If you had a passing interest in British football, you probably wouldn’t have heard of Wrexham. With the kind of glamour Premier League football offers, where is the space to follow the lower leagues? Unless, of course, your favourite team has slipped a notch or two below and is fighting for promotion.
English professional football gave us one of its best underdog stories a few years ago, with the rise of Leicester City claiming the Premier League title. Across the border in Wales, Wrexham — the third oldest professional football club in the world — continued to languish in the National League, the lowest rung in professional football in the U.K. The pandemic didn’t help matters either. A club struggling for funds and form found unlikely interest from two American actors you may have heard of; Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.
Welcome to Wrexham
Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Rob McElhenney, Shaun Harvey, Humphrey Kerr, Phil Parkinson
Storyline: Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney attempt to revive the third-oldest professional football team in the world
So, why would two Hollywood actors — non-football fans to begin with — who have no affiliation to the country, show even a passing interest in this club? Welcome to Wrexham answers this straight up, and in the six episodes available for viewing at the time of writing this review, it is less about them and more about the fans who have always been the lifeblood of the club through the best and worst of times.
For McElhenney ( It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), the town of Wrexham reminded him of his working-class childhood surrounds, and the fans’ passion for his own favourite NFL team, the Eagles. He admits he barely knew anything about the sport till he was introduced to it by his colleague and friend Humphrey Kerr, an Englishman.
The concept of promotion and relegation fascinated him, as did the massive inequalities between the Premier League teams and those at the bottom of the pyramid. But in order to bankroll a project as ambitious as Wrexham AFC, he needed a bigger star to come on as a partner. So he roped in a friend he had never actually met before, Reynolds (of Deadpool fame), and the football world looked on, flummoxed. The duo reassured the town during their bid that this is not an opportunistic venture or a publicity stunt.
With a horrid recent history with corrupt, self-serving owners, and the gloom of the pandemic which resulted in football being played behind closed doors, Wrexham fans were willing to welcome any change for the better. Hence, the unanimous acceptance of Reynolds and McElhenney into the fold. Two guys, a town, and a football club.
Cameras trace this journey from the beginning of winning the bid. Interviews with fans, players, and coaches explain why Wrexham is more than just a humble town with a football club seeped in history; it’s an emotion. The footage makes several references to how the fortunes of the town were intertwined with that of their football club and is an engaging walkthrough of the world of professional football away from the more glamorous leagues.
The series also offers several backgrounders on the league structure of the game in the U.K., which may make the seasoned fan reach for the fast-forward button, but viewers should understand this was probably made for an American audience. Both Reynolds and McElhenney are happier lurking in the background, tracking events from Los Angeles (pandemic-induced, in all likelihood). They trust their sleuths to take drastic decisions, such as sacking the coaching staff and at least 11 players, after yet another stagnant season.
The start of the 2021 season for Wrexham AFC was still nothing to write home about, despite a couple of high-profile signings. Reynolds describes the journey till then as, “emotionally exhausting, financially idiotic and utterly addictive”. The remaining episodes should deliver the verdict on their investment.
Welcome to Wrexham is currently streaming on Disney Plus Hotstar