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In , Bono purchased a businessclass flight from London to Italy for his favourite hat. More recently, Lady Gaga invested $ , in a state-of-the-art, electromagnetic “ghost detector”. Last year, Ryan Reynolds bought Wrexham. Even by the erratic standards of the super-rich this was an intriguing move, a bit like Kim Kardashian suddenly buying a beachfront pad in Redcar. In partnership with the writer and actor Rob McElhenney (creator and star of the US comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), Reynolds paid £ million to buy out the Wrexham Supporters’ Trust in February . But why? Welcome to Wrexham (Disney+, August ) charts the takeover and should give us some answers. In many ways it is the answer.
Because this isn’t a takeover documented by a television programme, it’s a takeover driven by a documentary. Would Reynolds and McElhenney have acquired the fourthbest football team in Wales if they hadn’t been commissioned by the American FX network to make two series of television about it? It seems unlikely. It’s also one of the elements of the takeover that Wrexham fans are most uneasy about. “I just hope they don’t make us look like idiots,” says one fan, and this uneasy relationship between Hollywood stars with opaque motives and fans who have experienced more than their fair share of false dawns is a fascinating premise.
The shadow of Sunderland ’Til I Die looms large over Welcome to Wrexham. McElhenney was reportedly very taken with the Netflix series and stylistically it’s certainly similar, all locked-off shots of empty terraces and plaintive acoustic soundtrack. The major difference is that the protagonists here include one of the most bankable movie stars in the world, rather than an insurance salesman from Oxfordshire. Much of the action takes place on transatlantic Zoom calls as the owners juggle their showbusiness careers with running a National League football club. Their proxy in the UK is Humphrey Ker, a British comedian and writer on one of McElhenney’s TV shows who is credited with sparking the American’s interest in football. Eton-educated Ker looks and sounds like Louis Theroux, and an early attempt to introduce himself to a sceptical Wrexham playing staff goes about as well as you might expect.
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There’s some confusion over Ker’s official title (he prefers “Rob & Ryan’s guy”) but effectively he’s Welcome to Wrexham’s showrunner – put in place to make sure the narrative is unfolding satisfactorily. When the first trailer for the documentary was released, Reynolds made the mistake of describing it as an “underdog story”. This provoked much derision from other National League fans who had first-hand experience of Wrexham’s recruitment strategy. Presumably players such as League Two top scorer Paul Mullin and Cheltenham captain Ben Tozer weren’t attracted to Wrexham with the promise of a fish supper and a couple of signed Deadpool DVDs.
In football documentary circles this is known as “the Salford Paradox” – the story arc demands promotion at the end of the season, the easiest way to do this is to spend money on players, but this fatally undermines the underdog narrative so beloved of the neutral TV viewer. While the show’s US audience might happily accept the idea that plucky Wrexham are battling against the odds, that won’t wash with anyone with a passing knowledge of the lower leagues.
Nevertheless, it’s almost impossible to begrudge Wrexham fans their ownership lottery win, and those who take part here speak passionately about the club’s recent struggles. It’s almost two decades since the club last experienced promotion and, to its credit, Welcome to Wrexham devotes an entire episode to detailing the catastrophic reign of former owner Alex Hamilton who took the club to the brink of extinction while attempting to asset-strip the Racecourse Ground.
NUMBERS GAME The figures behind the facts
The estimated average cost of completing Panini’s World Cup album, . per cent more than Keira Walsh breaks the record transfer for women’s football in joining Barcelona from Manchester City
The number of signings made by No ingham Forest during the summer transfer window, a British record
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