Back in November a headline came out of North Wales which caught the attention of the football world. It was announced that Ryan Reynolds (from Deadpool) and Rob McElhenney (from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) would be taking over Wrexham AFC. To some supporters this was perhaps “Deadcool” whilst to others I’d imagine the decision was looked at incredulously. The idea of two A-list celebrities taking a 100% stake in your football club can have both benefits and negative side effects. It is also in stark contrast to the previous financial situation of the Club. Wrexham was previously a supporter controlled club (a set up where there is no individual who is a majority shareholder but rather hundreds of fans have a stake in the club).
It goes without saying that for McElhenney and Reynolds this appears a bizarre decision. It is a scenario where you first have to wonder how they heard of this fifth division football club, before you even contemplate why they bought the club. They rather tongue-in-cheekily announced their take-over through an advertisement for Ifor Williams (a trailer company from North Wales and the principal sponsors of Wrexham). It would appear, based on interviews given by both the owners, that they like the underdog story of Wrexham and the history, it being the third oldest football club in the world. Yet there is a long way to go before what was once one of the biggest clubs in Wales returns to its glory days.
A lot of coverage has been given to the motives and the reasoning behind the A-listers’ takeover, but I am going to instead look at other such high profile ownership scenarios to see if we can draw any comparisons and ascertain if this take over could be successful. The first celebrity owner of a football club that I can think of is Elton John when he took over Watford. Elton John was chairman and owner of the club for the most part from the mid 1970s until the early 2000s. Under his reign he helped guide the Hertfordshire side from the English fourth division and back to footballing relevance – apologies to any non-league, league two and league one followers here. He helped turn what was a small club into a stable second division (now Championship) club. Despite his fame and thriving musical career which can often make a celebrity owner seem distant, John was able to form strong relationships with the Club and supporters. Today a stand is named after him at Vicarage Road.
I would imagine this kind of narrative is what most Wrexham supporters are hoping for. Evidence so far shows that this is not a much-feared publicity stunt. The pair of owners have already given at least 2 million pounds of funding. Further they have repaid money that employees of the club may have lost last year due to the pandemic. Whilst rumours circulate that they are filming a fly on the wall documentary about the club, they say it is in order to help boost the club’s profile. This is only the start though, Wrexham are currently on a good run of form and looking likely to make the playoffs to return to the football league. The real test for the owners has not perhaps yet arrived. If I were a Wrexham supporter, I would take comfort in the progress which the owners have made so far. They have stuck to key principles — they will not rebrand the club nor move the club out of the Racecourse Ground. It remains to be seen if they will “always beat Chester” (Wrexham’s local rivals).
So things from a supporter’s perspective of Wrexham are certainly looking up, but football is a volatile and fast changing game. In contrast to American sports leagues where typically there is a stable entity to own, mostly due to absence of relegation or promotion, in British sport this stability is absent. As seen with other documentaries about British football ownership like Class of ’92: Out of their League and other such shows, the propensity for unexpected things to occur and the sheer complexity of running a football club with an ambitious strategy always creates potential for clubs to become unstable or unsustainable.
Humphrey Ker, the newly appointed Executive Directorof Wrexham (essentially, the man on the ground in Wales who fulfils Reynolds and McElhenney’s visions and decisions), comes across as very sensible in ambitions. He highlighted that the club under new ownership has a stable and rational strategy, and that rocketing up the leagues doesn’t necessarily imply success. So, whilst there is a long way for this club to go, and no one can say the future of Wrexham will always be sunny, so far the progress looks promising.