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Old 16th October 2023, 09.14:55   #1-0 (permalink)
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Default Is this real life or is it just fantasy? Welcome to Wrexham. Guardian article

https://www.theguardian.com/football...blur-the-lines
enjoyed reading this

Hollywood co-owners have brought spotlight to north Wales but are making a difference to everyday lives

by Barney Ronay in Wrexham
Mon 16 Oct 2023 08.00 BST
An hour before kick-off outside the iconic Turf pub, adjacent to the iconic Racecourse Ground, just down the road from the iconic Shell garage shop, fevered and ultimately baseless rumours have begun to circulate that AFC Wrexham’s co-owner Ryan Reynolds will in fact be present for the home game against Salford City.

Even more thrilling, the reason Reynolds is going to be present is because David Beckham is also going to be here.

Beckham is of course a minority owner of Salford, the other half of this clash of the League Two streaming powers. The October international break couldn’t have come at a kinder time for League Two’s most state-of-the-art head to head: the Docu-Derby, El Plastico, and just another everyday occasion in the north Wales football-entertainment nexus.

How real is any of this? It is a pertinent question, deserving of an honest answer. Scanning the traffic along the dual carriageway outside the rebranded STōK Cae Ras stadium there is no obvious sign of motorcades, helicopter flightpaths or presidential security details.

A man in a padded coat is simultaneously vaping and eating a sausage bap, while sheltering from the rain under the lip of the stadium roof. A small group of people are giving out leaflets headed United In Britain, the kind of slogan – as with any phrase containing the word “Britain” – that sounds like a vigilante militia group in a dystopian TV mini-series.

“Do you want Wrexham to be able to play in the Premier League,” asks the text on a small sign, property of the No Cymru! Campaign, who are here to protest against the recent use of “highly emotive language” promoting the cause of Welsh separatism.

Members of the No!Cymru anti Welsh independence group handing out flyers before the match against Salford City
Happily, the only Highly Emotive Language to be heard in the Wrexham Lager Upper this afternoon will come from a man in the middle tier who keeps shouting “WHAT are we DOING?” (also: “Run the GAME you knobhead”) as the home team struggle to make an impression on organised and powerful opponents.

Fast forward two hours on Saturday and Wrexham are in the process of turning a 2-1 defeat into a 3-2 win in the fraught final seconds of normal time. A double rainbow has flickered into life above the ground. A squall of powerful sideways rain is surging through the low autumn sun, glittering like sparks from a foundry fire. There is a sense of a more mundane kind of football fairytale in train, everyday magic willed into being from these familiar collisions. And no, Becks doesn’t seem to have made the trip this time.

It is almost exactly three years since Wrexham were bought by Reynolds and his co-star Rob McElhenny, also a successful American TV comedy actor. The Disney+ show Welcome to Wrexham is in its second season. The club’s transformation in that time from imperilled non-leaguers to ambitious global heritage product is arguably the strangest thing that has ever happened in British football (albeit at a time when pretty much everything feels like the strangest thing that has ever happened in British football).

The team will end the day in fourth spot in League Two, thrumming up through the gears in pursuit of a second successive promotion. The show remains in or close to the top 10 of most-watched programmes across all platforms and was, for a while, No 1 in sport documentaries. Some estimates suggest the exposure has added a billion dollars in leisure trade to the wider region.

It is the kind of process that sits right at the heart of football’s ongoing clash of established community models, the human face that has sustained this thing, with its own rapacious new commercial models. Is this another heist of human emotions? Another way of wringing out value from that thing you love? Or can it just be a good thing in a bad world, creative commodification of the best kind?

Criticism of the Wrexham experiment has been mild so far, focusing on evidence of tickets becoming more expensive for local supporters; on rival clubs, which are also heritage entities, unable to compete on a level field with this new revenue giant; and above all on the founding clash at the heart of this thing, the divide between the real and the fake. How do we tell the two apart?

Early in series one Reynolds and McElhenny are filmed outside an LA studio, mocking its faux-weathered sign with bogus antique script and fake rivets that come away in the hand. This is the basic elevator pitch for the show: on the one hand Hollywood artifice; on the other a rootsy trip into blue collar sports in the land of dragons and stock-photo coal-smeared Celts. Wrexham, bro. That’s some real shit.

The same founding setup is present as Reynolds and McElhenny visit Wrexham for the first time in episode one (creative licence: this actually happened later on). Here they are, the handsome alien overclass staring in reverence at this crumbling non-league theatre, the magic men here to lever you up out of your hole – and, hey, learn a little about themselves too. Who knows, maybe the real FFP regulations were the friends we made along the way.

Even that friendship is a construct. Reynolds and McElhenny met for the first time in person doing the show. But they are exceptionally well cast as a best-pals duo. McElhenny looks like a normal man kitted out with the hair, the teeth and the workout regime of a famous person. Reynolds looks like a famous person trying very hard to look normal, an ironised version of the classically handsome matinee star, self-consciously sensitive and alpha-ishly faux-camp at times, like a cross between Cary Grant and David Walliams.

The personal journey schtick is covered early on. McElhenny is a working-class lad from Philly who loves the Eagles (not the band). We meet his dad. On Wrexham he says: “I know those people. I grew up with those people. I am those people.” Hey. It’s a TV shortcut. Reynolds is less into sport but brings genuine A-list presence, vital to that fairytale double-take aspect. They walk through this world like celebrity guests at a wedding, always talking about warmth and dignity and how great everything is.

There is a very English, and very football, urge to be cynical about this. Here we go selling community ties as an entertainment product, monetising Welshness, monetising poverty and post-industrial decay. “We’re looking at new ways to get eyeballs on us,” a voice says at one point and everything in this documentary is being assessed in these terms. Cry on screen and those tears are a unit of value.

So we wade through the real and the fake. For a start the entire enterprise is presented as an underdog story, when in fact it is the precise opposite. This new version of the club is always going to win in non-league, and indeed in League Two, because they have more money than almost everyone else. The equaliser against Salford is scored by Steven Fletcher, a 36-year-old former Scotland international. Wrexham are not the ewoks in this picture.

Yet the success of the show is based in its undeniable realness. There is a sense time and again that the artifice of television comes up against a reality that is bigger and more powerful, which will swallow its intentions and present them back in its own form.

There are episodes where the best bits are Phil Parkinson shouting “Foook” repeatedly on the touchline, or a barefoot Charlotte Church singing Men Of Harlech, which sounds stagey and posed but is in fact beautiful and moving because it just is. At one point McElhenny gets all his friends together in a bar in Philadelphia to watch a game for the cameras and because football has a sense of humour it’s a terrible 0-0 against Wealdstone with zero redeeming features even in its total 90‑minute tedium.

Mainly the producers have, intentionally or not, made a documentary about people and places whose stories are ready to step outside the programme’s boundaries.

Michael Hett is a familiar face from the show, lead singer of the Declan Swans and author of Always Sunny in Wrexham, a pub-rock singalong that has accrued millions of views after being TikTok-shared by Reynolds.

Hett is a former miner whose father, also a miner, was the last man to leave the Wrexham colliery on the day it closed for good. He’s a poet and a singer (“I’ve got a terrible voice”), with a songwriting style shaped by pub culture and football culture, making up songs around a table or on a bus. “I’ve seen the town change since the owners came in,” he says on matchday morning in the back room of the old Miner’s Rescue Centre just around the corner from the ground.

“We were a bit, I won’t say on our arses, but we’d lost a bit with the coalmines, steel, the markets, breweries. We’ve never had tourists before. When the cruises dock at Liverpool they go to castles and the Beatles tour, but now they’re coming to the world-famous Turf pub. I’ve seen 50 Americans going in there.”

Michael Hett – a Wrexham fan, poet and musician – looks around the memorial to the 266 men killed in the 1934 Gresford Colliery disaster at the Wrexham Miners Project
Hett’s own recent struggles were chronicled on screen. He was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer during series one, and is seen talking to his wife about just wanting to see Wrexham get promoted before he dies.

He didn’t die. Several lifesaving operations later he’s there as Always Sunny is played before home games. More improbably, the Declan Swans opened for Kings of Leon when the Hollywood stardust brought them to the STōK Cae Ras. Did he know the song was catchy straight away? “I did … but not like this.”

The Miner’s Relief Station is another of those buried elements, and is due to feature in the current series. It is best known for the part it played in the aftermath of the Gresford Colliery disaster in September 1934, when 266 people died after an explosion underground. Many of the miners were working double shifts in order to make it to a game against Tranmere in the afternoon.

Wrexham memorabilia is scattered among the mining artefacts now. A memorial and an evolving miner’s museum have been added, helped by supporter donations and overseen by its owners, George and Sharon Powell, who have created some beautiful exhibits, including a kids’ art centre and a scale replica training tunnel for mine rescue workers. The place is still in desperate need of funds after a previous owner attempted, unforgivably, to bulldoze the building.

But this is, as they say, football heritage, Wrexham heritage, something fragile and in need of care. Scanning down a recent article on Wrexham’s finances – summary: they’re nowhere near the FFP ceiling, this thing is a merchandising dream – the comments contain some classic scepticism from fans of other clubs, including a description of Wrexham’s new fans as “doe-eyed Yank rimjobbers”.

But the doe-eye Yank rimjobber pound is still a pound like every other pound. For all the double-speak about “levelling-up” Boris Johnson’s government refused the easy PR win of funds to renovate the now demolished Wrexham Kop. Frankly, nobody else was coming to save this place or shine the warming light of publicity.Back at the ground the weather has decided to compromise: constant rain, constant sun, constant blue sky and a total blanket of cloud. Wrexham start slowly. Players at this level come in different shapes. Chief goalscorer Paul Mullin glides like a thoroughbred. Ollie Palmer, his partner, runs like he hates the grass, all rippling, pounding arms and legs.

Salford have the slim, silver-haired Mathew Lund, who looks more like a legendary 1960s jazz drummer than a hardworking deep midfielder. He scores the second goal to put Salford 2-0 up. The vast Matt Smith got the first, tumbling like a detonated chimney to trickle a header into the corner.

The home crowd is calm but a little angsty. Wrexham don’t really have an attacking pattern. They have Palmer and Mullin running after the ball. “Earn your money Reds,” someone shouts and with 38 minutes gone Wrexham get one back, Elliot Lee heading in from a corner. At half-time there are perfunctory boos for the referee as the pitch empties to the sounds of Poison by Bel Biv Devoe, and this could be any football ground anywhere.

Is it though? “I’m not going to lose too much sleep over people saying, oh, it’s an American’s plaything,” says the Wrexhamchief executive, Humphrey Ker, actor, writer friend of the owners and founding spirit of the new Wrexham.

“At the start there was a lot of head-patting. Then we started winning. But football is replete with terrible owners who are doing bad things to their clubs. This place has been through so much down the years. We had a millstone in the shape of a stand we just couldn’t afford to maintain. And, you know, but for the grace of god there goes the third oldest football club in the world down the drain.”

Ker has been a surprise element in all this, a conduit for the owners, but also a communicator, public face and genuinely involved member of the executive, both emotionally and in the basic details. So what happens to Wrexham if the show gets cancelled?

Humphrey Ker, the British comedian, actor and writer
“We’ve been trying to work that out ourselves. It is interesting, at the end of the previous series there was no real drop off in traffic of people coming or watching the games on iFollow. We’ve got this season and then another one for now. The idea is over that period you get under enough people’s skin and they are locked in. The tour of America in the summer was mad. We played in front of 55,000 people in North Carolina.”

The tour was also slightly controversial, a marketing trip as opposed to the more traditional local match practice. “From our perspective it was a huge success. Again it’s the short term versus the long term. Football is massively on the rise in the US and one of the things Rob in particular has been very strong on is he wants to make Wrexham America’s team. If you follow a team in the US or you don’t have strong affiliations, it’s Real Madrid or Barcelona. Rob is trying to cut into that market, to make us the one people get behind.”

Madrid. Barcelona. Wrexham. The Galeekticos. Maybe that market will now also include the League Two’s coming power, darling of the doe-eyed rimjobbers. It has to be said, so far the ownership has delivered on its promises. The women’s team has been ramped up successfully. The players and coach are stars of WTW series two. Plans are in train to reopen the club’s academy. Jobs are literally being created, with a doubling of club employees. The new Kop stand will add 5,000 to the matchday crowds.

What could go too far wrong under this model, which is, as various people point out across a weekend in Wrexham, not exactly Saudi Arabia? Some kind of comedy actor soft power struggle? Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill buy Hereford United, desperate to transition their personal economies away from the world’s depleting stores of comic acting roles. Paul Rudd buys Leyton Orient, pumps it full of Ant Man sponsorship deals, and wins League Two five times in a row. Will Ferrell stages the 2038 Fifa World Cup in a nation-building gambit to prevent Kevin Hart from invading him.

“It’s all pretty transparent in the end,” says Andy Gilpin, host of the Fearless In Devotion Wrexham podcast. “The owners need to be seen as the good guys for their own brand. They can’t leave it in a mess.

Gilpin is another who has been there through the thin times. “We’ve come from 15 years when what could go wrong did go wrong. One year we lost our top scorer to a tropical disease, the next year we lost our top scorer to a bite from a false widow spider. I’ve had a few people come on to me with that contrary attitude. A lot of fans will say everything’s a bit different to what it was.”

The doe-eyed yank rimjobbers again? “Wrexham has one of the biggest industrial estates in Europe. We have the biggest slag heap in the western hemisphere. They’re not always the first things people put on the tourism pamphlets. But there are now four or five places where tourists will come and spend their money. You get swathes of Australian tourists wandering around the various pound shops in the high street. That to me as a Wrexham lad is absolutely nuts. But it’s also great.”

Back at the STōk the game against Salford ends with a fittingly cinematic winner, scored by local boy and documentary regular Jordan Davies. Arthur Okonkwo, on loan from Arsenal, makes a fine save at the death. David Beckham still isn’t here.

Afterwards it’s another low-key starry moment to hear the words of Parkinson, who talks ruefully about “a lacklustre feel” at the start, and in the flesh looks even more like the dad in an advert for family‑friendly sliced bread.

It won’t always be sunny here. But for now all is well in north Wales, and indeed at Disney+ HQ as that parallel world of a streaming documentary, by far the most valuable asset in the league, continues to churn out the numbers.
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Old 16th October 2023, 09.31:23   #2-0 (permalink)
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Default Re: Is this real life or is it just fantasy? Welcome to Wrexham. Guardian article

Some factual errors ( more expensive tickets ?) but he nails it.
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Old 16th October 2023, 09.32:54   #3-0 (permalink)
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Default Re: Is this real life or is it just fantasy? Welcome to Wrexham. Guardian article

"We’ve got this season and then another one for now" - does this mean the green light for Series 3 has been given?
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Old 16th October 2023, 10.03:00   #4-0 (permalink)
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Default Re: Is this real life or is it just fantasy? Welcome to Wrexham. Guardian article

@FRANKJONES - Good read, and thanks for copying the text into the forum, thus avoiding pay walls, adverts and annoying pop-ups.
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Old 16th October 2023, 10.08:04   #5-0 (permalink)
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Default Re: Is this real life or is it just fantasy? Welcome to Wrexham. Guardian article

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wrexy View Post
"We’ve got this season and then another one for now" - does this mean the green light for Series 3 has been given?


I'm assuming so - they're still filming most weeks around the sound & that won't be for season 2
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throw those curtains wide, one day like this a year'd see me right !
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Old 16th October 2023, 10.20:57   #6-0 (permalink)
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Default Re: Is this real life or is it just fantasy? Welcome to Wrexham. Guardian article

Thanks for posting, a good read and just adds to how much things have changed for the better.
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Old 16th October 2023, 10.40:22   #7-0 (permalink)
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Default Re: Is this real life or is it just fantasy? Welcome to Wrexham. Guardian article

Quote:
Originally Posted by FRANKJONES View Post
Rob McElhenny,

McElhenny

McElhenny

McElhenny


McElhenny


. McElhenny

McElhenny

Is that Rob McElhenney? Guessing it is not known as the Grauniad for nothing.
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Old 16th October 2023, 11.33:10   #8-0 (permalink)
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Default Re: Is this real life or is it just fantasy? Welcome to Wrexham. Guardian article

Quote:
Originally Posted by RedAdmiral View Post
@FRANKJONES - Good read, and thanks for copying the text into the forum, thus avoiding pay walls, adverts and annoying pop-ups.
Same as Red Admiral says, thanks for transcribing the info, cos it’s like a word search game with all the pop ups etc on these sites.
Thanks again.
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Old 16th October 2023, 11.58:02   #9-0 (permalink)
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Default Re: Is this real life or is it just fantasy? Welcome to Wrexham. Guardian article

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Is that Rob McElhenney? Guessing it is not known as the Grauniad for nothing.
Typical socialist shite, the naked jealousy of the rich Americans, the fawning over the South Wales socialist cantarist.
Yuck!
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