Close up of Ryan Reynolds on the Wrexham AFC victory bus
A tour bus with a sports team driving past a stadium, through throngs of fans waving flags and letting off flares
L-R: Ryan Reynolds, and the Wrexham AFC tour through the city after the club's promotion victory in 2023.

It sounds like it could be the premise to a new sitcom: two Hollywood stars take over the running of a semi-amateur Welsh football club.

So it was little surprise that when rumours first came to light in 2020 about A-list comedic actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney putting in a bid to buy Wrexham AFC, a team from the North Wales city of the same name, many dismissed it as some kind of publicity stunt.

But the savvy pair saw the potential in the proud, historic football team, and in just a few short years they’ve watched as Wrexham has risen through the footballing league tables and rocketed to worldwide fame.

 

Rob McElhenney talks new season of Welcome to Wrexham, May 2024
A tour bus with a sports team driving past a stadium, through throngs of fans waving flags and letting off flares
Wrexham AFC's promotion victory parade 

Humble beginnings

So who exactly are Wrexham AFC? Well, they’re actually the third oldest football club in existence (founded in 1864), whose home stadium, The Racecourse, is said to be the world’s oldest international sports ground. In the early 90s, they even knocked the great Arsenal FC out of the FA Cup. But, before the start of this decade, you’d be forgiven for not having heard of them.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the British football (or, as some might know it, soccer) system, the most famous teams – your Manchester Uniteds, Liverpools and Chelseas – play in division one, known as the Premier League. If a team finishes top of a division, they move up a division. If they finish bottom, they move down one.

In the 1970s, Wrexham were playing in division two. But during the following years they slowly slid down through the leagues, finally finding a foothold in the less-than-glamorous fifth division. Here the team spent long, hard seasons jostling for league positions with the likes of Barnet, Eastleigh and Aldershot Town in front of a few thousand diehard supporters.

Then, in late 2020 whispers of a takeover bid started to emerge. Big money takeovers of football clubs are not anything out of the ordinary – Manchester City FC, for example, was bought by Sheikh Mansour, now Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE, in 2008. But it’s rare for a takeover in the fifth tier of the English football league to generate any sort of publicity. But then this wasn’t your average takeover bid.

This is the third-oldest club on the planet and we don't see why it can't have a global appeal. We want Wrexham to be a global force.”

Unlikely buyers

“When I first read social media and heard the rumours, honestly, I thought it was a joke,” Shaun Pejic, who played over 200 games for Wrexham over a decade-long career, told local Wrexham newspaper The Leader in 2021.

His words summed up the general reaction to the farfetched headlines that Ryan Reynolds, known for appearing in blockbusters like Red Notice and playing the Marvel superhero Deadpool, and Rob McElhenney, creator and star of sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (the longest-running live-action comedy series in America), had submitted a takeover bid for the Welsh club.

But this was no joke. The pair were searching to invest in a football team with a story, a sense of community and a potential to blossom. Wrexham ticked all of the boxes. 

Following a pitch by video link, which included a promise to bring new investment funds into the club, build a new training facility and always beat arch rivals Chester, their takeover was unanimously approved by the Wrexham Supporters Trust, who’d owned the club since 2011.

Upon completion of the takeover in February 2021, Reynolds and McElhenney said, "It is a special day for the two of us to become the latest stewards in the long and storied history of Wrexham AFC.”

"Together with the players, the staff, the fans and the local community, we can now pursue our goal to grow the team in front of increased attendances, and in an improved stadium, while making a positive difference to the wider community in Wrexham,” the pair added.

The start of a beautiful friendship

Since the Hollywood takeover, Wrexham’s stock has risen quite dramatically. The team, and the city of Wrexham, have taken centre stage on their famous owners’ social media accounts, sparking interest in the club from millions of people around the world. This initial intrigue was cemented by a globally-streamed documentary, Welcome to Wrexham, which delved into the story of the club’s history and the start of its newest chapter. 

All of a sudden, big companies were vying to sponsor the team, the sold-out crowds returned and Hollywood legends like Will Ferrel (Anchorman, Elf) and Hugh Jackman (X-Men, The Greatest Showman) started showing up to watch games.

This excitement swirling around the club was matched by an uptick in performances on the pitch, resulting in the men’s team winning promotion into the fully-professional fourth division during the 2022/23 season. The Hollywood owners were in the stands for the occasion and were caught on video (by none other than actor Paul Rudd!) looking overwhelmed at the final whistle, before taking to the pitch to join in the riotous celebrations. During the same season, the women’s team tasted success too, winning promotion to the top league for women's football in Wales.

And the success just kept on coming. In a remarkable feat, the men’s team secured a second successive promotion during the 2023/24 season, sending them up into the third division – a dizzying climb in such a short amount of time.

But even before these milestones were achieved on the pitch, it was clear supporters had formed a special bond with their club’s new owners, who have bathed the city and community in love and respect since purchasing the team. The pair endeavour to attend as many home matches as they can, and are regularly spotted sharing a beer with fans in local pub, The Turf, after matches.

Where this fairytale story leads remains to be seen. But, while many may have initially dismissed the team’s celebrity takeover as something of a joke, it’s Ryan, Rob and the city of Wrexham who are certainly having the last laugh.

Related stories