When Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bought Wrexham FC in 2021, nobody could have quite anticipated the impact the new owners would have on reviving a football club and the town it calls home. The club’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed under the new ownership but its brand has never been stronger thanks in large measure to the best-ever soccer series produced about the sport: Welcome to Wrexham.
Many fans might say, “I know what has happened on the pitch with Wrexham, why watch the series?” That might seem a logical conclusion, but this documentary is so well done in its explanation of backstories and the culture around a town and its club that anyone with any interest in the sport beyond just the big clubs and international stars has to watch. And for aficionados like me, we hang on every episode, every week as a new adventure into the unknown and an exploration of the passion around the sport we love.
Welcome to Wrexham picks up where season one left off
Welcome to Wrexham’s Season Two has kicked off on FX and Hulu in the US and on Disney+ for international audiences. Much like season one, the focus of the epic documentary series alternates between the quest for a club down on its luck since 2007 to win promotion back to the professional ranks and the Welsh town to mirror the club’s desire to re-emerge “on the map,” so to speak.
“Welcome Back to Wrexham,” the first episode of the second season, was perfectly choreographed with an assist from the royal family. We see a club looking to retool after a tragic end to the previous season and a town with a new vigor, optimism, and spirit thanks to the club’s commitment to connecting the community with a rebuilding project on the pitch.
Those of us who are geography nerds will often claim to “be on the map” of Great Britain you need to be accorded city status by the royal family. We separate “cities” from “towns” in the United Kingdom somewhat like a religious ritual. To be accorded city status means you really matter. To not be a city means in a simpletons world, you’re less important.
Wrexham for all its history was not accorded city status until May 20, 2022. By the time the ceremony took place, Queen Elizabeth II had passed and King Charles III had become king, and the first episode of the new season chronicles the king’s visit to Wrexham.
Royal visits are always big deals, but for Wrexham, this was an especially big deal. And the episode was perfectly placed to start a new season as the north Wales city (yes we can say that now!) is formally now part of the map of the United Kingdom as well as being back on the map of world football thanks to Wrexham AFC.
Wrexham’s season in the National League
Episode one sets up the season perfectly. Wrexham is now a full-fledged city, and international audiences are flocking to watch the club as they pursue promotion. In Episode three we see the results on the pitch as Wrexham are running away atop the National League and engendering resentment from opposition fans, but one club can compete with them- Notts County, a similarly historic club that has recently fallen on hard times.
For much of its history, Notts County and local rival Nottingham Forest were in a similar footballing universe. That began to change in the late 1970s as Forest became a European power while Notts County yo-yo’ed between the divisions. But it’s never been as pronounced as in the 2020s when Notts County, which had one of the longest runs as a professional club in the world, found itself out of the professional ranks for the first time ever. Meanwhile, local rival Forest was promoted back to the Premier League in 2022.
In episode 3 we see Notts County knock off the Wrexham juggernaut and leave us with the question, will Wrexham again fail to be promoted, just as we saw at the end of last season?
Welcome to Wrexham best-ever episode
In between episodes 1 and 3 was a heartfelt occasion discussing the autism of star striker Paul Mullin’s son as well as longtime Wrexham supporter Millie Tippin. The show was a reminder of the human side of football and the communities clubs live in. It was also a simultaneous demonstration of the fragility of life, but also the compassionate side of humanity and community. Episode 2 left me in tears by the time the show ended.
This episode was not only a tearjerker, but it also firmly reminded us why Welcome to Wrexham is so uniquely successful among sports documentaries.
Episode four began to take us in a new direction both showing the celebrity owners at times to be in over their heads when politics interjects into the program.
Shaun Harvey’s first holiday since joining Wrexham results in the celebrity owners arriving and making mistakes due to a sense of ignorance or entitlement. Harvey, though not the CEO of the club, had acted in that capacity or a similar one for several “bigger” clubs and the Football League itself in the past. As viewers of the show already knew before Episode 4 of Season 2, Harvey helped Wrexham to hum operationally as a business. The first season of the series clearly establishes the club cannot operate to its level of ambition without him.
What becomes obvious is that in Harvey’s absence, Reynolds and McElhenney don’t quite grasp the nuance and rules as well as they should if they are actually running operations.
The politics of soccer
Two faux pas, one being the co-owners liking Paul Mullin’s overtly political attack on the Conservative Party on social media and two being a lack of understanding of the blackout rules around domestic match broadcasts forced Harvey to intervene from vacation and almost cut his holiday short.
This episode is among my favorites in the show because it shows the willingness to highlight errors by the owners and to dive into politics – something the club, as Harvey demonstrates, wants to avoid, but players like Mullin are independent characters with their own world views and opinions.
The fifth episode had more familiar vibes for US viewers. A discussion of McElhenney’s favorite domestic sports clubs, the Philadelphia Union, Phillies and Eagles all finishing second in their leagues in 2022, a worrying trend as Wrexham has fallen behind Notts County in the Conference by this point. Also, an interview with Susan Lucci, famous for finishing runner-up in terms of winning Emmy awards is a highlight.
There are some other neat stories in this episode including one involving an amateur club that was promoted 12 times in a quarter century as well as a neat look into Jacob Mendy’s life before becoming a defender for Wrexham.
2023: The year of the women
The year 2023 was a Women’s World Cup year and with England reaching the World Cup Final and the US having entered the tournament as favorites, it’s only natural Wrexham would highlight their women’s club. In episode six, we learn all about the highs and lows for Wrexham’s women’s side and the quest for promotion to the Welsh top-flight. The viewers learn of the tragedy involved with some of the key contributors to the women’s side as well as the strong connections between the current women’s team and the recent history of the men’s side.
Episode six highlights how hard Reynolds and McElhenney are working to make Wrexham a complete football club, which means the women’s game cannot be neglected. We learn the women’s side rolls through the campaign and the episode leaves off with the team on the cusp of promotion.
Much like the men’s side, we will have to wait until further along in the season to find out if the women’s team earns promotion.
This series combines sport, community, business, humanity, and society in a way no series ever produced about this game or any sport has in the past. Every episode proves a unique trip into what we think we know about a club and community but provides us with the unknown and an incredible guide into the passion that drives soccer at all levels around the world.