Wrexham AFC, the third-oldest professional soccer club in the world, is a team steeped in history, having recorded wins against the likes of European giant FC Porto and then-English champion Arsenal FC as recently as 1992. However, poor financial backing saw the club fall into administration in 2004, which led to its eventual relegation from the Football League, the professional league system in England, four years later.
A small club from North Wales floundering in midtable of the National League, the highest level of England’s semi-professional leagues, may seem an odd place to find a Marvel superhero or a sitcom star, but nowadays, you may see both walking down the high street. Since its somewhat curious purchase by actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney in November 2020, the historic club has undergone a meteoric rise to stardom across the pond, courtesy of the popular documentary “Welcome to Wrexham.”
In the Hollywood owners’ first full season at the helm in 2021-22, the Wrexham Red Dragons were agonizingly denied promotion when they were unexpectedly eliminated in the playoffs. This season, following further investment from Reynolds and McElhenney, the Red Dragons’ fans expected the team to go one better and achieve promotion back into the Football League for the first time in 15 years. Despite the potential circus that comes with having Hollywood owners and an ever-growing spotlight on the team, Wrexham’s performances this season have proved they are not going to succumb to stagefright anytime soon.
The National League team’s grit was apparent early in the season, as it truly got to experience the magic of the FA Cup. After easing past their first three opponents, the Red Dragons faced the current eighth-placed Championship team Coventry City, who are succeeding in a league three tiers above Wrexham’s own. Wrexham stormed to a 4-1 lead in the first half and held on to win 4-3 away from home, earning a fourth round matchup against Sheffield United.
Only an equalizer by Sheffield in the fifth minute of stoppage time prevented Wrexham from beating the side heavily favored to gain automatic promotion back to the Premier League this season, as they drew 3-3 in North Wales. Their luck ran out in the replay, however, as they missed a penalty before conceding two late goals in the fourth and sixth minutes of second half added time that ended their FA Cup run.
While a cup run is a nice luxury and exciting for future seasons of the documentary, Wrexham’s main goal has always been promotion to the Football League Two — and with only one automatic promotion place up for grabs, winning the league has been its top priority. The Red Dragons’ league campaign has been far less dramatic, but even more successful than their FA Cup experience, as they’ve picked up 33 wins from 44 games and lost only three times thus far.
Wrexham currently sits on 107 points, but none were larger than the three it gained on April 10. The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham’s home stadium and the oldest international soccer stadium in the world, had not hosted many matches larger than this top of the table clash with rival Notts County, which looked to be a historic title decider.
The match started cagey, as these affairs almost always do. It was a game of far higher quality than the usual standard of the league, with ex-Premier League players, international footballers and the country’s top goalscorers all featuring. The breakthrough came at the end of the first half, with the Notts County Magpies taking the lead through an expertly struck freekick that left Reynolds and the Wrexham cohort stunned heading into halftime.
A Wrexham equalizer three minutes into the second half sparked the game into life, though. Spurred on by raucous home support, Wrexham edged ahead only to concede and then regain its lead, all in the span of nine minutes.
With the frantic match drawing to a close and a precious 3-2 lead to protect, the Red Dragons shrunk further back into their own half, inviting pressure from the Magpies. A dangerous cross struck the outstretched limb of a Wrexham center back, and Notts County earned a 96th minute penalty.
A delayed run up only increased the tension as the oxygen was sucked out of the stadium. Well struck down to the keeper’s right, it looked destined for the corner. Enter Ben Foster. A recently unretired 40-year-old who played in the Premier League last season, Foster got down to the ball and won the game for Wrexham, all but sealing the historic league title.
Their job is not quite finished with two games to go, but with a 4 point gap between them and Notts County, Hollywood Wrexham look destined to return to the Football League. It seems like the second season of the documentary is not one to miss.
Jack Lonergan is a sophomore in the College. Why it was Special appears online and in print every three weeks.