- Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney completed a surprise $2.5 million takeover of Wrexham AFC last year.
- The club has since been thriving, along with the Welsh city too.
- "They are doing wonders for the football club and for the city," said Wrexham Lager's Mark Roberts.
WREXHAM, Wales — When Phil Parkinson took over as the manager of Wrexham AFC in July 2021, the Welsh soccer club had no medical department, no physiotherapist.
"It's the first time I've ever done a pre-season without a physio," Parkinson, who has been a professional manager for almost two decades, told Insider.
"So many things had to be put in place."
Roll forward almost a year, and things at Wrexham have certainly changed for the better.
With Hollywood duo Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney at the helm following their surprise $2.5 million takeover in February last year, the club has gone from strength-to-strength, both on and off the pitch.
On the field, the club has had a complete overhaul of its squad, resulting in its qualifying for the National League playoffs (facing Grimsby Town in the semi-final Saturday) and making it to the final of the FA Trophy for the first time in seven years, where it was beaten by Bromley at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.
Off the field, Wrexham is achieving even more. On top of now having a medical department, the team has managed to secure a high-profile sponsorship deal with global entertainment platform TikTok. And after being name-checked on the wildly popular AppleTV+ series "Ted Lasso," the club is starring in an all-access docuseries – "Welcome to Wrexham" – that debuted on August 24 and showcases Reynolds' and McElhenney's first two seasons at the Racecourse Ground.
Wrexham has also attracted a wave of new supporters from across the world, thanks largely to its massively increased social media presence, undoubtedly driven by the celebrity of their new owners.
"We've had to evolve quickly, this club has been moving at some speed this season," said Parkinson. "I think we've gotten better as a team as the season has gone on, and I think behind-the-scenes there is a far better structure now.
"Rob and Ryan have worked hard to put things in place to take the club forward for years to come."
Wrexham AFC has a long and rich history.
Sitting just 25 miles south of Liverpool, Wrexham is a quaint market town which lies right between the Welsh mountains and the picturesque lower Dee Valley. Wrexham AFC, Wales' first ever professional soccer team, was birthed in 1864 by members of the town's cricket club. It started playing its games at the Racecourse Ground — the oldest international soccer stadium in the world — that same year and has remained there ever since.
In its early days, the club dominated Welsh soccer, winning the Welsh Senior League twice and the Welsh Cup 12 times before moving to play in the English Football League (EFL) in 1921.
The Dragons remained in the EFL for the next 88 years, mainly fluttering between divisions four and two. However, marred by financial problems caused by a controversial takeover in 2002, they were demoted to the National League in 2009, then the Conference National, for the first time in their history.
Two years after dropping out of the EFL, Wrexham was sold to its supporters' trust, which subsequently worked to restore the club to its former glory. And while the trust was able to clear the club's debts, it was unable to provide the financial backing to revamp the squad.
Enter Reynolds and McElhenney.
In the first summer transfer window following the actors' takeover, Parkinson oversaw a complete overhaul of the squad he inherited from previous boss Dean Keates — signing 11 players, including the experienced central defensive pairing Ben Tozer and Shaun Brisley.
In January, the club then signed four more players, including striker Ollie Palmer, who joined for a club-record fee from AFC Wimbledon.
The new-look squad — headed by Palmer, who has scored 15 goals since arriving — has put Wrexham on the brink of a sensational return to the EFL. Finishing second in the league, the club secured itself an automatic spot in the play-off semifinals, where it will face either Notts County or Grimsby at the end of the month.
"If I was a supporter, I'd want to see the owners put a structure in place to make this club a strong one, for future years, not just this season" said Parkinson. "And that's been done, there's a lot of good work gone on.
"I feel this is a squad which can take the club forward for a few years to come. There is talent in the squad. There are players who are only going to get better, there is a good blend of experience and youth," the manager said. "I'm pleased with the work which has been done."
Reynolds' and McElhenney's hands-on style of ownership has also been a huge boost for the squad.
The pair are often seen at the Racecourse, and on Sunday, they flew to London to watch their side lose to Bromley in the FA Trophy final at Wembley, where they were both were photographed talking to the players prior to the match.
They also regularly post about the club on social media. Reynolds, the "Deadpool" star who has 47.3 million followers on Instagram, tends to share comedy sketches, which often involve the players and other club personnel, while McElhenney's Twitter feed, with a relatively modest following of 746,000, reads like a Wrexham liveblog on each match day.
After the defeat to Bromley, Parkinson said the actors were in the dressing room trying to lift the mood.
"It's the owners' first full season and the nature of the industry is it can't all go your own way," he said. "They're disappointed, but they are in there lifting the team, and we will be ready for next week.
"Credit to them because they've been great with the lads and myself."
—Ryan Reynolds (@VancityReynolds) April 14, 2022
A Wrexham city revival
On top of the club's change in fortunes, Reynolds' and McElhenney's takeover has also coincided with what has been a great time for Wrexham as a destination.
Last week, Wrexham was named as Wales' seventh city to mark the Queen's Platinum Jubilee. McElhenney, best known as the creator and star of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," had publicly backed the bid after three previous failed attempts in 2000, 2002, and 2012.
Wrexham is also now bidding to be named as the UK's City of Culture for 2025. It is competing in the finals against Bradford, County Durham, and Southampton for the award, with the winner to be announced next month.
The soccer team has been referenced heavily in the bid, with Wrexham MP Sarah Atherton telling parliament last week that the city was "built on brewing, football, and mining."
Atherton's comment on "brewing" refers most obviously to Wrexham Lager – a brewery which has produced alcoholic drinks for more than 120 years.
Wrexham Lager and Wrexham AFC have close ties. The brewery was the club's shirt sponsor from 1992 to 2002, while in 2021, the club announced one of its stands would be sponsored by the brewery for the next three years and be renamed the "Wrexham Lager Stand."
Wrexham Lager's Managing Director Mark Roberts told Insider the takeover of the soccer club has had a positive effect on business.
"The takeover in general, I think it's good for everybody," he said. "You know, success breeds success. It can only be a positive for us, the city, and Wales." Asked if Reynolds and McElhenney had been into the brewery, Roberts said they hadn't, but had tried their products — more specifically its Wrexham Export lager, which just won the title for "Best Beer from the UK'" at a prestigious international competition in Germany.
"They have tried it and do like it, so I've been told. I've got some pictures of them drinking it," said Roberts.
"I've not met them personally, but they are doing wonders for the football club and for the city. Long may it continue."