What if two Hollywood A-list friends teamed up and bought, of all things, a soccer team?
“Welcome to Wrexham” documents a new business venture between actors Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds, who join forces with FX to reveal the dreams, drama, and livelihoods that unfold on the football pitch. The beating heart of the Welsh village of Wrexham lies in a facility named The Racecourse Ground. It’s the world’s oldest international football stadium and the home of Wrexham A.F.C. Founded in 1864, the football squad has long been an extension of the entire town. When the team saw success, the town flourished; when the team suffered great losses, the town became a shell of its once former glory. Now, with an infusion of hope and cash in the form of new ownership, Wrexham hopes its fate will be changed for the better.
“Welcome to Wrexham,” naturally, spends a lot of time with McElhenney and Reynolds as they go through the experience of owning a football club. From being appointed the new owners of Wrexham A.F.C. to worrying about their investment, the excitement and absurdity of these two navigating this new venture is compelling. They both have an infectious charisma that has made them such winning actors throughout their careers and it translates to this documentary splendidly. But “Welcome to Wrexham” smartly doesn’t spend all of its time focusing on the starry duo; McElhenney and Reynolds are only part of this winning documentary series that shines brightest when the people of Wrexham take the spotlight.
Given the success of “Ted Lasso” and Americans’ interest in the sport on the rise, football (or as we know it in America, soccer) is having a moment. One of the most intriguing prospects of international football that attracted McElhenney to Wrexham was the idea that the team can be promoted or relegated based on their yearly success. The English football league system, or the football pyramid, is a series of interconnected leagues. The top tier, the Premier League, is where the greatest international talents of football play and top-flight teams like Manchester City and Liverpool can be found. The higher the tier, the better the talent, and the higher the prizes. As you go lower on the pyramid, the more difficult it is for the team to be profitable and to attract the talent needed to be promoted. Wrexham A.F.C. can be found in the fifth tier, the National League, the lowest level of professional football in England. Given the already disappointing attendance due to their placement and the stress that COVID-19 further put on the club, Wrexham was on the brink of dissolving or at very least languishing in everlasting football purgatory.
This docuseries highlights an assortment of Wrexham athletes that have been with the floundering program for many years, proprietors of local businesses, and residents who bleed the colors of their football team through thick and thin. One such interview comes from the owner of a local pub, aptly called The Turf Pub. Owner Wayne Jones emphasizes just how important Wrexham A.F.C. is to the people: “You can’t put into words what it means to people, it's almost like losing a limb. Because people say it's only a game, but it's more than that. This football club means everything to people in this town.” Other interviews share not only the love of the game but the sacrifices that have been made to support the team. This love is infectious and it's not hard to imagine the documentary creating new members of the Wrexham club.
Of course, there are complicated moral issues that arise from making a documentary about a financial investment. “There’s a version of this story where we’re the villains,“ McElhenney ponders aloud during the intro of “Welcome to Wrexham.” He’s talking about taking ownership of the team, bringing further disappointment to the people of Wrexham, and failing in his mission to turn it into a successful franchise.
But there’s another area where they could be villainous and that’s in the ethics of the form. The very nature of this documentary creates more interest in Wrexham A.F.C. than they could ever hope to achieve otherwise; never mind the consistent promotion and influx of money that the partnership of McElhenney and Reynolds brings to the table. McElhenney and Reynolds say that they fell in love with Wrexham due to its history and the people, but they are still doing this for inherently selfish reasons when one considers profit margins and bottom lines. Their influence gives the club a significant advantage they would otherwise lack, and over the first five episodes that advantage only grows.
“Welcome to Wrexham” is at its very best when the people of Wrexham wax romantically about their football club. Football is more than a game to these people; it's their livelihood and what their lives revolve around. For the audience and the people of Wrexham, a happy ending isn’t guaranteed, but sometimes just the attempt to grab one is exciting enough.
Five episodes screened for review.