SPECIAL REPORT: Ruining takes by celebrating on set, sleepless nights during the transfer window and the Hollywood-style Wrexham sign that is the talk of the town… inside Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s first season in charge
- Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds are in their first full season at Wrexham
- The Hollywood stars have overseen a huge transfer window with 10 signings
- Club executive Humphrey Ker describes it as ‘kids on Christmas morning’
- Wrexham have immense exposure as they look to return to the Football League
The cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are hard at work filming for their latest series when Rob McElhenney leaps from his chair and lets out a gladiatorial roar in celebration.
More than 5,000 miles away at Wrexham’s Racecourse stadium summer signing James Jones has just volleyed in a knockdown from striker Jake Hyde to put the Dragons 1-0 up against promotion rivals Notts County.
The scene had been ruined by McElhenney’s outburst and the goal was eventually chalked off for an offside in the build-up, cue outrage. For his co-stars, this was something they have had to get used to.
In a first full season under two Hollywood stars, Wrexham are plotting a Football League return
Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney are transforming the fifth tier side into a ‘global force’
McElhenney is co-chairman of Wrexham alongside Hollywood megastar Ryan Reynolds (they take issue with the word owners) and while they have yet to make it over to Wales – two sets of plans have previously been shelved due to complications caused by the pandemic – they are ensuring they don’t miss a kick while hard at work in Los Angeles.
McElhenney is determined to get his co-stars invested, too. Only last month, prior to the opening game away to Solihull Moors, did Wrexham fans get a message of good luck from Always Sunny’s Danny DeVito.
The Hollywood transformation of Wrexham, which is in its first full season after the takeover was sealed in mid-February, is a remarkable story a decade on from HMRC being hours away from winding the club up over unpaid bills. Fans rallied together that day, shaking buckets across the town and £100,000 was raised to save the club.
#pov #football #freeguy #expensiveguy @vancityreynolds @wrexham_afc
McElhenney has had co-stars Charlie Day (left) and Danny DeVito (right) discuss the team
Huge crowds follow Wrexham and the loyal support played a key role in the decision to buy
And so for a long time, run diligently by the Supporters’ Trust, there was a scepticism when anyone enquired about investing – or purchasing – in a side relegated from the Football League in 2008.
‘The feeling was that Wrexham just deserved a break,’ Humphrey Ker, the club’s executive director but also an English comedian, writer and actor whose wife Megan Ganz directed the episode ruined by McElhenney’s celebrations, tells Sportsmail.
‘It felt like this was a place where you can tell people love their football and they faithfully and stoutly adhered to that as the town went through an intense economic downswing over the last 20 years.’
Ker based himself in the rural area of Borras, Wrexham, two miles from the ground, having been sent over to look after the club on behalf of McElhenney and Reynolds.
He recalls many a FaceTime with McElhenney while walking down Wrexham high street to give his close friend a sense of what to expect when he does swap Hollywood boulevard for Crispin Lane.
Since being helped by Inner Circle Sports, who Fenway Sports Group used in the process of buying Liverpool, last year after a WhatsApp exchange between Ker and McElhenney about buying a team, there has been nothing short of total obsession from the Hollywood stars in making Wrexham a success.
McElhenney (left) and Reynolds (right) have brought huge global exposure to Wrexham AFC
In their first four matches – three away from home – Wrexham have managed to go unbeaten
Former FA technical director Les Reed, ex-Liverpool chief executive Peter Moore and former head of the EFL Shaun Harvey are in as consultants. Video platform TikTok has become front of shirt sponsor, Expedia and Aviation Gin have also taken out major deals and production company FX have commissioned a two-series documentary entitled ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ on Disney+ which could command as much as £300,000 an episode.
Much of the recent obsession for McElhenney, Ker explains, surrounded this summer’s transfer window and it led to a number of frantic messages.
Ker explained: ‘I would get texts off him at like 5am being all “what’s happened with Aaron Hayden?!” And I’d have to say “I don’t know!”
‘Rob and Ryan have fast become fans and the transfer window is the most exciting time. Think about kids on Christmas morning, it was like that.
‘You unwrap a Paul Mullin-shaped box and think “cor, I hope it’s Paul Mullin in there” and then you open it and there it is and it’s all cool. You play with him for a bit and then there’s another box and you think there’s a centre back in there and so you open that up… they were just like that. They were so excited with everything that came through and all the twists and turns of it all.’
The Always Sunny actor joked ‘who’s Ronaldo?’ on the day Wrexham paid £200k for Ben Tozer
McElhenney was having sleepless nights when Wrexham were pursuing Aaron Hayden (centre)
Hayden, who joined from League Two Carlisle United, was one of 10 new arrivals in the summer with a major push to try and win the division outright this season, ending 14 years in the fifth tier. Nine have dropped down from the Football League and money has been spent too, with £200,000 going to League One Cheltenham to poach their captain Ben Tozer.
‘Everyone is going to be coming to the Racecourse and will want to spoil the party,’ captain Luke Young tells Sportsmail.
‘I know it’s early days but when you are out there you kind of look at it thinking, “yeah, I feel quietly confident”.’
Claims from rival fan-bases that Wrexham’s Hollywood cash injection is reminiscent of teams like Salford and Forest Green – who both escaped the fifth tier in recent years following significant spending – was quickly rebuffed by Young.
He added: ‘You look at Salford, Forest Green, teams like that and I’m not saying they aren’t good clubs to be at but when you look at the size of Wrexham and the fan-base compared to them two clubs, even before the takeover, it’s so big for this league and League Two and in some aspects in League One as well.
‘It’s only going to attract more people, more fans, more off the pitch showing an interest and with that comes a bit of added pressure. You are now expected to do well. There are people who say “wow, you should be winning this league comfortably” and “you should be doing this and doing that” but it’s not as easy as that. It doesn’t work like that.’
Reynolds’ hit film ‘Deadpool’ has become popular among supporters on various banners
Captain Luke Young (left) feels ‘quietly confident’ with the squad put together this summer
Wrexham head into Saturday’s home game against Woking – where a crowd of more than 8,000 is expected – unbeaten so far with one win and three draws.
The Hollywood effect has been immense in giving Wrexham exposure to the envy of almost every team in the EFL.
They have earned more than 37,000 followers on TikTok – more than three times the capacity of the Racecourse – in less than two months on the platform. Reynolds and McElhenney combine for almost 10million followers.
Last season the club’s official accounts saw Twitter and Instagram increase by 90,000 followers combined.
‘There is huge potential,’ CEO Fleur Robinson, who has more than 25 years experience at Burton Albion on her CV, explains.
‘The fan-base is massive and there is the potential to grow that so it’s a really interesting situation.’
Attention is now global and the Hollywood-esque sign erected on the slag heap at Bersham Bank near Rhostyllen was shared worldwide. A stunt by league sponsors Vanarama, rather than chairmen Reynolds and McElhenney, there are now talks with local authorities to keep it for good.
League sponsors Vanarama produced a Hollywood-esque sign in Wrexham to launch 2021-22
‘There is no other example of a takeover quite like this,’ Ker added.
‘It’s strange because their intentions are so far removed from the intentions of the traditional model. They are not looking to clear a profit and they have been very clear about that on several occasions since we started.
‘For me as a football fan that only makes it more exciting to be a part of.
‘It’s not a case of just going to Rob and Ryan asking them to write a load of cheques to make it happen, it’s all reflective of a belief that has been instilled around the place that it’s exciting to be around and that it’s a team that is going places – and then aiming to stay at those places.’
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