This Isn’t Their Field of Expertise
Two years ago, Ted Lasso arrived and surprisingly became one of the most popular shows on TV. It’s the feel-good story of someone associated with American football going to the U.K. and taking over a club. It’s a show that avails itself of plentiful culture-clash and fish-out-of-water comedy, while also getting lots of mileage out of heart and inspiration.
A new show, FX and Hulu’s Welcome to Wrexham, is going for something similar, albeit as a documentary. It’s about the time, in 2021 when the Welsh soccer club Wrexham A.F.C. was purchased by movie star Ryan Reynolds and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia co-creator and star Rob McElhenney.
The first two episodes are charming and entertaining, although the show hasn’t quite lived up to its full potential.
It was a curious move, for several reasons. Neither man had anything to do with soccer, Wales, or sports management, nor did they have much past acquaintance with one another.
There’s also the issue that British soccer fans tend to treat foreign owners, especially American ones, with deep skepticism; fans of Manchester United, for example, are currently out for blood when it comes to the Glazers, the American owners of that club who also the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This would appear to be even more of the case with a pair of Hollywood types, whose busy schedules — McElhenney, in addition to Welcome to Wrexham, is the star and executive producer of two different current TV shows, while Reynolds is in about five movies each year — would appear to allow them very little time to actually spend in Wales.
McElhenney admits that he has “TV money” and not “movie star money,” necessitating the involvement of Hollywood A-lister and frequent product endorser Reynolds. Humphrey Ker, an actor who appears to have turned McElhenney on to soccer while working as a writer on Mythic Quest, but he is British, which was enough to get him named the club’s new Executive Director.
The purchase price was only about 2 million pounds — NBA teams these days are selling for billions — and there’s a reason for that: Wrexham plays in the National League, which is the fifth tier of English football, in which Welsh clubs also play. Their stadium, built in 1877, is the oldest in the world.
The idea seems to be to get the club promoted, at least to League Two, and possibly higher than that, to bring in more TV money, fan interest, and likely a strong return on their investment.
We see McElhenney, well-known as a rabid fan of Philadelphia’s sports teams, back in his hometown, visiting the tiny South Philly house that he grew up in and showing his young son this relative squalor; we later see McElhenney’s current home, which is quite a bit more luxurious.
Sure, “you’ve gotta understand- we’re a blue-collar town. We’re tough” is the most tiresome sports documentary cliche on Earth, and Welcome to Wrexham applies it to both Philadelphia and Wrexham at different times. But the show does draw a parallel between Philly sports fandom and British football support that I noticed myself on a visit to Scotland earlier this year.
Through two of the six episodes, the Wrexham players don’t really emerge as characters, nor do we see much indication, beyond an opening montage, of any local discomfort with a couple of American celebrity dilettantes buying their team. There will be time for that, but Wrexham is off to a fine start.