Until recently there were probably a good number of people in the UK who had never heard of Wrexham. Sorry Wrexhamites. It is certainly safe to say that there were relatively few people in the USA who were familiar with the town in North Wales. And even those people in this country who were aware of Wrexham probably knew little more than it was a town in the northern part of Wales. Perhaps they knew that Robbie Savage and Denis Taylor hailed from Wrexham and that the town had a team that played in the English football system rather than that of Wales.
But now, now, Wrexham football club is front-page news, back-page news, TV-headline news, the subject of a Disney series and the focus of heated and passionate debate between football fans at all levels of the game. An impressive map online shows Wrexham fans dotted all over the globe including in Mongolia, Sudan, Bolivia and Iceland, not to mention thousands of supporters in the USA.
But how has this happened and what, frankly, is all the fuss about Wrexham A.F.C.?
Long History But Deep Slump
Wrexham is a club of great historic significance. They have won the Welsh Cup 23 times, losing in the final on a further 22 occasions. They are the oldest football team in Wales and by some reckoning the third-oldest in the world. Founded in 1864, their home, the Racecourse Ground, is reportedly the oldest international ground in world football. And yet for a long time they wallowed in the fifth tier of English football, outside of the Football League.
In April 2011, thanks to an unpaid tax bill of almost £200,000, they were hit with a winding-up order by HMRC. They very nearly went out of business but a fan takeover led to the end of the controversial and calamitous ownership of Alex Hamilton and the club marched on. In truth it was more of a trundle and whilst they survived, in 2019/20 they ended 19th in the fifth tier, their worst-ever season.
With the global health issues of that time casting a long shadow over all clubs, let alone those very much on a downward trend, Wrexham fans rightly feared the worst. Little did they know that a superhero was just around the corner, ready to save them.
Hollywood Meets Wrexham
After a brief courtship, during which they had to reassure Wrexham’s fans that their intentions were good and that their commitment to the club and town was both serious and long term, Deadpool and Rob McElhenney (that’s Mackle-Henny by the way!) bought Wrexham football club in November 2020. Deadpool, also known as Canadian Hollywood A-lister Ryan Reynolds, and McElhenney, an American TV actor moderately known in the UK, completed the deal to buy the Red Dragons in February of the following year.
I’ve waited 8 years to respond to this tweet.
— Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) September 23, 2020
Dreaming of ending a wait of almost 15 years outside the Football League, almost 99% of votes from the Wrexham Supporters Trust backed the takeover. And so it was that Wrexham had their own superhero owners.
Disney Brings Global Attention
The deal in itself was surprising enough to attract raised eyebrows and interested eyeballs from around the world. But that publicity was super-charged by Welcome To Wrexham, a docuseries that was broadcast by Disney+ and garnered rave reviews. As well as being a fine comedic actor, Reynolds is a superb businessman, having fingers in many pies.
Businesses he was linked to sponsored the club, helping to bring them funds far beyond all of their National League rivals. The Disney+ series brought more attention for the sponsors and the club, whilst also proving a big hit with viewers, and the whole thing was a virtuous circle with more and more fans taking an interest in the fortunes of Wrexham.
The new owners invested heavily, bringing in players from one and even two divisions above on wages that would not be out of place in the lower reaches of the Championship. However it was not all plain sailing and despite a strong season they were pipped to the National League title in the 2021/22 campaign. Stockport held them off on the last day of the season and with only one automatic promotion place Wrexham had to try and battle through the play-offs.
In the end it wasn’t to be and they missed out, falling at their first hurdle, the play-off semis, to Grimsby Town. Indeed it was the Mariners who would go on to secure their place in the Football League, despite finishing some 11 points behind the Welsh side in sixth place. Wrexham did not get the Hollywood ending and they would have to try all over again the following season.
Wrexham Battle Notts County All the Way
Wrexham invested again in the summer, largely on free transfers, but with many players coming in from higher divisions their strength in depth looked impressive whilst their wage bill swelled. They were big favourites for automatic promotion but in the end Notts County would push them all the way.
County are another club of great historical importance whose fans feel they should be playing far higher up the pyramid. They too had been beaten by Grimsby in the play-offs in 2021/22 and on a budget much smaller than that of Wrexham they had an astonishing season.
Wrexham were forced to wait until 22nd April 2023 to secure promotion and they needed to amass 110 points to do it. With a game to go both Wrexham and Notts County have well over 100 points and have scored over 110 goals each. The Welsh side have won 34 of their 45 games whilst their rivals won 32 times but it still wasn’t enough.
Records galore have been smashed, with County striker Macaulay Langstaff bagging 41 goals (and counting) and Wrexham’s star striker Paul Mullin netting 38 times. The season-long tussle at the top has been captivating and has been a big part of the story.
In addition, the Disney+ series has made stars of players such as Mullin, fellow striker Ollie Palmer and local lad Jordan Davies. The club have become the second team of many football fans in the UK, and the passion and shear likeability of Reynolds and McElhenney has played a big part in that.
Any club that outspends their rivals will be unpopular with some fans, certainly those in the National League. However, Wrexham’s success and their huge travelling army of fans have helped other clubs financially and in terms of visibility. Money and football are hardly new bedfellows either, and there is certainly some envy among the Welsh side’s critics. Reynolds and co won’t care about that though and many fans will eagerly be awaiting the next chapter in this compelling story.