Wrexham AFC: How Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney transformed a lowly club into a 'global force'

A 3-1 win against Boreham Wood secured a National League title and a sleepless night for many in Wrexham. Credit: PA

On 22 April 2023, 15 years to the day since they dropped out of the Football League, Wrexham went from exile to ecstasy.

A 3-1 win against Boreham Wood secured a National League title and a sleepless night for many in Wrexham.

A unique story that transcends cultures, continents and common sense, here's a look at how it all happened.

The team lift the trophy to celebrate winning the National League Credit: PA

When Hollywood heavyweights Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney confirmed their takeover of Wrexham AFC in February 2021, eyebrows were raised.

The news caused shockwaves throughout the Welsh border town and created international headlines. The pair's intentions were laid out clear; they had a desire to turn the lowly club into a "global force."

Many questioned the motives of the global superstars. There were fears that the move was a publicity stunt aimed to heighten the actors’ profiles in the UK.

When Hollywood heavyweights Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney confirmed their takeover of Wrexham AFC in February 2021 eyebrows were raised. Credit: PA

Steeped in history, the north Wales club seemed an ideal project for the pair. The third oldest professional football club in the world that play at the oldest international stadium in the world.

Despite 150 years of sporting history, Wrexham had never been associated with long-term success on the field. The club have never been in the English top tier and had spent 15 years exiled from the Football League.

Two years and a National League title later, Wrexham fans across the world are revelling in the success of their club and the transformative effect their two owners have had on the city.

Why Wrexham? was a question asked by many people when the news of the takeover first surfaced. Credit: PA

Why Wrexham ?

Humphrey Ker is a writer, actor, friend of Reynolds and McElhenney and now an executive director of the football club. He is also the reason they chose to buy Wrexham over other clubs.

Ker told ITV Wales it was during his time working on a show with McElhenney that he introduced his friend to the game. After suggesting he watch a few football documentaries during lockdown, the Always Sunny in Philadelphia actor became hooked.

Ker said: "He [Rob] just fell in love with it. He texted me back the next day and said, 'Right let's buy a team'."

Ker's job then became trying to find teams to recommend to McElhenney, with Reynolds joining the project a bit later.

"Rob wanted to find somewhere which had that link between the club and fans - all clubs do but Wrexham has that more than others. It just jumped to the top of the pile - it became so clear," Ker said.

Last year, Reynolds told The Athletic: "One day Rob sends me an email that outlines his plan to buy a lower-league club and grow it into something more resembling a global force.

"I just thought it was so unexpected and so interesting and I love building businesses and this is a business.

"There is so much riding on the success of this club with every single individual in Wrexham. It’s a lot to carry, but I’m not complaining. It’s been one of the greatest rides of my life," he told the sports publication.

So close but so far

Since the Hollywood takeover, it has not always been sunny in Wrexham. Last season Wrexham came agonisingly close to the Football League.

After coming second in the league, they lost 5-4 to Grimsby Town in the National League play-off semi-finals.

Wrexham came close to promotion last year when they lost to Grimsby Town in the play-off semi-finals. Credit: PA

It was an excruciating loss for a team that had provided their supporters with so much belief. For Reynolds and McElhenney, it was their first experience of the unpredictability of non-league football.

Wrexham had failed in their task to win the National League but they had succeeded in breathing life into a town not used to the international attention.

The Hollywood effect

Since the arrival of the two Hollywood A-listers, Wrexham have gone from non-league mediocrity to world-stage fame. Hollywood stardust had been sprinkled over the city with the takeover, and it was poured over with the production of the TV documentary series Welcome to Wrexham.

The series had been commissioned for two seasons by FX, and season one was released last August, capturing the imagination of millions of fans in Wales and in the US.

As two of its producers, Reynolds and McElhenney were adamant the series should highlight the stories of local people as much as their own, shining a light on the city.

Wrexham co-owner Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, David Beckham and Will Ferrell preparing to watch a game. Credit: PA

The documentary led to rocketing sales of club merchandise and a significant growth in their online following. In September 2022, a month after the show had aired, the club said combined receipts from online and in-store sales totalled around £360,000. That's compared to £59,674 during the equivalent period 12 months ago.

A growing list of A-list celebrities including David Beckham, Will Ferrell, Blake Lively and Charlie Day have also been drawn in by the unique story and have been spotted watching games.

As well as celebrities, the fanbase for the club has grown tenfold, from supporters in Acton all the way across the Atlantic to Alabama.

Joe travelled from America to support Wrexham in person this Saturday

Joe Donoghue travelled over to Wrexham from Alabama for the decisive game against Boreham Wood and said he had "such a wonderful time in the city".

He told ITV's Good Morning Britain he was drawn to the club after watching Reynolds' and McElhenney's documentary 'Welcome to Wrexham'.

"The biggest thing that grabbed me was watching the documentary. You could tell what the atmosphere was like, what Rob and Ryan were trying to do with the community and all I wanted to do was come over and experience it first hand.

"I talked to my wife about how I wanted to experience it and it was her suggestion for me to come over!

"I was a football fan before I saw the documentary - I support Atlanta Utd, I go to a few of their games a year so I was already a pretty decent football fan. But then I reached the point after the documentary where I was getting up at 6am to listen to commentary of the Wrexham games."

The end of the beginning

Wrexham's 2022 play-off loss could have been seen as a faliure, a trigger for the Hollywood owners to lose interest and manage the club from afar. But what followed was the complete opposite. The owners backed the club by investing in the team, the stadium and the community.

The pair promised to grow all areas of the club and this was seen by the success and development of the women’s team. In February, the club announced that the women would be turning semi-pro and this was followed by broken records and a league title.

Reynolds’ extra donation money to fund kits for the women’s and men’s teams at FC United of Wrexham too. Credit: PA

Any fears of a lack of effort from the owners have been dispelled over the course of their ownership. The pair have consistently travelled back and forth across the Atlantic to attend games and are said to be in constant contact with players and staff.

Text message conversations between the A-listers and the players are common, with the pair 'never out of the dressing room'. The style of ownership has certainly paid dividends this year.

The Red Dragons have been on blistering form this season.

When they beat Yeovil Town on 19 April, the club broke the record for the most points in a single season in the top five tiers of English football (107) with two games remaining.

Lead by star-striker Paul Mullin and reinforced by veteran goalkeeper Ben Foster, after years of heartbreak the club have finally managed to return to the Football League.

What many thought to be a Hollywood publicity stunt has turned into the revival story of a historic football club and the community it belongs to.