Monday, August 22, 2022

Welcome to Wrexham is About More Than Football [Contributor: Jenn]

(Photo credit: FX)

The first five episodes of Welcome to Wrexham function like act one in an inspirational sports film.

The series is a story of a small town soccer (football, from here on out since we're in the U.K. for most of the series) team in Wrexham, Wales. The long-standing team was really struggling in the lowest division of their league. That's when actors Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds decided to team up, step in, and purchase the club.


The significance of Wrexham is that it's a passionate working-class town that's rallied around their team — and that's one of the things that draws Rob to Wrexham in the first place. "The team becomes an extension of the city," he says. "Even as a kid I remember that gave me something to identify with."

Rob, of course, is talking about his hometown and the Philadelphia Eagles. And he's right: the passion a community has for their sports team is impressive, especially when that team is an underdog. The memories made at those games aren't always connected to the scoreboard — they're often about the people you're sharing the experience with. At its core, that's what Welcome to Wrexham is about. It's a look into the people who make up a team like Wrexham A.F.C., and that the concept of "team" extends far beyond the players themselves.

Rob says: "Even though I've never been [to Wrexham], the town reminds me of Philadelphia. ... It's a town that's had its ups and downs and they haven't had a lot of opportunity that other people have had. I feel like I know those people. I grew up with those people. I am one of those people."

When Rob began considering becoming the owner of a football team, he realized something: "I needed something more than TV money. I needed movie star money. More than that, I needed superhero movie star money. More than that, probably as we ascended up the leagues, I would need alcohol baron money. And mobile phone services money. And... what other companies does [Ryan] have?"

Ryan, meanwhile, talks less about the community aspect of sports and more about the game itself. Growing up in a working class family, his drive to play sports came from wanting to connect with and be validated by his dad. So naturally, Rob and Ryan teamed up (having never actually met in person) and bought a football club.

As someone who has little to no interest in football, I have to admit that I was intrigued by Welcome to Wrexham but actually stayed mostly because of the storytelling. As a series, it doesn't shy away from the pain and struggles that come from enduring change upon change. Because it's a docuseries and not a fictional film, Wrexham as a team doesn't magically become better overnight. Just because two wealthy celebrities acquire a football team doesn't mean circumstances immediately improve; there's a lot of work and uncertainties ahead. "There is a version of the story where we are villains," Rob quips at the beginning of the series, noting that if he and Ryan lose money and the team doesn't win, they'll have to sell the club.

"We really don't want to let them down," Ryan says in the first episode.


And there's no getting around the fact that things are hard from the get go: Ryan and Rob make tough decisions about players in the first episode, they ultimately have to cut a number of team members, and they seem to keep running into obstacle after obstacle, financial and otherwise. But they're persistent in their dedication to making the team the best it can be — and also winning games to move up the leagues. That last part is important. Rob's persistence, in particular, should be noted. He's not the kind of person who gives up easily when there's an obstacle in his way (hiring a head coach, for instance) and it shows. That's what Wrexham A.F.C. needs, though: a pair who will make the tough calls and do what's necessary to create the best team and environment, critically one that sets its players up for success.

But as much as I do enjoy Rob and Ryan as actors, I was glad that Welcome to Wrexham wasn't really a two-man show all about them. The true standouts in this docuseries are the devoted fans who care about Wrexham. In episode three, we meet Kerry Evans, the Wrexham A.F.C. disability liaison officer. She's a wheelchair user who works at the club full time. We also meet Wayne, a club supporter who says: "This town ... deserves a break. ... We need a break." 

Episode five, "Fearless," showcases Wrexham A.F.C. volunteer Annette Gardner who talks about the way her football family of fans came around her when she lost her husband suddenly. The same episode gives us a glimpse into a kid named Sam who's obsessed with the club. He and his friend meet the players after every game they attend, and Sam has even gotten things signed. Fans are interviewed and focused on at every turn, and their stories are what make Welcome to Wrexham truly take shape for me.

(Relatedly, I also love that Humphrey Ker — Mythic Quest writer and an actor — is the club's executive director and helps not only navigate the practical needs of the club, but also helped Rob and Ryan understand the intricacies of U.K. football. Also thank goodness for Humphrey explaining the football league system/pyramid for my own benefit!)

Welcome to Wrexham isn't a story of Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds, though they are two of the featured players. It is really the story of a town who loves their team and people who will do everything they can to keep that spirit alive.

Overall, if you're looking for a lighter fare and enjoy both sports and docuseries, check out this one! Welcome to Wrexham premieres on FX August 24. You can also watch episodes the next day on Hulu.


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