Inside Wrexham: What it's really like to play for Hollywood owners
It may always be sunny in Philadelphia, but that was not the case for a certain corner of North Wales until the arrival of a couple of Hollywood A-listers helped to lift some of the gloom that had been hanging over Wrexham for longer than many there would care to remember.
November 2020 brought with it a new dawn for those in deepest, darkest Clwyd, with Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds completing a barely believable takeover of a fifth-tier club that had been feeling down on its luck for well over a decade.
At a point in which sporting obscurity beckoned for a side that calls the oldest international stadium in world football home, hope sprung from the most unlikely of sources – with the rollercoaster ride that has followed leaving plenty of heads spinning but nobody in any rush to get off.
Promotion pushes back to the Football League, a trip to Wembley – which was attended by David Beckham and Will Ferrell – plans for a new stand at the Racecourse Ground and a documentary that has made certain members of the Wrexham playing staff and local community more famous in America than many Premier League stars, have been shoehorned into 24 remarkable months.
What has it been like to form part of that journey? GOAL put that question to star striker Paul Mullin: “At first it’s a bit different – you walk out the changing room and there are cameras there and sometimes if the owners come over there is a bit of hysteria around the place and pandemonium at times, but as a player it’s enjoyable. You go to work every day and it’s exciting for something new to happen. You get introduced to things that people never thought they would be introduced to. It’s enjoyable and the owners always make us feel as comfortable as we can, in situations they are there if we need them and it’s great playing for them.”
Mullin signed for Wrexham in the summer following the arrival of Reynolds and McElhenney – becoming the club’s first marquee addition after claiming League Two Golden Boot honours at former club Cambridge – and had a camera thrust in his face from the moment that he put pen to paper.
The 28-year-old striker said of adjusting to life on the big screen, with ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ earning rave reviews following its airing on the Disney-owned FX television channel: “The day that I signed I turned up and there was a camera crew filming it, so I was a bit like ‘woah’ and didn’t know that was happening. But they let you know straight away and they are very good, the camera crew, they ask you when it’s convenient for you to do a bit of filming at your house.
“For me, they have always been very understanding that we all have children and families ourselves, so it’s when we’re available to do things. It’s great doing it because sometimes it’s fun, it’s different, it’s not what you do every day. You go in, play football, go home - that’s what used to be normal, now this has become normalised. It’s a big part of what the club are trying to do, growing the brand abroad and all over the world.”
Mullin added on documentary chats offering a welcome distraction at times: “People sometimes see it as added pressure because you’ve got spotlights on you, but if you grew up as a football player and didn’t want to play at the top, you wouldn’t have been a footballer. When you grew up playing football you knew that was a possibility if you made it to the top. We haven’t played in the Premier League and we are playing where we are, so it’s something that everybody at one point in their life had ambitions of – albeit not at Wrexham and at this part of our careers, but it’s really enjoyable.
“Sometimes you lose a game and the last thing you want is a camera in the changing rooms and you have to tell them to leave if you need to say things you don’t want to be on there, but it’s enjoyable. It does relieve pressure sometimes in that, sometimes when you speak to the camera crew it gives you somebody to talk to about something other than football. Sometimes life gets hard no matter who you are and what you do. Just to have somebody to talk to, they’ll ask you questions and you talk away and you might be there half-an-hour and you haven’t even mentioned something that is going to get used on the documentary.”
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While starring on and off the pitch has become part of everyday life for those in the Wrexham camp, is it possible for post-game hugs from Deadpool star Reynolds while stood in a pair of pants to ever become anything less than completely surreal?
Mullin said: “Surprisingly enough it has become quite normal! If they are over, we don’t expect them to but they always appear in the changing room to speak to the lads. They really want to get to know everyone personally and they take an interest in the lads and the lads’ families. It has become normalised for us but at times some things do happen that are quite strange.
“The King obviously came to visit the stadium the other week through the owners and the lads that wanted to got to meet the King and that’s something that doesn’t happen often at many places – it’s an occasion where you’re like ‘woah, this is a bit strange’, but it does happen sometimes. But we have got used to it.”
That personal touch is what separates Wrexham from other American-owned clubs further up football’s food chain – such as Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea – with Mullin saying of the bond that has been struck between boardroom and dressing room: “I don’t think the Glazers would be allowed near Manchester United’s training ground, to be honest!
“They are magnificent but from the very first moment that they bought the club, they realised that it was a community club and the people of Wrexham work really hard to be able to afford to go to the games. The excitement around the club has brought 10,000 fans into the stadium every weekend, and that’s not cheap. We know that they work hard for their money and the owners really respect that, but they also respect that it’s the lads on the pitch that are ultimately going to get them the success they want within the sport and within the club.”
Part of that success has seen Wrexham reach the fourth round of the FA Cup in 2022-23, disposing of Championship side Coventry along the way, and Mullin is in contention for the Golden Ball Award in partnership with Mitre after netting seven goals in the competition so far.
He said of chasing down that prestigious individual accolade: “Hopefully. There are a lot better players than me still in the competition. But, if you score a lot of goals you’re up there and hopefully come the end you manage to nick it and it gives you something else to put on the mantelpiece.”
One of the players that could pip him to the post is prolific Manchester City marksman Erling Haaland. So will Mullin be checking in on Pep Guardiola’s team selections? “Not just yet, he’s still quite a few behind isn’t he, but I’m sure after two games he’ll probably be on 12 goals or something. Hopefully he manages to get a rest!”
Resting is not something that Wrexham’s players, coaches, passionate supporters and famous owners plan on doing any time soon, with there still so much left for them to achieve despite coming a long way in a relatively short space of time.
There have been dark days – plenty of them – but the sun is now breaking through as it does in Philadelphia and as the famous Declan Swans song goes: “Less than a mile from the centre of town, a famous old stadium crumbling down, no-one's invested so much as a penny, bring on the Deadpool and Rob McElhеnney!”