By GUY DAVIES, MAGGIE RULLI and ANGUS HINES, ABC News
(LONDON) — Supporting a team in the lower tiers of British soccer has never been a fashionable enterprise.
Rainy days, financial troubles and die hard loyalty is par for the course as fans regularly make long, thankless journeys to watch teams like Bromley FC and the Solihull Moors.
It’s a life that doesn’t seem to take place in the same universe, let alone the same sport, as the world-renowned, cash rich giants of super teams like Chelsea and Manchester United.
Yet for one club, and one oft-neglected town in North Wales, a painful year is about to end with an injection of Hollywood glamour.
That’s because actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney are buying Wrexham Association Football Club from the Wrexham Supporters Trust (WST) that currently owns it.
Rumors of the pair’s takeover began to emerge at the end of the summer, and the fans voted over 98% in favor of the move, which will see the actors invest an initial $2.6 million into the club.
“I wake up and the first thing I think is ‘are we really being taken over by two Hollywood stars?’” Wayne Jones, a WST member and owner of the Turf Hotel, a pub next door to the Racehorse Ground — the stadium where Wrexham play — told ABC News. “Deadpool really who has bought Wrexham football club… and then I go to bed at night and think exactly the same things. It’s probably going to take a little while before that settles in. It’s strange. Football and sport at the moment — especially at this level — is struggling financially. So it’s almost like we’ve hit the jackpot isn’t it? It’s surreal. Things like this don’t happen to little old Wrexham.”
The story itself has the flavor of a feel-good movie.
For the past 12 years Wrexham have languished in the National League, five tiers below the division in which Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool play — and celebratory times have been hard to come by.
The pair immediately endeared themselves to the fans by mixing a “humble” attitude with a sense of humor, according to club Director Spencer Harris, and their viral takeover announcement video took a tongue in cheek look at the club’s sponsors, Ifor Williams Trailers.
“They’re comedians, right?” Harris told ABC News. “But they also have other business interests. Ryan in particular is very well known for his business interests. As well as being really funny guys on camera, they’re quite humble guys off it — but serious when they need to be.”
According to the fans who took part in a zoom meeting with the actors which saw them pitch their vision for the club, the pair had clearly done their research.
“Wrexham fans have been really enthusiastic about this deal,” Harris said. “99% of people voted. I mean these two Hollywood stars had to put themselves up to scrutiny. And then a vote — not just any vote — but a vote that had a 75% hurdle rate. So they took a bit of a risk and out their reputations on the line and it’s come through for them.”
While the news has come as a shock to Wrexham locals and the whole world of soccer, the investment Reynolds and McElhenney are making may be more astute than appears at first sight.
The pair have pitched to fans their ambition to make Wrexham a “global force.” According to Harris, the club is debt free with cash in the bank and plans to renovate a new stand to increase the capacity of the Racehorse Ground — the oldest international stadium in the world — are already under way.
Wrexham also comes with quite a history. It is the third oldest professional soccer club in the world and, being the only team in the whole of North Wales, it has a catchment area of some 800,000 people to rally around the project if their fortunes improve.
A documentary based on the club takeover is already in the works, and a recent Bloomberg article suggested that streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime could end up spending hundreds of thousands of dollars per episode on such a show which would be a huge boost to club coffers.
Even so, the new owners have a responsibility to not just the club and fans, but the community it lies at the heart of.
In 2011, the club became supporter-owned as locals rallied to raise more than $133,585 in a matter of hours to save the club from going bust after years of mismanagement.
“It was a horrible time,” Andrew Pollard, another WST member and local journalist who follows the club, told ABC News. “We had pretty much 24 hours to save the club and the fans rallied together and saved some money which is insane. You had people going around with buckets collecting money, you had people, you hear stories of people mortgaging their house and properties. Dipping into personal savings of thousands and thousands of pounds… it was a big effort from a lot of people.”
The team, according to club captain Shaun Pearson, is unique in its passion.
However, the centrality of soccer to communities in working class towns such as Wrexham is something you can see across the U.K., particularly as previously thriving market towns see their business taken away by online shopping. Pearson himself was furloughed over the summer, and pitched in to help deliver food to the most vulnerable in the community.
“I think it’s just ingrained in you,” he told ABC News. “Generally, when you come to the U.K., something that generally happens is where you are born, you support the team where you’re from. And especially when you go to working class towns, which Wrexham is, you see that passion the football club generally drives.”
“For lots of people it’s well — going to sound hyperbolic — it is their life. Because that’s all some people have to hold onto is the football club,” Pollard said.
Local business owners and residents said that they were hopeful that the investment will provide a much-needed stimulus to a town that has experienced years of economic decline.
“If this club does well, the town will do well,” Peter Maddox, the Racehorse Ground’s turnstile operator who has supported Wrexham since the 1960s, told ABC News. “The two are inextricably linked. And if this club revives — and it certainly needs to — there will be a lot of economic benefits to Wrexham town center and neighboring businesses round here. I’m reasonably confident that if the club’s fortunes improve, the town will feel tangible economic benefits.”
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