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Rob And Ryan Take Wrexham AFC To New Heights: Part 8

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“Welcome to Wrexham” is a hit documentary series detailing the acquisition of Wrexham Association Football Club (Wrexham AFC) by American actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. The show begins with a brief shot of row-style shops on a street in Wrexham, Wales. 

The next shot shows a church in the distance. Then, it cuts to a few clips of the locals reacting to Reynolds and McElhenney’s arrival in the town. The entire scene lasts only a few seconds, but the feelings of shock and is-this-really-happening are palpable, if not also fully relatable.

Sports fans around the world have all dreamt of new owners coming in and reversing their favorite team’s fortunes for the better. 

But, unlike most, Wrexham AFC fans’ dreams actually became a reality. Starting in late 2011 and leading up to its improbable sale in 2020, the club was owned by the Wrexham Supporters Trust (WST), a fan-led organization of about 4,500 members. When the WST took over, the club was on the brink of collapse. 

Miraculously, the WST succeeded: it turned profits around, paid off mounting financial debt, and added some much-needed stability to the football club. Unfortunately, Wrexham AFC’s on-field performances didn’t match the rest of the club’s turnaround, and it remained playing in England’s non-league Conference Premier Division. After an ugly season was cut short due to COVID-19, the WST began actively searching for new owners. 

The Start

So, how does the story of two celebrities from the United States taking over and revitalizing a 159-year-old Welsh football club start? It’s obvious in retrospect. It begins with one of them developing an interest in English football. 

McElhenney, best known for creating and starring in the comedy series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” is a self-admitted sports fanatic. And, as a lifelong Philly sports fan, he definitely knows a thing or two about the powerful connection between sports teams and their fan bases. 

McElhenney began to develop an interest in English football through fellow writer and actor Humphrey Ker, who would watch games in the writers’ room. After watching a few football documentaries recommended by Ker, McElhenney was itching to buy a team. 

He soon tasked Ker with researching which lower-league teams would best fit a potential purchase and took it upon himself to recruit a potential partner. Not long after, McElhenney had found an ownership partner: A-list movie actor and entrepreneur Reynolds. Not to be outdone, Ker had found a clear number one option for takeover. 

As he later told ITV Wales, “Rob wanted to find somewhere which had that link between the club and fans — all clubs do, but Wrexham has that more than others. It just jumped to the top of the pile — it became so clear.”

Photo Courtesy Wrexham AFC 

The Purchase

Reynolds and McElhenney first contacted Wrexham about a purchase through Inner Sports Circle, an investment bank specializing in sports. After due diligence on both sides, including a virtual meeting between the two potential owners and the WST’s board to discuss plans, the stakes were set. 

The acquisition looked promising, but the biggest obstacle still remained. Reynolds and McElhenney needed to pitch the WST on their takeover and receive at least 75% of votes in favor of their ownership bid. 

McElhenney and Reynolds pitched their vision to the WST and Wrexham fans on a November 2020 Zoom call before votes were cast. Spoiler alert: their pitch worked! After receiving 98.6% votes in favor of the acquisition — and completing a lot of financial and legal work — they were officially the owners of Wrexham AFC. They announced their purchase in the most you’re-not-in-kansas-anymore style video possible, including an ad-read for Ifor Williams Trailers.

The First Full Year

After a year under co-chairmen Reynolds and McElhenney, Wrexham AFC’s digital presence — social media followers, news coverage, and YouTube subscribers — was at an entirely different level than before. According to the Wrexham AFC website, the club’s social media presence before the takeover had blossomed a year after in February 2022:

  • Twitter: earned 57,800 new followers and 181.3 million impressions. 
  • Instagram: gained more than 60,000 new followers. 
  • Facebook: reached 2.4 million users.
  • Total social audience: increased by 192,000. 

Wrexham’s boost was not just digital; season ticket sales were skyrocketing, huge corporations were lining up to sponsor the Welsh club, and fans were thrilled to finally return to English League football after more than a decade of waiting. 

Plus, Reynolds and McElhenney had not been frugal since taking over. The club’s depth charts had been shaken up with a series of new player signings headlined by Paul Mullins. Opposing fan bases were a bit upset at some of the signings, like Mullins, who had just finished the prior season as the leading scorer of the league above the National League.  

Photo Courtesy Wrexham AFC

Even with all those good things going, the owners’ first full season ended in heartbreaking fashion. Welcome to sports! Wrexham finished the 2021–22 season in second place, narrowly missing out on automatic promotion. Wrexham lost to Grimsby Town in a semi-final match of the promotion tournament after conceding a goal in the last minute of extra time. The club had achieved its highest finish in a decade, but it would have to wait another year for its shot at the EFL League Two. 

The Return

On the morning of April 22, 2023, Wrexham AFC sat atop the league standings. After some early jostling with powerhouse Notts County for the top position, the team had taken a commanding lead midway through the season. There were only two games left for the club to play in the 2022–23 National League season. 

Later that day, Wrexham AFC would play Boreham Wood at its home pitch, the Racecourse Ground. If the team had scored more goals than its opponent when the final whistle blew, the historic club from North Wales would finally return to League play after a 15-year absence. 

The game started well — for the opposition. But Wrexham was not bound for the same fate as last year. Led by star striker Mullin, the final whistle marked a score of Wrexham 3, Boreham Wood 1.

And with that, McElhenney, Reynolds, and countless Wrexham fans and players alike celebrated. Wrexham AFC had secured promotion to the English Football League Two. There were innumerable challenges ahead, but none mattered that day. 

Photo Courtesy Wrexham AFC

What’s Next

Now, Wrexham AFC is sitting near the top of the English Football League Two table — right next to its old foe, Notts County. When it was founded in 1864, few would have guessed the club would still exist more than 15 decades later, and fewer still would believe the twists and turns it took along the way. For now, Wrexham AFC and its fans still have a long way to go. The good news? They’ve already gone a long way. 

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