A new season of Welcome to Wrexham is upon us, which means another avalanche of media coverage for this critically under-publicised football club is well under way. The second Guardian piece on this popular series to see the light of day in 24 hours since the broadcast of the latest episode chronicling the stewardship of Wrexham by a pair of charismatic do-gooders, this column is almost certain to prompt plenty of entirely unjustified eye‑rolling from supporters of other teams who keep on plugging away in the Football League’s lower reaches, outside the spotlight cast almost exclusively on a small city in north Wales.
We would love this column to be different. We would delight in promising you endless amounts of cynicism, schadenfreude and snark. But unlike other football fans born with breeze blocks swinging where their hearts should be, we still find ourselves too enthused by the project being undertaken by Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds to wish them anything but well.
The co-owners of a club that has tripled in value since they first bought it, the duo’s motives may not be entirely selfless but at least they have been consistently transparent when outlining their goals.
Unlike their counterparts in a similar but far more sanitised and self-congratulatory mini‑series recently released about a high-flying Premier League club, they are also more than happy to share screen time with their adopted locale and its denizens, who remain the real stars of this show. Tellingly, none of them are forced into any sort of mental acrobatics in defence of owners whose money does not come from a bottomless sovereign wealth fund.
“From a financial perspective, if we do not get promoted this year, we are fucked,” McElhenney declares early in the opening episode of a soap opera in which any sense of jeopardy is absent because viewers already know how it ends. As you might expect from any non‑league club that has millions of pounds hosed at it by benevolent American showbiz types, Wrexham finally went up to League Two last season and it is this thrilling promotion push with which the new series is largely concerned.
Due to the largesse of Notts County’s comparatively low-profile owners, viewers know that what might have been expected to be a serene walk in the park for Wrexham turned into a gripping two-team, season-long slog. Ultimately both clubs went up in a state of affairs that benefited not only them but the non-league sides they left trailing in their wake. The fifth-tier playing field is now a far more level one, at least until Ant-Man and the bloke who played Andy in Parks and Recreation decide to hitch their financial wagon to FC Halifax Town.
While there is a certain inevitability about an imminent anti-Wrexham backlash the more successful the club becomes, for now they continue to encounter just enough adversity to keep those of us intrigued by their rags-to-riches “fairytale” well onside. During the summer, an American publicity drive came at a considerable cost when they lost their star striker Paul Mullin to a punctured lung during a pre-season game. An episode that will make for compelling viewing in 12 months’ time, it certainly wasn’t in the script.
Mullin’s collision with the Manchester United goalkeeper Nathan Bishop left his manager “fuming” and the Wrexham striker convalescing in a Los Angeles hospital, but after missing Wrexham’s opening nine games of the season he has since returned in a 2-1 win against Doncaster. It was the likable scouser’s first Football League appearance since making the step down to play in the fifth tier for significantly better remuneration than he was receiving from his previous employers at Cambridge more than two years ago.
Despite this season still being in its infancy, there has been plenty of other grist for the Welcome To Wrexham series three mill. This time next year we can look forward to seeing McElhenney and Reynolds speak wistfully about the abrupt departure of last season’s most unlikely hero Ben Foster, after the former England goalkeeper decided to retire for the second time in his career. On the back of performances he admitted hadn’t “reached the level I demand of myself”, Foster announced his decision a couple of days after picking the ball out of his own net on no fewer than five occasions in a 10-goal thriller at the Racecourse Ground against Swindon.
More recently, in scenes likely to hark back to Stuart Donald’s infamous and ill-advised deadline day panic purchase of Will Grigg, in arguably the most car-crash episode of the entertaining motorway pile‑up that was Sunderland Til I Die, Wrexham were forced to apologise to the Harrogate Town striker Luke Armstrong after his mooted transfer to the club fell through because somebody at the Racecourse Ground had failed to complete the paperwork in time. A potential Welcome To Wrexham cult hero, the hirsute 27-year-old remains stuck in Yorkshire, where one suspects he will be able to go about his daily business untroubled by intrusive film crews.
The tragi-comic collapse of Armstrong’s move was not the club’s first brush with fussy bureaucracy, as the latest episode of Welcome To Wrexham attests. Having received lessons in obsequiousness from an American etiquette coach before a visit by King Charles, McElhenney and Reynolds are determined to leave no stone unturned in their efforts to secure £25m in levelling up funding from the UK government to pay for the rebuilding of the Racecourse Ground’s Kop. Despite their best attempts at brown‑nosing, their application is ultimately turned down by a spiteful Tory party painfully aware they will soon no longer be welcome anywhere near Wrexham. By contrast, one suspects that for Deadpool and The Other Guy, the red carpet will always remain rolled out.