The (Belated) Hollywood Ending for Wrexham AFC
Issue 15, Volume 113
By Ben Rudinski
For everyone who knew Wrexham’s name, it was a moment of pure exhilaration that summed up the incredible journey that they had embarked upon, and the immense pride they felt in being a part of the Wrexham family. “People said at the beginning, why Wrexham? This is exactly why Wrexham,” Reynolds said in a post-match interview. He also thanked Notts County for keeping Wrexham on the edge of their seats all season.
It had been 14 years since Wrexham A.F.C. had last been in the English Football League. The club, which had been the pride of north Wales, was in a downward spiral, and it felt as if they would never reach the glory they once had—League One competition, countless Welsh Cups, and world-famous upsets over England’s largest clubs. However, following a series of successive relegations, they would fall to the fifth tier, where they stood in the 2020-2021 season.
England’s tier-based league system is very complicated, to say the least. The Premier League––the first tier––is the most competitive in England, if not the world. Then, the EFL Championship, League One, and League Two all follow in that order. The tiers below League Two are called “non-league,” as they are outside the EFL. Unlike professional sports leagues in the U.S., soccer leagues in England revolve around a system of promotion and relegation, which sees the top teams promoted to a higher league and the lower teams relegated to a lower league. Wrexham was in the fifth tier––the National League––which is one of the hardest leagues in England to get promoted out of, as only two out of 24 teams climb into the football league, a feat that Wrexham had been dreaming of for 15 years.
During the 2020-2021 season, fans anticipated that nothing special would happen; they would simply finish their season mid-table. However, in February of 2021, television star Rob McElhenney and Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds came together to buy Wrexham and take on the challenge of bringing the club back to its former glory. Having taken over in the middle of the season, the new owners’ first few months in charge were uneventful. However, they set their sights on the upcoming season and embarked on a remarkable transformation of the club.
McElhenney and Reynolds released half of the team, signing 18 new players, including the League One top goalscorer, forward Paul Mullin, making him the highest-paid National League player. In addition, they paid off the debts of past owners and acquired full ownership of Wrexham’s 11,000-seater stadium, The Racecourse Ground. With the support of McElhenney and Reynolds, Wrexham’s fans dared to believe once again and began to dream about finally escaping the firm grasp of the National League.
Though there were high expectations for Wrexham’s 2021-2022 season, it turned out to be a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows. They spent their season varying between automatic promotion positions and playoff positions and occasionally dropping to mid-table. However, they managed to finish second. Unfortunately for Wrexham, in the National League, only the first-place team is automatically promoted, while teams that finish second to seventh compete in a grueling playoff competition.
Despite high hopes coming into the season, there was no Hollywood ending for Wrexham; instead, quite the opposite. They lost in the quarter-finals of the playoffs to future promotion winners Grimsby Town. Nevertheless, the year was not all doom and gloom, as the release of their documentary series Welcome to Wrexham aired in August, helping to further popularize the team. The series, which followed the journey of Reynolds and McElhenney as they purchased the club, shined a spotlight on the town and its soccer team, drawing in new fans from all over the world.
Entering the 2022-2023 season, fans had high hopes for Wrexham, as they signed many key players, including defender Jordan Tunnicliffe and midfielder Elliot Lee, who both had previously played in higher leagues. The season would not be easy though, as rival Notts County would occupy first place for most of the season. But as the season progressed, the team ramped up its scoring output, cobbling together a 28-game unbeaten run in the league. At the same time, Wrexham had a remarkable FA Cup run, which saw some heart-racing games, such as their 3-4 victory on the road against Championship team Coventry City and a 3-3 draw at home against Sheffield United, where Wrexham were denied a win due to an equalizer from center-back John Egan in the 95th minute. As a result, they had to play a replay at Sheffield United, where they suffered a 3-1 defeat following two stoppage-time Sheffield goals and a missed penalty by Mullin.
In February, the club would surprise yet again, signing former Premier League goalkeeper Ben Foster following the injury of their main goalkeeper, Rob Lainton. With Wrexham and Notts County neck and neck, whoever won their head-to-head fixture on April 11 would take a huge leap toward the finish line; and that’s exactly what Wrexham did, winning 3-2 thanks to a massive penalty save from Foster in stoppage-time. Two weeks later, the team found themselves four points ahead of Notts County, with two games left to play. They now just needed to beat playoff-chasing Boreham Wood to secure their promotion.
The atmosphere was electric as the game of the season against Boreham Wood kicked off at the Racecourse Ground, with Reynolds, McElhenny, and over 10,000 fans anxiously awaiting whether Wrexham would secure promotion. However, just 45 seconds into the match, Boreham Wood would stun the home crowd with a chip shot from striker Lee Ndlovu. As the pressure mounted on Wrexham to get back into the game, Elliot Lee came through in the 15th minute by scoring a stunning header, drawing the match level, and prompting the fans to erupt into a frenzy of excitement.
With the score tied at 1-1, both teams were pressing for the win. But in the second half, Mullin stepped up to the plate and scored two goals, sending the Wrexham faithful wild with adrenaline and joy. Finally, after over 100 minutes of play, the final whistle blew, and hundreds of fans rushed onto the field, illuminating the stadium with reddish-pink flares, while the sounds of drums, horns, and joyful screams filled the air.
Amidst the chaos, Reynolds could be seen wiping away tears of joy as he hugged McElhenny and other board members. For everyone who knew Wrexham’s name, it was a moment of pure exhilaration that summed up the incredible journey that they had embarked upon, and the immense pride they felt in being a part of the Wrexham family. “People said at the beginning, why Wrexham? This is exactly why Wrexham,” Reynolds said in a post-match interview. He also thanked Notts County for keeping Wrexham on the edge of their seats all season. “They deserve to go up. We are rooting for Notts County,” Reynolds said. McElhenney expressed equally high passion and praise for the team. “I’d like to say that [Mullin] is one of the greatest players in the world,” McElhenney said.
With Wrexham’s promotion to League Two secured, what lies ahead for the team? Can they repeat their success and gain promotion again, backed by their newfound talent and Reynolds’ bank account? Who will be the next player to join their ranks? Only the future will tell, but for now, it’s all celebration and ecstasy for the town of Wrexham.