What To Watch This Week: Welcome To Wrexham

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Did you hear the one about the big-time American actors buying the small Welsh football club? When Deadpool’s Ryan Reynolds and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia’s Rob McElhenney announced they were taking over Wrexham AFC last year, we waited for a punchline. But it never came. In its place, there’s a new doco charting their first season in charge…

In the first episode of Welcome to Wrexham – a six-part docuseries now on Disney+ – Rob McElhenney realises the scale of the money you need to make a difference at even the fifth tier of English football. The self-effacing actor, playing the American newbie to British footy beautifully, jokes that his ‘TV money’ is not enough. In the depths of the English league system, owning a club is not an obvious money maker – you have to raise your own funds and, if you want to succeed, spend them as fast as you find them.

Enter Ryan Reynolds and his ‘Hollywood money’. In November 2020, the pair presented their vision of transforming the club and its supporters’ trust overwhelmingly approved their bid. To show what happened next, Welcome To Wrexham follows the lead of Netflix’s Sunderland ’Til I Die much more closely than Amazon’s All Or Nothing. Wrexham’s on-field exploits are important, but they are secondary to what’s going in the local community, and what the team’s results of the team mean for its adoring fans from a historically working-class town.

With the takeover complete, the reality of ownership at such a low level begins to set in – warts and all. Optimism around the town builds as everyone forgets football is the most turbulent of businesses to invest in: you can have all the sound recruitment planning and financial prudence you want, but it can all so easily unravel in the face of what happens on the pitch. Reynolds and McElhenney must quickly learn that the goalposts are always moving in the National League.

With kitchen-sink fan interviews presented alongside the money-guzzling challenges of igniting a stagnant club for a promotion push, Welcome To Wrexham captures the duality at the heart of small-time football. The pressure is on McElhenney, Reynolds and the players their money brings in, because now the wider Wrexham community expects nothing less than immediate success.

One of those players is Paul Mullin, the League Two top-scorer who’s willing to drop down a level – in return for a much higher wage than anyone else at the club. His new teammates speak openly to camera, their envy thinly veiled. Rival fans jibe that he’s only joined the club for the money. Mullin says he made the move because Wrexham is much closer to his hometown. Either way, his story reveals the mundane concerns of footballers at this level and highlights an issue the new club owners might not have anticipated.

Here it’s worth noting that Reynolds and McElhenney were closely involved in the production of Welcome To Wrexham, so it doesn’t quite match the no-holds-barred approach of Sunderland ’Til I Die. In fact, a documentary was always part of McElhenney’s plan to build the club’s reputation. But some things can’t be glossed over – and the outcome of Wrexham’s promotion chase makes for a gripping finale.  

Welcome To Wrexham leaves you with a sense that a storied old club is on the up once more – and that Reynolds and McElhenney are in it for the long haul. Watch this documentary and you’ll want to go along for the ride.

Welcome To Wrexham is available to watch now visit DisneyPlus.com

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