How two Hollywood stars are scoring with Wrexham at the fifth level of English soccer
“You’re way too old for this.” Actor Ryan Reynolds flies into the arms of 40-year-old goalkeeper Ben Foster after the 3-2 victory over Notts County. In the catacombs of Racecourse Ground they talk ecstatically about perhaps the greatest match the fifth tier of English soccer has ever seen. As always, surrounded by cameras.
Foster, former Manchester United goalkeeper and eight-time England international, stopped a penalty in the 98th minute. A gap was closed to the direct rival and the road to the championship was wide open.
Today, a win in the home game against Boreham Wood gives Wrexham AFC promotion to League Two.
Watch Foster stop the penalty kick, deep in injury time:
As recently as September 2022, the goalkeeper turned down Newcastle United and chose to retire. He then focused on his popular YouTube channel. But being part of Wrexham’s fairytale, in part because of the new stream of online followers, was something he looked forward to six months later. Attracting Foster earned Reynolds’ club and co-owner Rob McElhenney even more publicity. It is the common thread in the management of Hollywood stars.
Reynolds is known, among other things, for the Marvel film Deadpool, McElhenney of the television series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The two actors will officially own Wrexham in February 2021.
Of the supporters’ group, which owns the club at the time, 98.6 percent vote to take over the club. After that, things move quickly. TikTok becomes a shirt sponsor, the club debuts in the popular video game FIFA, and a documentary series is released in 2022, Welcome to Wrexham. The road to success is set.
Free fall Wrexham
Wrexham, founded in 1864 and thus one of the oldest professional soccer clubs in the world, played most of its existence at the third level. The beginning of this century saw a free fall that led to relegation to the National League in 2008. It is the lowest professional level in England. Because the league is not part of the coveted League Football, there is much less money involved.
Nathan Salt, host of the popular RobRyanRed-podcast on Wrexham, has given up along with other fans in recent years. “In 10 years, we’ve seen 10 coaches and 270 players pass,” he said. The results were mixed. “Largely it was desperation and misery.”
The low point was reached in the 2019/2020 season. The corona pandemic shut down the league when the Red Dragons ranked nineteenth. The stadiums remained empty, which meant even less money in the coffers. The perfect time for the new owners to step in. And so the supporters saw it.
“Where we are now, that felt so far away at the time. There was no money to offer players good contracts and some even took jobs,” says Salt, also a sports journalist with Daily Mail.
How different things are now. The arrival of Reynolds and McElhenney and the popularity of the TV series about Wrexham has breathed new life into the team. Suddenly Wrexham is also a familiar name in, say, many American living rooms.
Compared to a few years ago, there are on average twice as many people in the stands. Ten thousand frenzied Welshmen are at Racecourse Ground rule rather than exception.
And Wrexham is also booming on social media. On Twitter, the club has nearly 450,000 followers, more than five times as many as Notts County, the number two in the National League, and AZ, the number four in the premier league and semifinalist of the Conference League.
“Reynolds and McElhenney know exactly what it takes,” Salt says. That’s the key for me and a lot of other fans. They kept investing and are now three points away from the ultimate prize.”
Salt hasn’t been this nervous in a decade, at least. “Wrexham just can’t be good for my health.”
A win over Boreham Wood tonight is enough to clinch the title. Should Notts County drop points shortly before that, not even that win will be necessary. Then, according to goalkeeper Foster, Wrexham will be back where it deserves to be and the Welsh club’s season will get the hoped-for Hollywood ending.
Coach Phil Parkinson also feels his team could be writing a soccer fairy tale:
Coach Parkinson on Wrexham soccer fairytale: ‘You can feel people’s passion’