Hollywood, TV stars lift Welsh soccer club

The aid come from the other side of Atlantic and from a country where the soccer is not as popular as other sports.

It has been described as a “crash course in football club ownership” and the two Hollywood stars who bought a beleaguered team in English soccer’s fifth tier with the lofty aim of transforming it into a global force are certainly learning on the job.

“I’m watching our PLAYERS MOP THE FIELD to continue the game,” read a tweet last week from Rob McElhenney, an American actor and director who was the creator of TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and now makes up one half of the new ownership of Wrexham AFC. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

The residents of Wrexham have been rubbing their eyes in disbelief for a while. It’s nearly a year since McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds, the Canadian-born actor best known for starring in the “Deadpool” movies, completed their out-of-nowhere $2.5 million takeover of Wrexham, a 157-year-old club from Wales that has fallen on such hard times since the turn of the century that its supporters’ trust twice had to save the team from going out of business.

Once the seed was planted by friends about buying a European soccer team, they sought out advisors to recommend a club that had history, was in a false position, and played a big role in the local community. Wrexham fit the bill.

After all, it’s the world’s third oldest professional club that used to attract attendances of 20,000 in the 1970s – and had some big wins in the FA Cup in the 1990s, including over then-English champion Arsenal – but has been languishing at non-league level, where some teams are semi-professional, since 2008. Located in an industrial town of about 65,000 people near the northwest English border, it is not too far from the soccer hotbeds of Liverpool and Manchester.

To the amazement of everyone involved in English and Welsh soccer, the purchase went through and McElhenney and Reynolds immediately made some big promises: improvements to the stadium, playing squad and leadership structure; a major investment in the women’s team; and to “introduce the club to the world.” They’ve stayed true to their word, making Wrexham stand out at a time when many clubs below the lucrative English Premier League have plunged into financial turmoil because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I remember when it all first broke on the news, it seemed a bit surreal,” Wrexham manager Phil Parkinson told The Associated Press (AP). “But since I’ve spoken to them, you understand how serious they are in terms of making a success of this club and leaving a legacy.”

Walking through the tunnel and onto the field at the Racecourse Ground, it’s impossible to not notice the giant stand – known as “The Kop” – to the left that is being renovated and currently is covered in a huge red banner. On it are Wrexham’s new sponsors, TikTok, Aviation Gin and Expedia, globally recognized brands that typically have no place at this level of the game.

Season-ticket sales have nearly trebled, from 2,000 to around 5,800, and attendances have been more than 8,000 for home games, better than many clubs get in the third and fourth tiers and a figure virtually unheard of at non-league level.

For the first full season under Reynolds and McElhenney, the men’s squad has been enhanced – one player was signed for 200,000 pounds ($270,000), nearly a club record – and there’s a new coach and chief executive with decades of experience working in the English Football League, the three divisions below the Premier League.

Behind the scenes, there are advisors acting as conduits between the board and the new owners who have held important leadership roles in British soccer: former Liverpool CEO Peter Moore, former Football Association technical director Les Reed and former English Football League CEO Shaun Harvey.

Meanwhile, the push to put Wrexham “on the map” in world soccer is ongoing.

It recently became the first non-league team to be included in the popular video game, FIFA. Reynolds (18 million) and McElhenney (700,000) use their large Twitter following to promote the club – and even to comment on the team’s games as an incredulous McElhenney did on Saturday when Wrexham’s match was abandoned because of a waterlogged pitch.

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