The best place to start a Hollywood love story is at the beginning, and in this case with a question: what would movie star Ryan Reynolds and TV star Rob McElhenney want from a ailing North Wales football club?
Why buy any team, but especially this one, which is drifting aimlessly four leagues below the Premier League, fighting for attention in its own city and getting lost in the schoolyard amid a sea of Liverpool and Manchester United shirts?
The answer involves boredom and happiness, intrigue and inspiration, strategy and a little romance, too.
There is a third character in this story: Humphrey Ker is a British comedy writer and actor and none of this would have happened without him.
Ker went to Eton, studied at the University of Edinburgh and began a career in entertainment with an award-winning show at the Fringe. He appeared in panel shows like Do I have news for you? before moving to the US to write TV pilots and there he worked with McElhenney on his new show Mythic Quest.
By this time Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side were at their peak and Ker would often steal an hour during his lunch break to see his beloved Reds. McElhenney would gently mock Ker’s love of football, but he was captivated by the emotions evoked by some of the year’s more extraordinary events, such as Liverpool’s stunning, stomach-churning Champions League semi-final win over Barcelona at Anfield.
During the pandemic, Ker McElhenney recommended watching the Netflix series Sunderland until I die understand what football is really about and why clubs resonate more in their communities than most US sports franchises. McElhenney sat down to watch with his wife, actress Kaitlin Olson, but they weren’t thrilled with the first episode and tuned out.
Then, when Olson left town for a few days to visit family, McElhenney tried again amid the onset of lockdown boredom. He bit two series and texted Ker immediately.
Seized by the danger of promotion and relegation, a concept alien to most American sports fans, McElhenney told Ker he wanted to make his own documentary featuring his own club. Enthusiasm is contagious, and despite his skepticism, Ker was soon surfing the computer game football manager to create a shortlist of potential candidates.
McElhenney had made some money from his hit TV show it’s always sunny in Philadelphia, but he certainly didn’t have the billions needed to buy a Premier League giant, so Ker identified half a dozen clubs in need of new life. Hartlepool and Macclesfield were among them, but Wrexham stood out for two reasons: They retained a loyal and passionate fan base that still showed up by the thousands for National League games; and they served a huge catchment area without a big club for miles in any direction.
Ker reached out to the Wrexham Supporters’ Trust, which he found in need of investment and open to ideas after the pandemic. McElhenney, meanwhile, wanted a big-name sponsor and turned to multi-brand Hollywood star Reynolds. “I had TV money,” McElhenney explained, “but I needed movie money.”
McElhenney had never met Reynolds, but they had become friends online after Reynolds sent a free message about his favorite scene It’s always sunny. Then came the reply that sent an electric shock through McElhenney and Ker, making them realize that this wild, ridiculous idea would soon garner worldwide attention: I don’t want to sponsor Wrexham, I want to buy them with you.
In November 2020, RR McReynolds LLC bought Wrexham AFC for £2million, after a poll of the club’s 2,000 Supporters’ Trust members who voted overwhelmingly for their new owners. Reynolds could have said it was love at first sight, seeing the old racecourse ground and his jaw dropping. But that didn’t happen.
As Reynolds put it, “The biggest challenge was that the community was like, ‘What the hell are these two guys doing here?'” He needn’t have worried, because they were greeted by a city insanely overwhelmed by their new visitors was confused. They signed shirts and posed for selfies as people flocked to Wrexham from Aberystwyth to Colwyn Bay.
But the reality was that two famous actors had bought a football team in Wales over the winter, rooting around in a non-league and playing a game they didn’t know much about. The action was often a sluggish watch and everything felt a far cry from the excitement seen on Netflix.
At this point, Reynolds and McElhenney thought it would be more of an exercise in philanthropy than passion. The new owners invested in community programs and hired volunteers such as Wrexham’s Disability Liaison Officers. They stayed in town and drank at The Turf Pub across the street.
But on 2 April 2022, Wrexham played Stockport in the FA Trophy semi-final and everything changed. The game had all the ingredients: an intense rivalry, a wild atmosphere and a place in the final at Wembley Stadium. Wrexham stole the game with a 91st-minute winner that caused chaos at the racecourse ground and it was all too much for Reynolds, who was left sobbing in the corner of his board box. It was his first taste of football euphoria and he was hooked.
From the start, McElhenney and Reynolds were open to doing it their way. They wanted to start a business. They wanted to make a behind-the-scenes documentary. A cynic could see it Welcome to Wrexham as PR fluff, which maybe is, but these are Hollywood stars and they know it. McElhenney describes the series as “a love letter to working class communities” as he knew them growing up in Philadelphia.
They’ve admitted their weaknesses – Reynolds jokes that “the average five-year-old in Wrexham has forgotten more about football than we’ll ever know” – but know their strengths: they’re popular, charismatic and persuasive – and they sell stories.
Reynolds and McElhenney used humor to great effect. One of the first ways they did publicity was by promoting the club’s shirt sponsor, Ifor Williams Trailers, with a video urging viewers to invest in a trailer for a loved one this Christmas – “especially if they.” own livestock”.
They’ve delved into all things Wrexham, engaged with the community and even learned a bit of Welsh. McElhenney managed to say the name of the town of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch during a talk show appearance while Reynolds is reportedly trying to buy a house in the nearby village of Marford.
But alongside that enthusiasm, they were also strategic in their approach. The trailers were soon replaced by TikTok as the club’s main sponsor, resulting in a tenfold increase in revenue. Other big brands like Expedia also got on board as Reynolds and McElhenney cranked up the public, showing up in front of millions of people The One Show in the UK and The Late Late Show in the USA.
They hired former English Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey to run the club alongside Ker, handling contract renewals and transfers. Attracting top talent like Paul Mullin, League Two Player of the Year, and Ollie Palmer from his hometown club AFC Wimbledon has changed fortunes on the pitch and Wrexham are now on the verge of being promoted back to the Football League in 15 years.
Meanwhile, the owners are very emotionally involved, describing symptoms similar to those of a teenager in love.
“We didn’t know anything about the sport — now we’re obsessed with it,” says Reynolds. “It’s a living, breathing, screaming nightmare for me. I now love this sport so much that I hate it. It’s one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me, and truly one of the worst.”
Browse the fan forums from earlier this season and you can still find the occasional skeptic, a Wrexham fan who longed for the old days when there was no separation between fans and owners, when club decisions were made in the pub by the same people the terraces were hit.
But critics are few and far between now. Winning helps, of course, but there’s more to the new owner than success on the pitch. Reynolds and McElhenney have taken the time to learn that football clubs are delicate things, especially historic ones like Wrexham. They’re not just sports teams, they’re age-old community institutions; not only shops, but also cultural artefacts that need to be carefully preserved. Wrexham was founded at The Turf in 1864; It is no exaggeration to say that without new investment they could have followed clubs like Bury and Macclesfield to the wall.
The Turf is teeming these days, Reynolds’ favorite watering hole has now turned into a tourist hotspot. There are plans to refurbish the stadium and increase its capacity to 16,000 to make it fit again to host regular international football matches – the Racecourse Ground is the oldest international football ground still in use, having first hosted Wales in 1877.
And despite all the changes, there’s still a recognition of what matters on the ground. While Ifor Williams Trailers have been usurped as the main shirt sponsor, they remain visible on players’ shorts and in the stadium, as do Wrexham Lager and others with long-standing connections. The ideal owners of a football club are always its fans, but the next best thing is someone with money who understands why the ideal owners of a football are always its fans.
How does this story end? The beauty of football is that it has no end, just the hope of a fresh start each season, over and over again. It’s a series of never-ending sequels, and Wrexham will continue to play long after the RR McReynolds story ends in front of their devoted fans whenever that day comes. But it is certain that Reynolds and McElhenney will leave the club in a better place than they found it. It’s only been two years, but this much is already true: the team is about to enter the Football League and the pitches are once again filled with Wrexham jerseys.