Wrexham AFC have Hollywood owners, Premier League hopes and TikTok sponsors. But first, Tamworth
Wrexham AFC have Hollywood owners, Premier League hopes and TikTok sponsors. But first, Tamworth.
Wrexham’s first fan-supported preseason tour was two hours away from home and resulted in a 5-0 victory. Almost a thousand people came to show their support. Wrexham AFC provided this image.
Nobody knows where Wrexham AFC will go under the leadership of celebrity actors/owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, but every journey must begin somewhere, and 1,193 fans will be able to say “I was there” on the day this sports adventure really began.
Wrexham were in Tamworth, England, on Saturday, to play The Lamb, a small non-league stadium that is as far away from the entertainment glitter that Wrexham’s Hollywood owners have brought to their new club as you can imagine. If Wrexham make it to the English Football League and climb the ladder all the way to the Premier League thanks to the backing of “Deadpool” star Reynolds and McElhenney, the creator of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” the 5-0 win at The Lamb, a ground nestled between a railway line and a shopping mall, will be remembered.
Despite the fact that Reynolds and McElhenney completed their takeover of Wrexham in February, midway through the Welsh club’s season in the Vanarama National League (English football’s fifth tier), COVID-19 restrictions meant that Saturday’s preseason friendly against Tamworth was the first time fans had been able to see their team since the two actors became involved with the Welsh club, which made a splash in the English media.
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950 of the 1,193 fans inside the stadium had traveled the 70 miles from Wrexham — they even had to endure the visitors’ section toilets being closed at half-time due to a pipe blockage — so it’s fair to say that excitement and anticipation have taken hold among a fan base that has waited desperately for their team to escape England’s non-league and return to the Football L.
Wrexham’s newly-appointed manager, Phil Parkinson, said ESPN, “There aren’t many teams at the EFL level that would transport so many fans to a friendly game, so it does reflect the importance of the club and the task we have taken on.” “There is a sense of expectation, but we must be large and strong enough to handle it.”
“We have to cope with it and embrace it because that’s what it’s like to play for a large, ambitious club. At whatever level of operation, no job is ever simple, and this one will undoubtedly provide many difficulties along the road.”
Reynolds and McElhenney’s choice of Parkinson demonstrates their high expectations for their squad. The 53-year-old has coached over 800 games for Sunderland and Bolton Wanderers, and in 2013, he led fourth-tier Bradford City to the EFL Cup final with victories against Arsenal and Aston Villa. Attracting Parkinson to Wrexham as an experienced manager with a solid name is a coup and a statement by Reynolds and McElhenney, as is the summer acquisition of striker Paul Mullin, who set a League Two record with 32 goals in 46 games to help Cambridge United gain promotion last season.
“I talked with Rob [McElhenney] before coming aboard, and we’ve had a few conversations in the past week or two,” Parkinson added. “He’s curious about the players we’re looking at, so I explain why we need particular individuals and where we are in the negotiating process.” He’s in America, upset that he hasn’t been able to come over yet, but he’s extremely interested, and he’s in contact with Ryan about the information I’m passing on to him.
“They are deeply invested in the club’s success and are dedicated to it. I came here because it offers me the opportunity to re-establish a club.”
Several supporters who traveled made banners expressing their gratitude to the new proprietors. Featured image courtesy of Mark Ogden / ESPN
According to ESPN, Reynolds and McElhenney purchased Wrexham after a thorough search for a European football club because McElhenney noticed parallels between the town and his hometown of Philadelphia in terms of working-class areas with a love for sport. Wrexham is also a sleeping giant in the lower leagues, thus the team has the ability to develop and perhaps even reach the Premier League.
In 1976, the Welsh team advanced to the quarterfinals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup, and in the 1990-91 season, they faced Manchester United in the same tournament. In 1992, they pulled off one of the biggest FA Cup shocks in history by beating defending champions Arsenal 2-1 at the Racecourse Ground. Despite the fact that North Wales has long been a hotspot for Everton and Liverpool fans due to their closeness, Wrexham still has a strong and devoted fan following, as shown by over a thousand supporters making the two-hour trip to Tamworth.
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Ian, a Wrexham supporter, told ESPN, “We’re still pinching ourselves over Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds’ acquisition of our team.” “At the time, the Supporters Trust ownership concept seemed appropriate, but we were fading into oblivion.” We could have been demoted to the National League North if the 2019-20 season hadn’t been cut short [because to COVID-19].
“The Americans have given everything a sense of comedy.” Their social media output demonstrates that they don’t take themselves too seriously, which is a positive thing, and the new management team and players have a lot of potential. But, having said that, I don’t want the club to become corporate and lose its character. I don’t want us to end up like Manchester City in the lower leagues, serving as a vehicle for a Gulf state to market itself.
“All the success in the world won’t make up for the loss of our club’s soul.”
Another supporter, Gary from Ruabon, thinks the Reynolds-McElhenney takeover will be beneficial to the club.
“For us, it’s an incredible tale,” he added. “Most of us had accepted the fact that Wrexham would never return to the EFL. Seeing the club struggle after their relegation in 2008 has been devastating at times. But, if nothing else, Ryan and Rob have restored Wrexham’s pleasure. They’ve instilled optimism and enthusiasm in us, and it’s all a little strange.
Given Parkinson’s pedigree much further up the English football hierarchy, his appointment is another another indication of Wrexham’s ambition. Getty Images/Ian Horrocks
“It’s strange to have Hollywood stars in control of your club.”
On Saturday, Wrexham flags combining the American and Canadian flags (Ryan is from Vancouver) were strewn around The Lamb. “Hollywood Fancy Dans” was written on one, while “R.R McReynolds: Making Wrexham Great Again” was written on another.
The effect of having Hollywood A-listers in control of the club can be seen on Wrexham’s jerseys, with TikTok signing a kit sponsorship agreement and Expedia paying to have their name on the back of the uniform. Any other non-league club would be hard pressed to sell its jersey space to two multibillion-dollar corporations.
Wrexham’s new green and grey away jersey, selected by McElhenney as an homage to the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League, was worn at Tamworth. Away from the glitter and fame, though, the only way for Reynold and McElhenney to guarantee that the Wrexham narrative follows the script is for them to win. The ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ documentary that the two men are directing promises to be a behind-the-scenes look at the rise and fall of a lowly football club. But, while Tamworth was a sign of things to come, the real work of winning promotion begins on August 21 when the National League season kicks off at home against Yeovil.
“You’re not in football to lose games,” defender Shaun Brisley, who joined from Port Vale in the summer, told ESPN. “At the end of the day, the primary goal is success, and that success is promotion back to the Football League.”
“I didn’t know much about the owners, but bringing in a manager of Phil Parkinson’s caliber means they’re serious about winning this year. They’re attempting to re-enter the Football League, and I just want to be a part of it.”
They want some of that sunlight in Wrexham, too, since it’s usually sunny in Philadelphia.