In an early episode of Welcome to Wrexham, there is a scene recorded on a movie lot shortly after Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney meet in person for the first time. Recently approved as the new owners of a fifth-tier football club located in a working-class town in north Wales, the actors are filmed admiring what appears to be a brass plaque on a studio wall commemorating the first film in which the Deadpool star Reynolds appeared. A closer inspection and impromptu act of minor vandalism reveals the plate to be made of cheap plastic and rubber, prompting McElhenney to observe gleefully: “This is just Hollywood to a tee; beautiful on the outside but just … shit.”
Previously acquainted with Reynolds only through a series of mid-pandemic video calls on which they had discussed and negotiated the purchase of Wrexham Football Club from its supporters trust, McElhenney was the driving force behind the takeover. He couldn’t do it alone and needed the “movie-star money” provided by Reynolds, who has supplemented his already obscene acting income with lucrative stakes in Aviation American Gin and Mint Mobile. Neither man had ever set foot in Wales, let alone Wrexham, and the prevailing concern among fans regarding the Hollywood duo’s peculiar interest was that their stardust-sprinkled stewardship and the documentary series that would chronicle it might turn out to be as tacky as the studio sign.
When news of Reynolds’s and McElhenney’s pursuit started percolating in 2020, the understandable question on everyone’s lips was: why Wrexham? More specifically, what possible motivation could a couple of TV and movie heavyweights from across the pond have for investing in a club that have been treading National League waters for well over a decade and what would their involvement mean for the future of the club and town?
They are queries addressed in the opening episode of their Disney+ series, which is halfway through an opening run of 18 episodes. In the first one, McElhenney lays out his blue-collar credentials as the son of a working-class man who grew up in Philadelphia and says he feels an affinity between his home city and the Welsh town.
During his and Reynolds’ online pitch to the supporters trust, he tells his bemused audience that seeing his beloved Philadelphia Eagles win the Super Bowl in 2018 was one of the top five moments in his life, up there with marrying his wife and having children. He also stresses his fascination with the idea of promotion and relegation and on more than one occasion in the series makes no secret of his ambition to move Wrexham up to the Premier League.
To begin this ambitious odyssey, Wrexham first have to escape a purgatory in the National League now in its 15th year, with the club trying to achieve promotion back to the Football League at the third time of asking under Reynolds and McElhenney. With that pair taking a backseat during the early episodes, we are invited behind the scenes at the club and, in film that calls to mind Sunderland Til I Die, introduced to the town of Wrexham and many of members of a population to whom the club means everything.
There’s Shaun Winter, a painter and decorator who “hates” his job, is the father of two young boys and is struggling to cope with the fact that their mother has just left him. Wayne Jones is the amiable and opinionated landlord and chief confessor of the Turf hotel, located just beside the Racecourse Ground and a shrine to the club where worshippers congregate on match days.
Receiving treatment for bowel cancer, Michael “Scoot” Hett is the lead singer of a local band whose members could scarcely be more chuffed to hear their catchy composition about Wrexham’s new owners being sung from the terraces. Like many other fans who quickly threaten Reynolds’ and McElhenney’s role as the main characters of this docu-series, Annette Gardner, a local librarian and club volunteer, isn’t short of a strident opinion. When the owners finally get round to visiting their club and meet her, she bluntly takes them to task over their decision to appoint Shaun Harvey, the controversial former chief executive of the English Football League and CEO at Leeds United and Bradford City, as their strategic adviser.
Having watched Wrexham’s progress, or lack of it, from afar for almost a year, McElhenney and Reynolds get their first live experience of National League football on a cold October night in Maidenhead. Their low-key arrival is booed by home fans, who go on to serenade the duo with chants of “You bought the wrong club!” as Wrexham valiantly rally from two goals and a man down only to lose by the odd goal in five.
“I don’t know how people do this, it’s heartbreaking,” says Reynolds of the 450 away fans making the late-night journey home from Berkshire. The following weekend the two men visit Wrexham for the first time and are mobbed by exuberant locals in the town centre. After meet-and-greets with the club’s staff, the players and the manager, Phil Parkinson, they end up on an epic booze-up in the Turf, where they are bombarded with increasingly strident and slurred opinions by landlord Wayne and his band of regulars.
During their first home game, a draw with Torquay, they sit alongside their expensive but suspended star striker, Paul Mullin. The scorer of 30 goals in what would turn out to be another failed promotion push last season, this particular character in what the makers are billing as an “underdog story” is reported to be on £4,000 a week plus bonuses as a non-league player.
McElhenney and Reynolds have at least given every indication they are in for the long haul after finalising a purchase of the Racecourse Ground freehold that includes a covenant to ensure it will remain the home of Wrexham until at least 2115, unless the club outgrow it.
“I’ve only been the owner of a football club for a very short time,” says Reynolds, after Wrexham’s failure to make the playoffs under the glamorous new regime in May 2021, before he had seen them play in the flesh. “So far I’ve found it to be very time-consuming, emotionally exhausting, financially idiotic and utterly addictive.” After coming up just short again last season, Wrexham are a point from the top after 10 games and showing every sign they’re going to put their feted owners through the wringer once again.