One of the most fever-dreamy moments of 2021 was when Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bought Wrexham Football club, a small-town football club in North Wales.
It seemed like this was just an excuse to make a Disney+ documentary that would be a kind of publicity stunt for the Hollywood stars. This feeling was shared pretty publicly, and justifiably so. On the surface, the whole thing can seem like a cash grab, a chance at some short-term relevance. But maybe the Hollywood stars are trying to achieve more than just some success on a Disney+ documentary.
Wrexham has some history
In Wrexham, the football club is central to much of the town’s community; it has always been an institution. The club is the oldest football club in Wales and the third oldest in the United Kingdom, and because of this has been through ups and downs, and – oh boy – has Wrexham A.F.C. had some ups and downs.
In the early 2000s, the club was facing the sale of its iconic stadium, and in 2011 the club was confronted by a change in ownership. This led to the town and its stalwart football fans raising enough money to buy the club outright. This culminated in the 2019-20 season, ending with Wrexham A.F.C. at its lowest national ranking in the club’s history. It’s not been easy for Wrexham, but if anything, the way it’s still standing is a testament to the club’s perseverance and its supporters.
It’s easy to imagine Wrexham being tainted by a new Hollywood look
The club has an iconic history, and its importance to North Wales cannot be understated, so it’s easy to see why the general feeling was that some Americans who hadn’t ever watched the team play in person would ruin the club and strip it of its place in the community. It’s easy to imagine that the Hollywood stars would give the club a fresh new face, with straight, sparkling movie star teeth for its appearance on Disney+, but neglect the people and community that make the club what it is. It’s really about whether Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney can muster even a morsel of the love that the people of Wrexham feel towards the club.
With all this baggage, it seems impossible for the new docuseries Welcome to Wrexham even to get close to an accurate representation of the club, its fans, and the people of Wrexham. But somehow, the series succeeds in doing all this pretty effortlessly. From the first episode, the show detaches itself from the Hollywood glitz and glamour, as the documentary focuses on Rob McElhenney’s working-class past and his own personal attachment to sports. The show is already about the people and community that sports bring.
The show never wavers from this focus on what makes the football club what it is, who are the fans, and the town. Even when an episode is about the expensive, luxury renovations of Wrexham’s stadium, the episode is really about what this means to the fans.
The docuseries never wavers from its focus on the fans and community
The characters that the show introduces are what really make the show what it is. Welcome to Wrexham doesn’t shy away from the reality of small-town football, whether this is the local band Declan Swans, who write all the best Wrexham chants, or Arthur Massey, who has been attending Wrexham games since 1931. These people create the best parts of the community surrounding football and make the show truly unique; there’s even a short section introducing the team’s bus driver. The show draws you into the team in a way that makes you feel like part of the club and its community; it’s impossible not to chant ‘Super Paul Mullins’ in time with the crowd. If anything, everyone should watch the show to meet the characters that make Wrexham A.F.C. unique, and to understand the experience and culture of tight-knit communities and their importance.
Don’t forget that money is important too
However, these personal stories don’t detract from the tangible monetary investments that Ryan and Rob’s ‘TV money’ has brought to the town. In their mission statement, Rob and Ryan make clear, straight-up promises to invest financially in things like training facilities and better pay for players and coaches. Welcome To Wrexham does make it feel like it’s all about drawing attention to Wrexham A.F.C. and its hardships. But Rob and Ryan are undoubtedly making significant financial changes to the club. Considering the club’s low point before Rob and Ryan’s purchase, these investments are reviving the club and community from rock bottom.
The show doesn’t only shine a spotlight on the town of Wrexham though, it also gives a loudspeaker to the whole country of Wales. The entire show is steeped in Welsh heritage, Rob McElhenney is even learning some conversational Welsh. The seventh episode of the series – The Wide World of Wales – is dedicated solely to exploring Wales and sharing its rich culture with the wider world. There’s something we all love about learning about the underdog corners of the world, Welcome To Wrexham manages to harness this fascination. The pair even won the Diolch Y Ddraig (Dragon Award) from the Welsh Government, the Welsh Football Association, and the Welsh language T.V. channel S4C. There is no doubt that the whole show has really promoted Welsh culture, language, and football. This makes the show even more pertinent with Wales’s first appearance in a football world cup since 1958.
This emphasis on the people of Wales and Wrexham does more than simply make a super interesting docuseries though. It also makes Ryan and Rob’s investments in the club even more significant. When Arthur’s daughter Jacqui is crying over the way Rob and Ryan saved the club from insolvency, or when the whole pub is discussing an investment in new players has saved the team. It makes you realize how meaningful the endeavor is to so many people.
It’s about more than just Wrexham
Really though, this whole series is about more than just Wrexham A.F.C., it’s about small communities and sports everywhere. Welcome To Wrexham shows us how sports can sustain a whole town and create a community. Wrexham A.F.C. is just one of the many sports clubs that bring people together. This could be people who live on the same street, or in the case of Welcome to Wrexham, it brings together rich Hollywood stars with the people of Wrexham. Or maybe, it lets us all get behind Wrexham and, in a sense, welcome us to Wrexham as well. They’re doing more than just making a documentary or buying a team for the internet clout, the documentary shows us that Welcome to Wrexham is a project dedicated to the people of Wrexham.