The betrayal of Wrexham AFC

The betrayal of Wrexham AFC

Hollywood interference is hurting real fans

This is an article taken from The Spectator and was written by Richard Kelly. I thought this was an excellent article that needs reading carefully by all open minded fans of football.

I do not have permission to use the words of Richard Kelly, or The Spectator on this website, but I am hoping that by linking the article throughout to their excellent website, I am highlighting their magazine and giving them – and Kelly – full credit.

For political nerds, the revival of Wrexham AFC, under the ownership of Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, has eerie echoes of the history of New Labour. A historic organisation, strongly connected to working-class communities, looks defeated and deflated. A clique of talented smoothies comes along and offers a better tomorrow. Tired of disappointment, the rank and file are persuaded to back radical reform. Internal democracy is swapped for charismatic leadership, drab self-reliance for corporate funding. A couple of years later, the strategy seems vindicated: on a balmy spring evening, the organisation enjoys a stunning victory. Things can only get better. And Wrexham, having beaten Boreham Wood, could now rejoin the English Football League. 

However, like Old Labour stalwarts in the 1990s, not all Wrexham supporters were starry-eyed about regime change. Wrexham is an earthy, egalitarian city with a historic suspicion of patronising elites – hence its 58 per cent support for Brexit in 2016. Given that fans had already rescued the club from property sharks in 2011, before re-founding it as a supporters’ trust, some were uneasy about handing it over to well-heeled actors from California. Now, two and a half years later, their fears are being realised.  

As Neil Clark pointed out in the magazine earlier this month, one of the great draws of lower-league football has been its relative cheapness and ease of access. Yet, at Wrexham, such things are now the stuff of nostalgia. Via the club’s membership scheme, fans must now pay £30 a season for the privilege of merely trying to get a ticket; and most of those who try normally fail.  

At 9 a.m. a few weeks ago, a long line of grizzled supporters could be seen in the club car park, patiently waiting for the ticket office to open an hour later. By 10.15, all but a handful were informed that the tickets had been sold to online purchasers and that remaining tickets were for ‘international supporters only’. For those turned away, it was small comfort to hear that new fans from Colorado were flying over to see their first-ever match. Or that Ryan Reynolds would soon be escorting Hugh Jackman into the directors’ box (hot on the heels of those other Wrexham diehards, Blake Lively and Will Ferrell). 

Such disregard for lifelong supporters was just the latest sign that, after the success of their Netflix documentaries, Reynolds and McElhenney were losing the knack of intelligent ownership. Back in July, while other English Football League clubs prepared sensibly for the new season, Wrexham jetted off to the USA for glitzy fixtures against Chelsea and Manchester United – an expensive jolly facilitated by the owners, but one that did not seem to enthuse the team’s experienced manager, Phil Parkinson. The imperatives of branding, it seems, now trump the nitty-gritty of football management.   

This trans-Atlantic jaunt prompted outrage from the eco-lobby and was at odds with the zany-yet-progressive image Reynolds likes to burnish. Worse still, the matches were a footballing disaster. United, regarding Wrexham unworthy of their senior squad, fielded a youth team that included a rather clumsy goalkeeper. The gauche stopper duly inflicted a shocking injury upon striker Paul Mullin, thus denying Wrexham their talisman for the first month of the new season: a classic example, perhaps, of hubris and nemesis in lower league football.   

After a mixed start to the new campaign, with one win in five league matches, it is no surprise that some are now questioning the rescue narrative routinely peddled by Wrexham’s owners. It is also worth recalling that, far from being a basket case prior to their arrival, Wrexham under its supporters’ trust amassed 98 points in 2011-2012 and reached the promotion play-offs on a further two occasions. As such, Wrexham’s era of common ownership was not a tale of endless humiliation; and neither did promotion necessitate Hollywood saviours. Chesterfield, after all, was in the running for promotion last season, and was only denied it by a penalty shoot-out in the play-offs final. Yet Chesterfield FC remains a community trust, proudly owned by locals, and in thrall to no one outside the town. So Reynolds et al had better enjoy the Red Dragon gags while they can. In the long season ahead, it may not always be sunny in Wrexham. 

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