How Hollywood owners have transformed Wrexham

FA Cup fourth round: Wrexham v Sheffield UnitedDate: Sunday, 29 January Venue: Racecourse Ground Kick-off: 16:30 GMT Coverage: Live on BBC One, BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport website and app; listen on BBC Radio 5 Live; follow live text on BBC Sport website.

Two days before Wrexham’s biggest FA Cup tie for years and there is a problem in the club shop at the Racecourse Ground.

Customers wanting to buy the non-league club’s home shirt to wear at Sunday’s fourth-round tie with Championship side Sheffield United are leaving empty-handed.

Eight thousand red jerseys have been sold since last summer, with many dispatched to addresses across Canada and the United States.

Demand is outstripping supply and there are no more available at present.

The team from the fifth-tier National League have become big news since Hollywood actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s shock takeover of the north Wales club two years ago.

The pair brought a camera crew along to document their first full season in charge, with the hit series Welcome to Wrexham watched by millions in the United States.

As a result, the north Wales club – close to extinction as recently as 2011external-link – have attracted a legion of fans from North America and a follow-up series is due for release later in 2023.

“Our job is to make sure the second series is as exciting as possible,” Wrexham boss Phil Parkinson tells BBC Sport.

“There are a few good episodes on our FA Cup run alone.”

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‘We’re in love with Wrexham’

A glance at the visitors book inside the club shop at the back of the main stand shows the impact Welcome to Wrexham has had.

There are pages of signatures from places like Texas, Phoenix, Indianapolis and Toronto.

Parkinson often finds himself greeting fans outside the Racecourse who have travelled from the United States after watching the documentary, which charts the lives of Wrexham’s players and staff following the high-profile takeover.

Paulina and Tanner Weeks were at the ground on Monday lunchtime to wave the players off for the midweek game at Gateshead, which Parkinson’s team won 3-0 to go three points clear at the top of the table.

The couple travelled 4,300 miles from Little Rock, Arkansas, after watching Welcome to Wrexham.

“We fell in love with the story,” Tanner said.

Paulina added: “Without the documentary, we wouldn’t know a thing about Wrexham. It’s 100% why we’ve become fans.”

One episode covers the story of midfielder Jordan Davies and his partner Kelsey losing their baby boy. The couple have since announced they are expecting a baby girl.external-link

“I feel like I know all the players because of Welcome to Wrexham,” added Paulina. “I found myself pulling for them.

“Rob and Ryan have embraced Wrexham and they’ve given us the opportunity to do the same. We’re going back home in a couple of days but we’re already making plans to return.”

Parkinson, appointed in July 2021, said greeting fans from the United States had become part of the job.

“It happens a lot when we return from training. There are people taking pictures,” he added. “I’ve had chats with people who have come from far and wide. People clearly enjoyed the documentary.”

Pub that has become tourist attraction

On one corner of the Racecourse is the Turf Hotel, the building where Wrexham were formed in 1864.

The pub on Mold Road has always been a popular meeting place for fans before matches.

More recently, however, it has become an unlikely tourist attraction with up to 30 overseas visitors a day after the appearance of landlord Wayne Jones in Welcome to Wrexham.

Scenes shot inside the Turf include Reynolds, star of Deadpool, and McElhenney, star and creator of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, having drinks at the pub after flying over from the United States, where they are based.

The building is full of Wrexham nostalgia.

A picture of Mickey Thomas’ famous free-kick goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup in 1992 hangs on one wall.

There are references to the club’s run to the quarter-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1975-76 and the 1984 win over Portuguese side Porto in the same competition.

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“The football club and the Turf have become tourism attractions in their own right,” Joe Bickerton, destination manager of Wrexham County Borough Council, said.

Since Welcome to Wrexham first aired in August, the town has officially become a city. In December, the King and the Queen Consort stopped at the Racecourse Ground on a visit to the area.

Bickerton added: “On a daily basis we have people asking about the football club.

“We had a couple from Ohio in the other day, we’ve had people from New York and Los Angeles tell us ‘we’ve seen Wrexham posters in our neighbourhood’. It’s incredible. That kind of marketing is priceless.”

‘Heck of a ride’

Wrexham’s profile across their social media platforms has surged since Reynolds and McElhenney came on board, with their Twitter following leaping from 79,500 in February 2021 to 320,200 this month.

Season ticket sales stood at 6,820 before the start of 2022-23. Three years ago they sold 2,609.

The co-owners invested an immediate £2m after their takeover, with their ambition reflected by a number of notable signings including club captain Ben Tozer, who dropped two leagues to join from Cheltenham Town.

Wrexham’s new popularity, however, means getting a ticket for home matches has become tricky.

Sell-out crowds of 10,000 have become normal and that is expected to continue even after the redevelopment of the Kop – the oldest part of the ground – raises the capacity to 15,500.

“Every new fan is a welcome fan,” said Adam Phillips, a long-time Wrexham supporter who took his new-born daughter, now eight, straight from hospital to the Racecourse Ground. She was six hours old.

“There’s a confidence in the town and long may it continue.

“You can tell Rob and Ryan are genuine. Yes, they are businessmen as well and they want to make money but I don’t care how much they make. These are exciting times.”

Reynolds and McElhenney have embraced the community, regularly donating money to good causes in Wrexham.

“The owners have lifted the whole area,” added Parkinson, who masterminded League Two Bradford City’s incredible run to the League Cup final 10 years ago and arguably the biggest shock in FA Cup history when the Bantams beat Chelsea 4-2 at Stamford Bridge in round four in 2015.

“We know the ultimate goal is to get promotion but having positivity around the city, it’s great to be part of that.”

On his relationship with the co-owners, Parkinson said: “They are engaged with everything that goes on. When they’re over here they have lunch with the players and staff at the ground.

“If we sign a player or someone has an injury, Ryan or Rob will ring them up.”

Having defeated Coventry City in the last round of the FA Cup, confidence is high among supporters that they can once again beat a team from three leagues higher in front of the live BBC One cameras.

Whatever the result against Sheffield United, Wrexham’s fans are loving life under their Hollywood owners.

“We’re having a heck of a ride,” added Phillips.

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