Welcome to Wrexham: Hollywood’s take on British soccer
By: Nolan Hafer
Sep. 22, 2022
Photo Credit: Associated Press
Located in the northeastern corner of Wales, the working-class town of Wrexham is centered around its club.
Wrexham AFC, the oldest soccer club in Wales, was founded in 1867 and sits in the fifth tier of the British pyramid structure. “Welcome to Wrexham” spotlights Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds’ recent 2 million pound investment into the Welsh club and their search for unity, connection, and global soccer supremacy.
Julie Birrell, a Wrexham supporter who attended her first match in 1972, sits in the stands with her 97-year-old father, the oldest living Wrexham season ticket holder to date. She shares her opinion on the recent Hollywood-backed takeover, offering: “Was this some kind of rich man’s toy? Will they get fed up in a couple of years and abandon us? We’ve been there” (ESPN).
It is no surprise that Birrell's antipathy is felt among Wrexham supporters and fans of British soccer alike. Foreign investment into their game and their community threatens to undermine team identity that lays at the heart of British sporting culture. The recent introduction of American ownership in the Premier League and the European Super League proposal has created a disdain for foreign values and capital trickling into the beloved game.
“The quicker we get the Regulator in the better. US investment into English football is a clear and present danger to the pyramid and fabric of the game. They just don’t get it and think differently.” - Gary Neville
Part of the learning process for McElhenney and Reynolds comes in creating a genuine connection with the fans and community of Wrexham. Within the first episode of the Hulu documentary series, McElhenney is quick to demonstrate his serious intent to work around the stigma behind foreign involvement in the British game. McElhenney’s roots in the city of Philadelphia share that of the industrious, blue-collar city of Wrexham. As a beloved fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, McElhenney expresses that sharing Sunday afternoons with his father brought him validation and an emotional connection.
“Sports isn’t just for sporting people. Sports is storytelling and it’s for everyone. In [“Welcome to Wrexham”] you will see how much they love their club.” - Rob McElhenney
[via, Bleacher Report Football]
McElhenney and Reynolds quickly learn the heavy costs that come with winning over fans’ hearts and building sustained improvements on the field. Despite large investments and deep pockets, Wrexham AFC struggled to complete promotion from the National League (fifth-tier) within the first two years of their financial takeover.
Despite the superstar appeal, this is not your picturesque Hollywood tale nor does it have the “Ted Lasso” type of comedic relief. “Welcome to Wrexham” offers insight into the lives of professionals in the non-league tier of British soccer and the financial instability which comes along with it.
While the FX cameras closely follow the workings of McElhenney and Reynolds, it is hard not to come away with a fondness for the people of Wrexham; the most compelling figure is arguably Wayne Jones, owner of “The Turf,” a pub established in the 1840s. Sitting just outside of the hollowed and world’s oldest soccer stadium, the Racecourse Ground, Jones’ establishment offers a sense of community every Saturday afternoon. As Jones describes, “Football is more than a game. It’s not life or death. It’s more important than that” (FX, “Welcome to Wrexham”).
“Welcome to Wrexham” is a must watch for any fan. The series explores themes of hope, despair, and belonging that are associated with supporting a soccer club. Building upon the blue-collar roots of the Wrexham community, viewers will come away with a newfound sympathy for the plight of professionals in the lower leagues and an appreciation for the Welsh city.
“Welcome to Wrexham” is ultimately a story about the price that comes with building towards sustained soccer supremacy - passion, unity, luck, and, as McElhenney puts it, “superhero money” (FX, “Welcome to Wrexham”).