the world. A moment of catharsis for everyone involved in this club that will undoubtedly be reflected in the next season of the documentary series.

Wrexham's Future

This is barely half the way to Wrexham. The short-term future is for the club to continue to become more solid and strengthen its professionalism, in addition to specific goals such as expanding the stadium to host international matches. But if there is something more ambitious, and that many fans will surely want to witness, it is to see Wrexham in the elite. "In 10 years, the plan is the Premier League. We believe we can do that. That's the goal, call us crazy if you want,” Reynolds told reporters after the game.

For his part, McElhenney is already doing his thing to try to achieve that goal sooner rather than later, and the possible stellar plan is to bring an iconic Welsh player out of retirement: Gareth Bale. The former Real Madrid player congratulated the actor on the club's feat with a video on social networks, to which he replied: "Hey Bale, let's play golf, where I won't spend 4 hours trying to convince you not to retire to one last magical season." Undoubtedly, a movie club that goes beyond fiction.

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