Wrexham has one of the oldest football teams in existence, who play at the oldest international ground in the world. And they’ve just become one of the most famous. In the most unlikely alliance in sporting history, the actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bought Wrexham AFC, plotting to change the fortunes of both club and community. And wouldn't you know it - just two years in, in April 2023, Wrexham won promotion to the Football League, after 15 seasons of playing in the semi-amateur National League (the fifth tier of English football).
In typically nail-biting fashion, Wrexham fought back from a 1-0 deficit to beat Boreham Wood 3-1 at The Racecourse, Wrexham's home ground in the match that decided the result. The team topped the National League, and headed back to League Two (which is, somewhat confusingly, the fourth tier of English football, and fully professional).
The home side, which is the oldest football club in Wales and one of the oldest in the world, were spurred on at the high-stakes clash by 10,000 fans, including Ryan and Rob, plus fellow A-list actor Paul Rudd (who caught the reaction of the owners on camera) – all of whom joined in with the joyous celebrations at the final whistle.
Here’s (roughly) how British football (you may know it as soccer) works. At the top, you have the big clubs — Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea. In the middle, you’ll find the best Welsh teams — Cardiff and Swansea. And below them, quite far below, if we’re being honest, there’s Wrexham AFC. But here’s the beauty of football. If you win enough games, you get promoted. Any team can dream of rising to the Premier League, a dazzling kingdom of multi-million wages, global TV rights and international stardom.
And where’s the best place for dreams to come true? Hollywood, of course.
Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney are proper film and TV royalty. Reynolds plays the Marvel superhero Deadpool, while McElhenney created and stars in the US sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the longest-running live-action comedy series in America. The duo searched the world for a sports team to invest in. A team with a story, a community, and a potential to blossom.
Wrexham ticked all the boxes.
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.”
But for many people, Wrexham AFC has always been famous. This is the third-oldest professional football club in the world, founded in 1864. A team that has won the Welsh Cup a record 23 times and, back in the early 90s, knocked the great Arsenal FC out of the FA Cup. However, it’s fair to say, most of these people are probably from the town of Wrexham, or at least the North Wales area.
In reality, despite the club’s golden heritage, and unwavering support from its passionate fanbase, Wrexham has spent most of its existence in relative obscurity. The team was playing in the second tier of the English league system in the 70s, but has slowly slid down the leagues since, finally finding a foothold in the fifth division. Here they’ve spent long, hard seasons battling for league positions with the likes of Barnet, Eastleigh and Aldershot Town. A far reach from the star-studded clashes of the Premier League.
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 far-from-glamorous fifth tier of the English football league to generate any sort of publicity. But then this wasn’t your average takeover bid.
“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 and Rob had submitted a takeover bid for the club.
But this was no joke. Ryan and Rob had done their homework, and could see the potential held by Wrexham AFC, a historic football club (boasting the oldest international sports ground in the world) that they believed, with a little investment, they could restore to its former glory.
Following a pitch by video link, which included a promise to immediately plough £2 million 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 and return it to the EFL 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. There’s been record ticket sales, an eye-catching shirt sponsorship deal with global social media platform TikTok, and a surprise inclusion in the FIFA video game franchise (the first ever club from the fifth tier to appear in the series). There has also been plenty of promotion of the team on the pairs’ popular social media accounts (Ryan Reynolds has 41 million followers on Instagram alone), with both actors occasionally making it to games and even appearing in an advert for local business, Ifor Williams Trailers.
Ryan and Rob have bathed the town and community in love and respect. They’ve tirelessly promoted the club on social media in ways that are always good-natured, and often very funny. In turn, Wrexham community embraced its new owners. A Hollywood-style WREXHAM sign appeared on an old coal-tip just out of town.
The club’s away strip is the same shade of green as the Philadelphia Eagles, in honour of Rob McElhenney’s hometown.
The excitement swirling around the club has been matched by an uptick in performances on the pitch, with the club narrowly missing out on promotion from the league in the first season since the Hollywood takeover. In the same season, the team also reached the final of the FA Trophy competition, losing 1-0 to Bromley.
In the end, success will be judged by results on the pitch. Nobody was expecting overnight miracles. But a sprinkling of Hollywood magic dust has brought a thrill of excitement to Wrexham. And after securing promotion back into the professional ranks of the EFL - who knows where they'll go next?