A Hollywood Ending in Wrexham

Wrexham AFC’s promotion to English League Two after fifteen years in the National League seems like a Hollywood ending. The Welsh fifth division side was purchased by North American movie stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney in November 2020. Wrexham defeated Boreham Wood 3-1 in their last home game to secure their promotion to League Two. The fans of the team stormed the pitch as the match concluded and cameras caught Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney crying tears of joy. But how did Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney come to own an English division five team? And why did they focus their investment in Wrexham, a small city in Northern Wales?

Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds were “text buddies” for a while before purchasing the club. Rob expressed his desire to invest in a lower league club and help them get promoted to the upper divisions to Ryan without ever having met Ryan in person. Rob’s wish to invest in Wrexham dates back to his Philadelphia Eagles fandom as a child and learning that a sports team is an extension of the pulse of the city. Rob also mentions that just like Philadelphia, Wrexham is a working class town where the residents have limited opportunities. The actor from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia identified with Wrexham’s residents even though he had never been to the town itself.

Vancouver native Ryan Reynolds is quite a business driven individual with various liquor and mobile phone ventures. The Deadpool star loved the idea of developing the football club with McElhenney. In November 2020, the two actors made the purchase of a struggling Wrexham club. Since then, their remarkable story has captivated audiences in the UK and across the world. Their journey became an eighteen episode sports documentary series called “Welcome to Wrexham” that follows the duo from their initial purchase of the club to the end of the 2021-22 season. 

Wrexham AFC was founded in 1864 and is the third-oldest professional association football club in the world. However, the storied club was stuck in the National League for fifteen years before their promotion. The four divisions above the National League receive the most prize money, making it especially challenging for the club to attract better players to the team. The team endured its fair share of hardship before the takeover of the Hollywood stars. The team was previously owned by the Wrexham Supporters Trust and, prior to that, by Alex Hamilton. Hamilton was hated by supporters because he wanted to destroy the stadium for redevelopment purposes. Fortunately, the supporters were able to veto this decision and become joint owners of the club. They were barely able to keep the club afloat as supporters financially sustained the club. 

Wrexham’s prospects improved when Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney came along, though it remained a major challenge to bring the club to League Two. In Ryan and Rob’s first season, the club finished eighth, just below the threshold to make it to the playoffs. Ryan and Rob chose to rebuild the team during the summer of 2021 and brought in Phil Parkinson, a coach with a track record of promoting clubs to higher divisions. Parkinson helped both Colchester and Bolton Wanderers to get promoted from the Third English division to the Second and moved Bradford City from the Fourth to Third division. Wrexham then signed Paul Mullin, a phenomenal striker who scored 34 goals in the previous season for a team in League Two. The pair invested a significant sum of money that most teams in the National League cannot match. 

Wrexham’s prospects improved when Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney came along, though it remained a major challenge to bring the club to League Two.

Ryan and Rob’s main goal was to bring the club back into the League Two. However, the club sat thirteenth in the league with ten games until the January transfer window in the 2021-22 season, well below the threshold to make the playoffs. Parkinson didn’t seem like he was able to make the team gel and his job appeared to be on the line. Wrexham was able to win seven of their next ten games and finished second in the league when the season concluded, though they lost their first game of the playoffs 5-4. 

This did not prevent Wrexham from coming back even stronger in 2022-23. Wrexham performed consistently throughout the season behind a newly reinforced squad, including famous retired goalkeeper Ben Foster. A key match came at the end of the season when Wrexham played against Notts County in a decisive game for the title. In an incredible scenario, Ben Foster saved a penalty against Notts County, leaving the score at 3-2 in favor of Wrexham. Wrexham finished the season in first place, earning an automatic promotion to the English fourth division. 

The incredible story demonstrates how a football club can become the center of a town and really drive the community. Wrexham’s success on the pitch has uplifted the smaller community and brought joy and additional economic activity to their small town in Northern Wales. Wrexham’s success will not finish after this season’s Hollywood ending. Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney have developed a loving bond with the team, the coach, the staff and the people of Wrexham as a whole that will continue as the club competes in English League Two next season.

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