JONNY OWEN: Wrexham could take off like a ROCKET under new owners

JONNY OWEN: Wrexham is a football-mad city with a great tradition of producing players. There was always the feeling that with the right people in charge and some real spending power the club could take off like a ROCKET – and now that’s happening

  • There was always a sense Wrexham was low hanging fruit for potential investors 
  • Now the Welsh side have been taken over by Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds
  • Wrexham secured a superb 3-3 FA Cup draw against Sheffield United on Sunday

Late Sunday night I found myself in a small Irish pub just off the Essex Road in North London. Myself and two mates had run to catch the final game of the FA Cup on Sunday. We were all supporting Wrexham against Sheffield United. 

Me and one mate because we are Welsh and the other because he’s a Forest fan and they have history with the Blades. A kind of localish rivalry. I’ve always had a soft spot for Wrexham. 

Obviously our shared nationality comes into it but also they are seen as a very Welsh club. The town is football daft and always has been. Rugby has never really got a foothold in the north as it did in the southern Valleys. It’s the oldest club in Wales. 

Wrexham is a football-mad city with a great tradition of producing players. There was always the feeling with the right (well-financed) people in charge, the club could take off like a rocket

That is exactly what is now happening under ownership of Hollywood actor Ryan Reynolds

It’s where Wales played their first international – making the ground the oldest in the world to host two countries playing one another – and its badge couldn’t be more Welsh if it had Tom Jones and Charlotte Church on there singing the Green Green Grass of Home with a choir in a coal mine.

It’s a town that’s had some of the most famous Welsh players ever, like Mark Hughes, and still produces internationals (Neco Williams) at an extraordinary rate considering its size of just over 130,000.

A decade ago the club was in serious danger of going out of business altogether. A litany of poor ownership had led to the fans themselves bailing the club out as they lost their much-cherished league status.

The fact you never heard the name of the Dragons (or Robins depending on your age) on Final Score hurt the proud mining town (now city) deeply. They are a people with giant hearts who have faced a fair amount of tragedy. The Gresford Mining disaster of 1934 is still very much part of the DNA of the people. They are fighters. 

Famed in Wales for their fanatical support of the national team, home and away. I noticed something had really changed when I was up there before Christmas working for the BBC on the World Cup. 

We asked a packed live audience whether they’d want Wales to win the World Cup or Wrexham to return to the Football League. They didn’t even hesitate. ‘Wrexham in the league’ the whole pub shouted at us. 

The Welsh side secured a superb 3-3 draw against Sheffield United in the FA Cup on Sunday

I was with some lads from Newport and we looked at one another. They couldn’t mean it surely? I asked again, really? Over Wales winning the World Cup? ‘Not even close’ they screamed back. That’s how much the club and their return now means to the people there.

There is a reason for this of course. While all the intentions of being fan owned are to be admired, there’s no doubt that a kind of Groundhog Day scenario develops. Balancing the books becomes, quite rightly, paramount but with that frugality you lose any kind of financial power in the area.

Anyone coming through from Wrexham’s rich production line was quickly tempted away by the promise of better wages. Footballers know their career is over in a blink of an eye and you couldn’t blame them but it meant the club just couldn’t compete with clubs just up the road like Tranmere and Stockport.

Which brings us to Wrexham’s geography. Just over the border from England and their forever rivals Chester, it’s the close proximity to the leviathans of the English North West that hurts them more than the coastal cities of the South like Cardiff and Swansea. 

Kids love success. Indeed adults do too and so the reds and blues of Manchester and Liverpool call like sirens across the Dee estuary to tempt thousands away on Saturday afternoons.

But it’s changing. The game against Sheffield United showed a packed Racecourse with the old giant Kop flattened ready for redevelopment as the club tops the National League with sell-out after sell-out.

Wrexham are attracting new supporters and the Racecourse Ground is now routinely sold out

The old giant Kop is flattened ready for redevelopment as the club tops the National League

Okay, I’ve managed to go this far without mentioning something really important in the recent Wrexham story. Around two years ago a huge Hollywood star was persuaded by a huge American TV star to buy them and start investing in them.

I know, I know, it sounds, well, like a Hollywood script but this is exactly what happened. Rob McElhenney, from the hit TV show ‘It’s always Sunny in Philadelphia’ had got into soccer (let’s use their word).

He then persuaded his friend (that he hadn’t met in person at that point) Ryan Reynolds, the Canadian star of Deadpool, to buy a Welsh non-league football club. There is a bit more to it than that I have to say. 

I’d been on the board at Nottingham Forest since 2017 and I’d heard it said many times in football that Wrexham was a ‘low hanging fruit’ for a potential investor. A football-mad city, a great local tradition of producing players and the people there are desperate for a bit of investment in the club. 

The Supporters Trust had done a fine job but the feeling was that with the right people with some real spending power then it could take off like a rocket. Which is exactly what is happening. 

The two new owners have clearly become enraptured by their new team and you can see everywhere in the town (well they haven’t been a city long) a genuine love from the fans for them too.

Reynolds and co-owner Rob McElhenney are taking the Welsh city on a footballing love story

They’ve got an astute manager in Phil Parkinson and a star player in Paul Mullin who has joined legendary names like Joey Jones and Mickey Thomas as a true fan favourite.

So, back in this little Irish pub in London on a winter’s afternoon as the goals rattled in on a fantastic ding-dong Anglo-Cymric cup tie I noticed that every time Wrexham scored a load of people over by the pool table cheered. 

I thought there must have been fellow Taffs in, or at least Irish supporting their Celtic cousins (funnily enough Wrexham and Celtic do have a huge link among fans) but no. When I went over at the end of the game and asked where they were from they had accents as thick as Mike Reid himself. It seemed they just liked Wrexham. 

They liked the documentary that showed a town that had had it rough over the years was finally getting a bit of love. I couldn’t have agreed more. 

Regardless of what happens in the return leg, most of football will be wanting to welcome Wrexham home after all these years.

Listen to Jonny Owen & Friends on talkSPORT every Sunday at 9am.

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