Welcome to Wrexham (2022)

‘Welcome to Wrexham’ (2022) – not your normal sports documentary

There was so much hype about the Welcome To Wrexham docuseries, I put off watching it until I needed the DVR space for the WC 2022 games. (It’s not like Ryan Reynolds is going to read this review.) But if you’re wondering what to watch in the deluge of streaming sports docuseries, Wrexham is unique because it is like a love child between Sunderland Til I Die and Ted Lasso.

The story

Producers, stars, and now pro sports team owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney pay $2.5M for Welsh football club Wrexham AFC and document their efforts to get it promoted out of the 5th tier National League. It’s a classic underdog story, but at the same time it is English Football 101, Welsh culture, and a case study in building a business, branding, and customer relationships.

To maintain Rob & Ryan’s brands, the story has to also be feel-good, slightly humorous, and utterly honest and transparent. This is mostly attained through Ryan’s self-deprecating personality and character, which seems to be quite aligned with what you see in his films (“Don’t have a Good Day, have a Great Day!” – Free Guy).

Football 101

In the vein of Rob & Ryan transparency, it was not easy to review this series because I had to binge-watch the 18 episodes and do my research over 2 days. Such compression takes the emotion and a lot of the enjoyment out of the experience, like drinking an entire bottle of Aviation Gin while dining alone. Regardless, I could see the good of the series.

Rob & Ryan admit that a Wrexham 5 year old knows more about football than they do. They listen to their advisors Humphrey Ker and Shaun Harvey, who explain in simple language what a decision is going to cost them. They simplify manager retention down to: does Phil Parkinson win, and how much does he swear during games. It’s so much simpler than agonizing about direction of the club and style of play!

At the first game they attend, which they lose away, Maidenhead fans sing, “Ryan Reynolds you bought the wrong club!” Way before the series end, Rob & Ryan realize that no matter what you line up on paper, whether or not you get promoted is not predictable.

“I don’t know how people do this. It’s heartbreaking.”

– Ryan Reynolds

They do eventually learn the rules of the game. In their segment on hooliganism, they have about 10 mins of historic hooligan riots and violent footage I had never seen.

Note to Rob & Ryan: In Episode 5, Goalkeeper Rob Lainton says he has had 3 concussions this season. If this is true, he should have a full concussion evaluation and should not be playing any sport that further endangers his brain health.

The entertainment

Yes, there are plenty of fan, coach, player, and staff interviews, many of them more honest and direct than would normally be allowed in a docuseries. And there are lots of game highlights that convey excitement.

One big difference between this series and Sunderland Til I Die is that Amazon published its episodes while the season was in play, which made me wonder how the broadcasts affected the players. With the FX channel, the episodes were aired 5-12 months after the events and matches took place. Thus, the individual stories are not necessarily in chronological order and are more supportive of its storytelling narrative.

It’s a reasonable question whether or not Ted Lasso led the way for Wrexham. To which, McElhenney replies to NPR:

MCELHENNEY: I was joking with Jason, ’cause Jason Sudeikis and I are good friends, and he came – actually came to a game with us at Wembley Stadium this year to watch Wrexham play. And I was joking with him that “Ted Lasso” is the appetizer to our main dish.

MCELHENNEY: He appreciated that and then reminded me he’s got, like, 15 Emmys.

MARTIN: OK, well, yeah, yeah, two or three or – yeah, OK. Little competition there. That’s OK. That’s all right.

MCELHENNEY: No, but I did thank him for warming up the crowd for us.

MARTIN: Well, there it is.

NPR Interview Oct-16-2022

The business

Rob & Ryan institute some changes that are unique for a football club. They hire a female CEO, Fleur Robinson, and they create programs and services for disabled fans, such as powerchair football, a disabled seating section, and transportation to away games.

Throughout the series, Rob & Ryan emphasize that they are trying to create a sustainable football club by building on top of the long-time supporting culture of the Wrexham fan base. But they also leverage their celebrity and use every marketing trick they know. (See the commercial for 1Password)

Is such an approach really sustainable, and can it take them several tiers up the FA pyramid? Celebrity ownership has blessed several teams recently: Drew Carey at Seattle Sounders, Will Ferrell at LAFC, and Matthew McConaughey at Austin FC. We will find out in Season 2 if Wrexham can sustain its magic and restore its club and the local economy. But you certainly have to root for Rob & Ryan and Wrexham FC. As this series shows, their takeover of the club is not a gimmick.

Update May-5-2023

On Apr-22-2023, Wrexham won promotion to League Two, the 4th tier of English football. A nice writeup on CNN‘s website explains how the town has been affected by the American-Canadian celebrity ownership. Congrats to the Hollywood stars for doing such a good job for football and the town of Wrexham.

7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7