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Wrexham AFC: Stardust added to the beautiful game

It was a big week last week for Wrexham AFC, with last Tuesday's FA Cup heartache putting the club in the headlines.

Wrexham's Paul Mullin celebrates scoring their side's third goal of the game during the Emirates FA Cup fourth round match at The Racecourse Ground
Wrexham's Paul Mullin celebrates scoring their side's third goal of the game during the Emirates FA Cup fourth round match at The Racecourse Ground

However, a major anniversary in Wrexham’s incredible rags-to-riches journey on Thursday put the sparkle back into the National League side’s spotlight, reminding us that its FA Cup tale was a triumph – not a tragedy – and just one chapter in a story that is looking to get brighter and brighter.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is thanks to two unlikely heroes.

Thursday marked the two-year anniversary of Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney becoming co-chairmen of Wrexham AFC, elevating the status of both the club and Wrexham itself overnight.

The pair – famous for their roles in Deadpool and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia respectively – had scoured the world for a sports team to invest in that they could help to grow; one that had seen glory and ached to return to it. Wrexham was where their gaze fell, and after negotiations with the club’s supporters trust and the pledge of a multi-million pound investment, Reynolds and McElhenney were given the keys to the kingdom.

File photo dated 09-12-2022 of Rob McElhenney (left) and Ryan Reynolds. Wrexham have highlighted the huge growth in interest and support for the club on the two-year anniversary of Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds’ takeover. Issue date: Thursday February 9, 2023.

Wrexham AFC have highlighted the huge growth in interest and support since the actors took over, praising the pair’s hands-on ownership of the club and interest in the wider community. The duo’s ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ documentary series has also been credited for introducing the story of the takeover to a wider audience and raising the club’s profile.

Wrexham, who currently sit second in the National League table and are pushing for promotion back to the English Football League (EFL), are now the best-supported team in non-league.

They now have 7,150 season-ticket holders, significantly more than many teams in the two leagues above them, while the attendance of 10,150 for Wrexham’s match against Solihull Moors on Boxing Day was their highest since 2007.

Their average attendance in the league this season is close to 10,000, while they regularly take more than 1,000 fans to away games. Shirt sales, meanwhile, have hit 24,000.

With a mission aimed at taking the club to stratospheric heights, McElhenney and Reynolds attracted social media giant TikTok to be Wrexham’s shirt sponsor on a two-year deal in June 2021.

The club now boasts more than 660,000 followers on the platform while interest has also increased hugely on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

In total, followers on the club’s social media channels now number more than 1.5million.

On the pitch, Wrexham have won 75 per cent of their league matches this season. Also, the club announced recently that their women’s team will become semi-professional if they secure a place in the FAW Women’s Premier League for next season.

On top of all of this, the heightened hype around Wrexham AFC has also earned the club an inclusion in the FIFA video game franchise, making it the first ever fifth-tier club to appear in the series.

File photo dated 22-07-2015 of the Racecourse Ground, home of Wrexham, who will visit Sheffield United on Tuesday as the lowest ranked side left in this season's FA Cup. Issue date: Monday February 6, 2023.

Despite last Tuesday’s heart-breaking 3-1 stoppage-time defeat in the replay against Sheffield United, Reynolds and McElhenney have said they are “so proud” of the Wrexham squad.

Following the FA Cup match – and Wrexham’s subsequent exit from the tournament – the pair expressed their thanks to the fans and players who “gave it absolutely everything”.

“So proud of these boys. And the 4000 plus away supporters who gave it all,” wrote Reynolds on Twitter following the match.

McElhenney added: “I could not be more proud of those men than I am right now. They gave it absolutely everything.”

When Reynolds and McElhenney took control of the club from the Wrexham Supporters Trust, they invested £2 million under the terms of the deal.

Since their takeover of the club, the pair have shown dedication to its fans and its community, but also to its players, their wellbeing and their lives. Reynolds and McElhenney donated £10,000 to a charity fundraising page after the death of the baby of player Jordan Davies and his partner Kelsey Edward. Reynolds also recently donated £1,600 towards football kits for a youth team in Wales and previously sent a message to six-year-old Leland, who had been diagnosed with cancer.

Wrexham co-owner Ryan Reynolds reacts in the stands during the Emirates FA Cup fourth round match at The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham. Picture date: Sunday January 29, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Wrexham. Photo credit should read: Peter Byrne/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.

Reynolds has previously commented over how delighted he has been over the “brilliant” relationship he has built with Wrexham fans since he and McElhenney took control of the club.

Speaking to BBC Sport ahead of an FA Cup match last month, Reynolds discussed his connection with Wrexham locals with Gary Lineker. “It’s been brilliant,” he said. “I love getting here early because I get to meet some of the locals as well, and some of the supporters who’ve been coming here for decades and decades.

“I met a supporter the other day whose grandfather’s ashes were scattered across this (football) field, so I look at this place a bit like a church, is what it really is.

“It’s really bore a special place in my heart and my entire family’s heart and I think across the pond as well.

“In Canada, where I’m from, people are obsessed with this club and this community, and so are people in the United States, and it’s just been pretty remarkable.”

Reynolds added: “I think we sold 24,000 jerseys this year, and so many of them went to Canada and North America, we can’t get them anymore – I can’t get one.”

Welsh former footballer and Bradford City manager Mark Hughes, who was speaking to Reynolds alongside Lineker and Alan Shearer, said: “The impact the guys have had since they’ve come in has been phenomenal.

“I’m a Wrexham boy, just from three miles down the road and goodness me, everybody’s just talking about these guys and the impact that they have.”

Reynolds described the experience of co-owning Wrexham as “the greatest experience of my entire life”, before adding “my own children and family not withstanding because I know that will come back to haunt me”.

During that interview Reynolds also revealed that he and McElhenney hope to eventually take the club into the Premier League.

“The plan is now, and has always been, the Premier League,” he said.

“I can’t really put a date on that. But if it’s theoretically possible to go from fifth division to Premier League, why wouldn’t we do it?”

In December, Reynolds and McElhenney were honoured with the ‘Freedom of the County Borough of Wrexham’ after a council meeting approved the motion with 46 votes in favour and two abstentions.

Reynolds attended the meeting virtually and said: “We’re impossibly grateful for this honour from the council. Wrexham is home to one of the most beautiful stories on Earth.

“What this town has given us is immeasurable. Our goal is now and it’s always been to uphold the values of this community in this club.

“We’re amplifying something that is really already there. We’re shining a light on something that is already quite perfect, unique and special.

“Wrexham isn’t really just a slogan. It’s now a globally recognised motto, and our goal is to continue growing Wrexham in the hearts and minds of folks all over the planet.

“I think I can safely speak for Rob when I say that we consider ourselves genuinely the luckiest guys on Earth. Thank you for welcoming us into your homes and your special community. We’re eternally grateful.”

But of course, this was not the only honour the Hollywood pair received that month.

On December 9, Reynolds and McElhenney were introduced to none other than the King and Queen Consort as the royal couple paid a visit to the Racecourse Ground – Wrexham AFC’s home and, incidentally, the world’s oldest international football stadium.

The second season of Welcome to Wrexham was being filmed at the time.

Both actors joked that they had had etiquette lessons ahead of the visit.

King Charles III and the Queen Consort during their visit to Wrexham Association Football Club's Racecourse Ground, meeting owners and Hollywood actors, Ryan Reynolds (left) and Rob McElhenney (right), and players to learn about the redevelopment of the club, as part of their visit to Wrexham. Picture date: Friday December 9, 2022.

Speaking to media ahead of the meeting, Reynolds said: “I would say that we’re impossibly excited to welcome him to the Racecourse Ground, this historic church that resides in the heart of Wrexham and is the heart of Wrexham.

“Rob and I both said early on, and this holds true and for the rest of our lives, we will do anything to uplift and elevate this community and this club and having the King pay a visit is certainly one way to do it.”

The King and Camilla walked through the players’ tunnel onto the pitch at the ground, where they met Reynolds, McElhenney and club executives and greeted players from the first team before posing for a picture.

The King was heard wishing players luck for an upcoming game, while Camilla told another player: “It’s an extraordinary story.”

The King and Camilla went on to meet disabled liaison officer for Wrexham AFC, Kerry Evans, and participants of Powerchair football.

Ms Evans, 47, said: “It’s very, very special, what an honour.

“The King and Camilla both said it’s absolutely amazing the work we’ve been doing here.

“I never thought we’d have royalty at the club, now we’ve had Hollywood royalty and real royalty!”

Wrexham AFC was the first club in Wales to offer Powerchair football, a team participation sport for people who use electric wheelchairs.

The royal couple also met 97-year-old Wrexham fan Arthur Massey.

As he said goodbye to the King at the end of their visit, Reynolds said: “Truly, it was an honour and a pleasure and a privilege.”

Both actors posted pictures on social media afterwards, with Reynolds captioning an Instagram post: “Welcome to Wrexham Season 2: Charles in Charge.”

McElhenney posted a picture on Twitter of the co-chairman with the King and Camilla and wrote: “You really have to watch Welcome To Wrexham for this to make sense.”

Wrexham AFC may have had a cruel end to their FA Cup Cinderella story, yet with the eyes of both the squad and owners still set firmly on EFL ascension, the only direction in anybody’s head is ‘up’. And with the second season of Welcome to Wrexham due to land later this year, the world will be continuing to follow the climb.

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