When Wrexham AFC’s fan-owned board sent a message to the cash-strapped club’s supporters to let them know they had been approached by “global figures”, the rumour mill screeched into action.
Basketball superstar LeBron James, actor Russell Crowe and former footballer Robbie Savage were among those mentioned by excited and apprehensive fans of the fifth-tier club, before the identities of the potential new owners were revealed at half-time during a pre-season friendly away at Telford United.
The fans were shocked to hear that Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney wanted to buy their club. “It was just disbelief really, we were checking it was the right Ryan Reynolds, the actual one, I honestly just couldn’t believe it,” says 27-year-old Max Griffiths, who grew up in north Wales and has supported the club all his life.
“I’ve been home and away for the last five seasons. Watching the team with a few hundred fans away at Woking on a Tuesday night, to think that club might be getting investment from Hollywood actors. Where the hell did that come from?”
“We deserve a bit of luck and optimism,” says lifetime Wrexham fan Natalie Rowley, who is a member of the trust. “We’re all excited and optimistic and can’t wait to get back to attending games.”
Rowley was impressed by the Zoom presentation given by Reynolds and McElhenney. “They did their homework and they really sold themselves. I’ve been with the club through the highs and the lows, and the takeover has sparked the passion back into something that was fading.”
Her eight-year-old daughter is also a fan of the club but doesn’t know who Reynolds and McElhenney are. “She’s still really excited though. My only concerns would be losing the community feel of the club but, from Rob and Ryan’s presentation, it was one of the things that attracted them to Wrexham. I hope they continue involving the next generation and growing the love for our club.”
“The supporters’ trust has shown an unbelievable commitment and it’s thanks to them that we still have a club,” says Catherine, who has supported the club for 30 years. “Over the years we’ve had to embrace being the underdog – Rob and Ryan seem to have struck the right tone when rekindling our passion.”
Catherine works as a teacher in Wrexham and hopes the new owners will develop the club’s youth, disability and women’s teams. “We already have a cracking disability football team but there’s so much potential. I’ve been proud to watch the town grow into the multicultural, mixed generational population that exists now.
“People might be a bit disheartened when success doesn’t happen overnight but it will take time. We need to take a collective deep breath and believe that we have the power and potential to rise from the ashes and become a mighty club once again.”
As more details emerged of the actors’ plans to help catapult Wrexham from relative obscurity to worldwide notoriety, fans digested the news that the club could star in a Netflix-style documentary before voting overwhelmingly in support of the takeover, which is yet to be rubber-stamped.
“They said all the right things about where they want to take the club, and being part of the club’s story – rather than us becoming part of their story – and taking us back to where we ought to be in the football pyramid,” says Griffiths. “In 2006 fans literally emptied out their piggy banks to keep this club alive, and now it’s our time to reap the benefits of such dedicated passion.”
But amid the fanfare and widespread attention, not all of the club’s fans are convinced that glory awaits. “I’m just going to wait and see to be honest with you,” says Michael Jones, another lifelong supporter. “I’m not going to celebrate just yet. I am concerned that we may be put through the factory and used as a vehicle for money-spinning Netflix documentaries and other media strategies that further individual careers rather than the club. I fear we may be eaten, chewed and spat out of the ‘Hollywood machine’, for want of a better phrase.”
Still bruised from attempts by previous owner Alex Hamilton to asset-strip the club in the early 2000s, Jones – a chartered accountant – says Wrexham’s status as a fan-owned club makes it as an “easy entry” for new investors with one eye on the riches of the upper echelons of British football. “I have absolutely no idea why they got involved,” he says. “It will be telling who they appoint to run the business side of operations. This will start to indicate the strategic direction and whether this is wholly and fully focussed on the benefit of the club.”