‘Welcome to Wrexham’: Fascinating FX series follows Ryan Reynolds, Rob McElhenney on quest to rebuild a soccer team
The stars are serious about the project, and their money and attention makes a difference to the team and the fans in its struggling Welsh town.
If you were to go solely by the artwork for the FX series “Welcome to Wrexham,” with the American actor-writer Rob McElhenney of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” Fame” and the Canadian actor-mogul Ryan Reynolds of Ryan Reynolds fame in track suits while posing in front of an Association Football Club, you couldn’t help but think we’ve already been Ted Lasso’d into this scenario, right?
Ah, but this isn’t a copycat, fish-out-of-water work of fiction, but a documentary series chronicling the most improbable but true-life story of two Hollywood hotshots who decide to purchase the third-oldest professional football team in the world at one of the lowest points in its 150-year history and try to turn it around in “Rocky” style fashion, despite knowing almost nothing about the game we call soccer. Aware they could come across as a couple of Hollywood “a------s” as they put it, Reynolds and McElhenney make it clear from the start this isn’t some condescending, cynical whim, and they wisely cede great stretches of screen time to the players, the support staff and the long-suffering yet fiercely loyal fans in Wrexham who live and die with their beloved football team. The result is one of the most fascinating, endearing, sometimes hilarious and eminently watchable docuseries of the year.
As we learn in the premiere episode, McElhenney grew up in Philadelphia as an Eagles fan and only started getting interested in non-American football around 2019, when the British comedian and writer Humphrey Ker (who has worked with McElhenney on “Sunny” and “Mythic Quest”) would watch matches during breaks. McElhenney got hooked on the sport and this led to him pursuing the idea of purchasing a football club — if he could find just the right team and circumstances.
He discovered such a club in Wrexham, a Welsh football team in a working-class town that had fallen on tough times and for the last 14 years had been relegated to the National League, the fifth and absolute bottom rung of professional football. But even a lowly club such as Wrexham would require an investment in the millions — so McElhenney reached out to Ryan Reynolds, a social media buddy he had never even met in person.
“As I gathered more and more information,” says McElhenney, “I realized how expensive it was going to be. I have TV money, but … I needed movie star money. More than that, I needed superhero movie star money. … I would need alcohol baron money and mobile phone services money and what other companies does this bitch have? Cybersecurity money.”
Reynolds agreed to partner up with McElhenney, and their offer was accepted by the 2,000-strong members of the Wrexham Supporters Trust, who seemed equal parts baffled, skeptical and yet thrilled about their new celebrity owners, who made it clear they were going to do everything in their power to improve the fortunes of the club.
The series alternates between scenes of Reynolds and McElhenney in Los Angeles, on studio lots or in trailers or in McElhenney’s spacious and sun-filled home, and segments in the drab and gray Wrexham, where we begin to understand just how much the football club means to the entire town. We meet the likes of Wayne Jones, who owns the Turf Pub in the shadow of the stadium; Paul Rutherford, a midfielder who is 33 years old and is married with children and barely makes enough to support his family, and Kerry Evans, who was a full-time volunteer as the Disability Liaison Officer for Wrexham AFC and is in a wheelchair, and is overwhelmed and admittedly scared but also excited when she’s offered the opportunity to basically perform the same duties — but for a salaried position.
Then there’s everyman fan Shaun Winter, who is going through some tough personal times and says of his job, “I’m a painter now. … Me grandad was a painter, me dad’s a painter and I f---ing hate it. You’re talking to the same old people. … There’s gotta be more to life than this. When I heard about Ryan and Rob taking over the club, I thought, f--- off! It’s not going to happen.”
But it did — and for fans like Winter, there was a glimmer of hope and light for Wrexham AFC after years in the cold dark world of consistently losing. The new owners fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars for improvements to the pitch and to the stadium structure, and further stretch the budget by signing a new CEO, a famed coach and the star forward Paul Mullin. (Soon, Mullin has his own chant, à la Roy Kent in “Ted Lasso,” with fans singing, “We’ve got Mullin, Super Paul Mullin, he plays in red and white, he’s f---ing dynamite.”)
As Reynolds and McElhenney readily admit, they’re going to be just fine even if this whole experiment turns into a well-intentioned folly. (And they’re surely recouping a chunk of their investment by serving as executive producers on this series.) Still, though both Ryan and Rob are lightning-quick wits, their barbs are always aimed at each other or themselves. It’s clear they’ve developed a real love for the game and a sincere and (we hope) lasting attachment to the club and to the good people of Wrexham. Three cheers to that.