July 19, 2024

Wrexham riding a wave of euphoria in charge through English soccer leagues


Three years into their unlikely ownership of Welsh soccer club Wrexham and the enthusiasm of Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney is far from fading.

“You come off the pitch after scoring a goal,” Wrexham striker Steven Fletcher says with a smile, “and Ryan texts you before my wife does.”

Reynolds ushered in the new year by announcing news of contract extensions handed to two of Wrexham’s top players, Paul Mullin and Elliot Lee. On New Year’s Day, he used social media to send his best wishes to two opposition players injured during a match against Wrexham that afternoon.

“The love for this club and town: Indescribable,” Reynolds posted to his 21.5 million followers on X, formerly Twitter, after the 4-1 win over Barrow in front of a season-high attendance of 12,233 fans at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground — a remarkable figure given the team is still only playing in English soccer’s fourth tier.

For now, anyway.

Promoted from the fifth-tier National League to much fanfare at the end of last season, Wrexham — a club that has gained global notoriety because of the profile of its owners and being the subject of a popular fly-on-the-wall TV series, Welcome to Wrexham — is now making a run at the League Two title in a bid to get up to the third division.

The team is in third place, two points off the lead after more than half of the season. Three clubs will gain automatic promotion, so Wrexham fans are daring to dream again. Suddenly, the ultimate goal of Reynolds and McElhenney — getting Wrexham into the top-tier Premier League — might not be so fanciful, after all.

“The hype about the place is fantastic,” said the 36-year-old Fletcher, who has played in the Premier League with Sunderland and enjoyed international soccer with Scotland. “When you come in, even for just training days, there [are] loads of people around the stadium.

“I’ve played for Premier League teams, and you don’t see that.”

For now, the promotion push can wait.

This weekend, Wrexham’s players are turning their attention to the FA Cup, a famous competition the club holds close to its heart.

The buzz around Wrexham and its celebrity owners reached new levels during a cup run around this time last year when the team beat one second-tier Championship team in Coventry and then took another, Premier League-bound Sheffield United, to a replay.

Reynolds flew in for the home match against Sheffield United, charming English soccer greats Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer in a pre-match interview on BBC television, and saw at first hand the passion of Wrexham’s fans for the competition. After all, Wrexham memorably defeated then-English champion Arsenal, 2-1, in the third round in 1992 for one of the FA Cup’s biggest-ever shocks and reached the quarterfinals in 1997, beating top-flight West Ham along the way.

“The club has a real history with the FA Cup, and it’s up to us to give them some more,” Mullin said.

“Last year was phenomenal, and I think it gave us more belief than we had in the first place. We were competing against better sides higher up the divisions and giving them more than a game over the times we did play them. We’ll try to use the FA Cup this season to do the same.”

Wrexham’s opponent on Sunday is Shrewsbury, a local rival — it’s about a 40-minute drive between the towns — and a team playing in the league above.

It’s a match that offers a break from league play but not one that will define Wrexham’s season, which is all about achieving back-to-back promotions and keeping the momentum fueled by the presence of Reynolds, the star of the Deadpool movies, and McElhenney, an American actor and director who was the creator of TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”

The club is unrecognizable compared to the one on its knees a few years ago amid ownership issues and financial concerns. These days, there are sell-out crowds at the atmospheric Racecourse and a very American feel to the place, with Betty Buzz, United Airlines and Aviation American Gin on the electronic advertising hoardings and the sight of fans wearing hats of NFL teams like the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.

“I don’t think any of us could have seen the whole furor at the club,” Mullin said about the explosion around Wrexham. “It’s been a phenomenal journey but one that’s not stopping here. We’re on the train for quite a while.”

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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