Usually, when there’s investment in a football club, especially a lower league club it’s a mundane announcement. It’s usually a local businessperson or a company nobody’s ever heard of before who have decided to invest. It’s not usually that notable.
So, last week when National League side Wrexham AFC announced that talks had progressed with two potential investors to the point where they could be named, very few people would’ve predicted that those two investors would be Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.
It’s still early days, and only a potential investment. We don’t know what the size of the investment is and how much of a stake they are looking to take in the club. If it goes through, they will join other celebrity investors in English football like Lebron James (Liverpool) and Mindy Kaling (Swansea).
What’s made Deadpool and Mac want to buy a stake in a football club at all is anyone’s guess; what possessed them to want to buy into a fifth-tier club is even more of a head scratcher (for example, Wigan Athletic are desperately looking for a new owner and are available for $5m), unless there’s some kind of personal connection that’s currently unknown.
But instead they’re investing their money into a team that have been out of the Football League for 12 years, who earned the lowest league position in their history last season, and come from a town that has some of the worst depravation in the UK.
Formed in October 1864, Wrexham AFC are the oldest professional club in Wales, and are the third oldest professional club in the world (they may be the second oldest, as Stoke City’s foundation date is disputed). To put that into perspective, Wrexham were formed before Nevada was a U.S. state.
Wrexham play at the Racecourse Ground, which is the oldest international ground still in use today as it has hosted Wales games since 1877. It doesn’t host that many games anymore, but when Wales have a lower-profile friendly they are willing to play outside of Cardiff, they play at Wrexham.
Wrexham have played in the English league system since 1921 for the simple reason that there wasn’t a Welsh league until 1992 (for the same reason Cardiff City, Swansea City, Newport County and Merthyr Tydfil play in the English leagues) and they were so established in the English leagues they chose to stay.
Unlike all the other Welsh teams playing in England, Wrexham is in North Wales, and lies close to the border with England. As a consequence, Wrexham have much more of a rivalry with the English sides nearby than with their fellow Welsh sides. This includes a ferocious one with Chester, a city on the England-Wales border a few miles away.
Wrexham’s performance in the English leagues was always solid yet unspectacular. The highest they got was finishing 15th in what is now the Championship, where they spent four seasons in the late 70s and early 80s.
However, Wrexham were best known for their exploits in European football. A quirk in the rules meant that they participated in both the FA Cup and Welsh Cup every season until 1996. As they were one of the few professional teams in Wales, Wrexham won the cup regularly (they’ve won it 23 times) and as a result, qualified to play in the European Cup Winners Cup 8 times before UEFA ruled that the Welsh clubs playing in England can only play in Europe by qualifying through English competitions.
In the 1984/85 season, with Wrexham being in the bottom division of English football, they pulled off a huge upset by knocking out Portuguese giants Porto in the Cup Winners Cup. They won the first leg in Wrexham 1-0, then came back from being 3-0 down in Porto to lose 4-3 on the night but got through on away goals.
Wrexham floated along in the bottom two divisions of England for years before financial problems hit them in the early 00s. At one point the owner tried to evict Wrexham from the Racecourse Ground so he could sell the land to property developers. They later suffered the ignominy of being the first club to be deducted points for going into administration and were saved from liquidation by a late takeover.
The off-field problems spread to problems on the pitch and in 2008, Wrexham were relegated from League Two into the National League, where they have remained ever since. Wrexham have since become the living embodiment of how difficult a league the National League can be to get out of, as they have been close to returning
The club continued to struggle financially, and were taken over by a supporters trust in 2011, making Wrexham one of the few clubs that are supporter owned. It’s not been an entirely successful move, as the team have struggled on the pitch, and have never really looked like being able to earn promotion back to the league.
Last season, Wrexham had a torrid time on the pitch, and were facing the prospect of being relegated into the regional divisions of the National League. Covid ended the season prematurely, and possibly saved the club from relegation, but Wrexham still finished in a record low position.
Reynolds’ and McElhenney’s interest couldn’t come at a better time for Wrexham. Wrexham, like all lower and non-league clubs will be facing an uncertain future as rising Covid-19 levels in the UK have meant that plans to begin allowing spectators at matches have had to be put on hold. Clubs at that level depend on the gate money, and there will be a lot of clubs who are in desperate need of a financial boost
The next stage will be for Reynolds and McElhenney to put forward their vision for the club at a Special General Meeting and the Supporters Trust will decide on whether to accept their investment. The initial plans were given 97.5% approval by the trust last week, so it seems like there’s a very strong possibility that this deal will go through,