Wrexham AFC: A Cinderella story all the way to the Premier League?

Wrexham AFC. Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
Wrexham AFC. Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images) /

Multi-billionaire heavyweights dominate the Premier League owners table but one fifth-tier football club are causing a Hollywood stir in Wales and embarking on their own journey with Wrexham AFC…

November 2020. A typical day in North East Wales. 44 degrees cold and with a band of rain sweeping through. The prospects look bleak but not under the watchful eye of a couple of ‘A’ list Hollywood stars about to make their mark in sport. Wrexham AFC has just been taken over.

Since being installed as co-chairmen at the end of 2020, Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds have pledged to return the slumping Welsh football club back to the bigtime (well, they’ve never been higher than division two but have had fairy-tale moments, once beating Arsenal in the FA cup and Portuguese giants Porto in European competition).

Currently operating in English football’s fifth tier since relegation from the EFL league in 2008, the dynamic duo pledge to protect the heritage of the world’s third oldest football club and enable the club to rise from the ashes to become a force to be reckoned with. You could be forgiven for thinking this were a recent storyline from the fictional Deadpool series from which ‘superhero’ Reynolds has become a household name.

It seems an unlikely partnership but celebrity involvement in sport is nothing new. Megastar musician Elton John had a long-standing tie with Premiership club Watford dating back to the 1970s and oversaw the team as they jumped three leagues over five seasons, landing in what was then the English first division to do battle with the likes of Liverpool and Manchester United.

But ‘winning’ in sport, like celebrity, can be a charmed life and a seemingly sure thing can fall from the tracks. So does this type of investment guarantee instant returns, an open armed welcome from embattled fans mired in mediocrity…of course not, there have been too many false dawns. But the dream and obsession will always be there.

Fast-forward 40 years and the glamour of the celebrity take-over has gathered recent momentum; global soccer icon David Beckham has realised his long-standing dream and presides over an improving MLS team, Inter Miami (they finished 10th in 2021, and had a 6th place finish in 2022). Whilst over in the top football league in Mexico, Necaxa are now part owned by uber model Kate Upton and famed actress Eva Longoria (whose husband, MLB star, Justin Verlander knows a thing or two about winning) so the heady days of sporting success amidst celebrity fervour may yet be in touching distance.

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Back to North Wales in January 2023 and the Wrexham project continues to build momentum. Renovation work has now begun following the approval of a plan to add a new 5,500 capacity stand increasing the stadium capacity to 15,500 (more than double the league average). The marketing machine is in full swing following the 2022 release of the documentary ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ chronicling the purchase and stewardship of the club under its new owners. The Netflix series, which is available in both the UK (Disney+)_and USA (Hulu), has a second series planned for release later this year and all involved will be hoping for a happy ending

The feelgood factor is evident to all. McElhenney and Reynolds were awarded the freedom of Wrexham in December 2022 for their help in supporting and promoting the city. Then just this week, Reynolds responded to an online plea for new kits from the under-12 FC United of Wrexham futsal team with a very generous donation.

Having won their previous 5 league matches, Wrexham sit second in the National League table and have their sights firmly set on promotion to the fourth tier. This weekend they have an exciting 4th round tie in the FA Cup against Sheffield United from the Championship to look forward to as they look to showcase their progress to a wider field.

As McElhenney said back in 2021, ‘There’s such a storied past here, and there’s so much room to grow again. Sport is storytelling. Why not dream big?’.