Ryan Reynolds & Rob McElhenney: How did Wrexham become Hollywood-owned?

By Michael PearlmanBBC Sport Wales
‘Wrexham has the potential for growth’

There is no doubting 2020 and so far, 2021, has been an unusual time for the entire world.

Fear and worries about coronavirus are the new normal, with sport far from immune from those issues and pressures at a time of great uncertainty.

How, then, has National League side Wrexham become one of today's rarest things - a feel-good story?

BBC Sport Wales explains how one of the world's oldest football clubs ended up being owned by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.

How it happened?

The events that led to Wrexham becoming famous in Hollywood overnight began many months ago when Wrexham director Spencer Harris was approached by an intermediary about a potential change in ownership of the club.

Wrexham, who were founded in 1864, have been fan-owned since 2011 when the Wrexham Supporters Trust (WST) took control.

Although the club have struggled in recent years, on the field and financially, they were not actively seeking investment.

Talks progressed well enough that Harris and his fellow directors agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the interested parties, not realising the need for secrecy was due to the prospective investors being Hollywood superstars.

When Harris and the rest of the Wrexham board found out that the interested parties were Deadpool and Detective Pikachu star Ryan Reynolds and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia creator and star Rob McElhenney, they quickly realised the size of the opportunity on the table.

"This deal, we had to get it and land it while it was in the offing and I am delighted we've managed to do that," Harris told BBC Sport Wales.

"These are ordinary people in an extraordinary job. They are very down to earth people."

Wrexham manager Dean Keates on working with new owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney

The secret became public knowledge in September when Wrexham initially raised the matter with their supporters, and in this instance owners, who needed to vote on whether talks should proceed, with over 95% voting that they should.

Once the news was out the bag, both McElhenney and Reynolds posted about Wrexham on social media, making clear that this was a serious endeavour and hinting at their plans for the future.

The final pitch came in the form of a video presentation to the WST members, outlining their ambitions and promising to invest at least £2m in the club they hope to turn into a "global force".

"This is the third-oldest club on the planet and we don't see why it can't have a global appeal," said Reynolds. "We want Wrexham to be a global force."

The pitch was effective, with WST members voted overwhelmingly to back the takeover with 98.6% of those who responded backing the bid.

Out of more than 2,000 trust members eligible to vote, 1,809 approved, 26 were against and nine abstained.

The trust wished the pair "the very best of luck in charge" and "look forward to what the future brings".

As for the players, they were just as surprised as everyone else.

"We got told about it and nobody could believe it and I'm not sure anybody still can now," captain Shaun Pearson said.

"All we were told originally was that there was potentially a new buyer and we weren't allowed to know who it was.

"We were told that it was a big name and that we'd be amazed when we found out.

"We found out the same as everybody else when it was announced publicly and no-one could believe it."

Wrexham potential attracted Hollywood stars says Hughes

Why Wrexham?

"Why Wrexham? Why not!" - Rob McElhenney

So while the how is easy to explain, the why may seem more difficult with McElhenney and Reynolds admitting they are far from football experts.

So what exactly led them to Wrexham?

Certainly, to address the obvious, the fan ownership was a clear factor, with no money required to take control, allowing more capital for investment.

While neither of Wrexham's new owners profess to be football experts, they are clearly enticed by the idea of a challenge and seem to feel an affinity for the town itself, with McElhenney making comparison to the "blue collar" town being similar in mindset to his native Philadelphia.

Pearson feels the pair have been motivated by Wrexham's lowly status, rather than put off by it.

"From what I can gather it was an adventure they wanted to do and had done the background research," he said.

"I get the impression they looked at other clubs and obviously came to the conclusion that this was the right club for them and wanted to take it from there and move the club forward."

Another clear motivation is to produce a documentary about the club, which manager Dean Keates says he is "open-minded" about.

It has been suggested that making the documentary is a key factor in the takeover, but director Harris thinks that is an unfair accusation.

"I think the documentary fits into their vision and we thinks it's an exciting opportunity to take the name Wrexham right across the world," Harris said.

"Is it the only reason they are doing it? I don't believe that... there are easier ways to make a documentary!"

Rory Smith, chief soccer correspondent for The New York Times, said on BBC Radio 5 live's Monday Night Club: "I find this story absolutely fascinating.

"The working theory seems to be that they want to make this documentary.

"By all accounts Netflix pay somewhere in the region of £300,000-£800,000 an hour of content and selling an eight-episode series would make Wrexham profitable and that would transform them.

"So from that point of view I think there's something slightly odd about it."

'They've offered me a part in a cowboy film!' - President Dixie McNeil on Wrexham takeover

What happens next?

Having promised to make Wrexham "a global force", there probably needs to be a sense of reality about how quickly the Dragons can begin flying up the football pyramid, even with Hollywood investment, which already helped Wrexham before the transfer deadline and indeed, the takeover, closed.

The club are currently seventh in the National League and just inside the play-offs berths, as they bid to return to the Football League for the first time since 2008, having previously spent 87 successive seasons there.

"We need to temper expectations as well," Harris warned.

"We can all be caught up in this fairytale bubble and think we are going to skip and dance our way up the divisions, but football doesn't work like that.

"Every team will want to turn us over now. But I know Rob and Ryan are up for that challenge."

However, former Wrexham player and director Barry Horne, the ex-Wales international midfielder, says the sum of money promised to the club will make a difference quickly.

"If £2m was invested in one season that would make Wrexham favourites for promotion," Horne added.

"That sort of budget would put them very close to top in the league, if not at the top and, of course, money talks.

"With a good budget you should be able to get out of the division and that is what all Wrexham fans are hoping for."

Wrexham fans have been happy with the pair being transparent about their aims in a mission statement,external-link where they pledged to improve the club's Racecourse Ground home, provide "comprehensive financial support for the manager and his coaching team," and to increase the staff at the club.

Most crucially, the duo have "guaranteed... the club cannot be relocated, renamed or rebranded".

"When you factor everything together, we have a really bright future here," Harris said.

After years in the doldrums, Wrexham's happy Hollywood ending has materialised and from now on, fans will hope it's always sunny at the Racecourse Ground.

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