How Wrexham, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney secured another Hollywood promotion

Doheny Mansion, a mile or so from downtown Los Angeles, is one of the city’s grander buildings. It’s also a Hollywood hotspot. The Mentalist, Columbo and Murder, She Wrote are among the many shows to be shot here down the years.

It’s fair to say that the gut-wrenching tensions of an English Football League (EFL) promotion race are unlikely to have permeated the walls of this one-time oil baron’s family residence. Or at least they hadn’t until earlier this month.

As Wrexham did battle with Doncaster Rovers on the Tuesday after Easter, Rob McElhenney and Humphrey Ker followed every kick from more than 5,000 miles away. They gathered around a laptop as a break was taken from filming the new season of Apple TV+ show Mythic Quest.

Joining in the ‘fun’ — Wrexham lost the game 1-0 — remotely via a text group chat were McElhenney’s co-owner Ryan Reynolds and Shaun Harvey, the only member of the four-man board present at Doncaster’s homely Eco-Power Stadium.

The sense of frustration grew as the clock ticked down towards full-time with Rovers ahead — but McElhenney and Ker (the man who ultimately set the two actors on the path towards buying the Welsh club) had seen enough dramatic fightbacks already this season to retain hope.

This is why, every time Ker’s phone buzzed to indicate a new message had landed in the group chat, he couldn’t resist immediately reaching for the device. The group have long since realised that footage from Wrexham games has a 20-second delay, allowing Harvey sufficient time to message any goal updates from the stadium.

McElhenney usually prefers to watch in real-time when following a match from the United States but, such was the tension as three precious League Two points slipped away at Doncaster that, when a message popped up that was not goal-related, Ker, whose wife Megan Ganz is the co-creator on Mythic Quest with McElhenney and Charlie Day, couldn’t help but snap, “Keep this channel clear!”

Ker (left) with Prince William (Chris Jackson/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The equaliser never came that evening in South Yorkshire. Ten days later, however, and a resounding home win over Forest Green Rovers meant the Hollywood sequel craved by Wrexham’s owners had arrived. Another promotion has followed last season’s thrilling National League title success. They are now two tiers away from the Premier League.

Along the way, there has been drama by the bucketload, including thrilling victories, record-breaking deals, building delays, Emmy awards, an actors’ strike that had the knock-on effect of restricting the owners’ attendance at home games and even one afternoon when the Racecourse Ground came close to running out of oxygen supplies.

Here is that story.

September 1. The clock is ticking down towards the 11pm closure of the summer transfer window and Wrexham are frantically trying to sign Harrogate Town striker Luke Armstrong.

A substantial offer had been rejected a month earlier, just as the new League Two season was about to kick off. Wrexham turned their attention elsewhere.

Signing a striker had always been on the agenda for the summer — but Paul Mullin suffered a collapsed lung and four broken ribs during the club’s otherwise successful tour of the United States. This brought a renewed urgency to the search.

By the time the window had moved into its final week, many forwards had been considered. This included Joe Ironside, Mullin’s strike partner at Cambridge United. Ironside instead joined Doncaster.

Eventually, though, the search returned to Armstrong, whose prowess in the six-yard box — his 16 goals for Harrogate in 2022-23 had come mainly from close-range finishes — made him a good fit.

The big problem was that newly relegated MK Dons also wanted the 27-year-old. A bidding war ensued in the final 48 hours of the window that Wrexham eventually won with a club-record offer of £500,000 ($625,000 at today’s rates). This was accepted around lunchtime on deadline day, though on the proviso MK Dons might return.

They didn’t but the hold-up meant the clock was ticking. Armstrong passed his medical in Manchester before arriving in north Wales during the evening. In the meantime, personal terms had been agreed and the deal felt sufficiently advanced enough for the ‘new signing’ to be interviewed by the club’s in-house media team.

That footage was destined never to see the light of day. The rush to file the relevant paperwork in the correct format, including international clearance and the finance agreement between the two clubs, before the 11pm cut-off failed. A subsequent appeal to the EFL failed too.

Cue huge disappointment all around, particularly for Reynolds and McElhenney. Club sources, who, like everyone spoken to for this piece, asked to remain anonymous as they did not have permission to speak, say the pair sanctioned a “substantial” increase in the playing budget to land Armstrong. Despite the considerable time difference with the States — McElhenney was eight hours behind in LA on deadline day — both had kept tabs on the saga.

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Wrexham wanted to sign Luke Armstrong, then of Harrogate Town (Pete Norton/Getty Images)

Perhaps the biggest sympathy, however, should go to Armstrong, who had a hotel room booked for the Friday night intending to join up with his new team-mates before the following day’s trip to Tranmere Rovers. Four months later, he joined Carlisle United for much less than Wrexham had been willing to pay.

The 11th-hour collapse of the deal took the shine off what had otherwise been a positive window. Huddersfield Town defender Will Boyle joined in July, followed by Republic of Ireland international James McClean from Wigan Athletic. Over the summer, roughly 20 serious expressions of interest were made to clubs and agents.

Some never became available. Other targets, such as Nick Powell, opted to go elsewhere. Powell joined Stockport County following his release from Stoke City, a reminder that Wrexham were far from the only team in the basement division boasting enviable resources in the transfer market.


The value of that recruitment work became clear on deadline day through the capture of Millwall midfielder George Evans and Arsenal goalkeeper Arthur Okonkwo. The latter — a season-long loan following the shock retirement of Ben Foster four games into the new season — saw Wrexham pay a little under half his wages, with Arsenal picking up the rest.

Crucially, this meant no signing in the past 12 months has arrived as the top earner, which to club sources suggests the previous practice of having to pay a ‘Wrexham tax’ — whereby players understandably wanted a financial sweetener to drop down to non-League — is over.

This need to pay over the odds contributed to Wrexham losing a club-record £5.1million in the financial year covering their National League promotion despite turnover almost doubling to £10.4m.

For this season’s return to the EFL, income has doubled again to more than £20million, a level more in keeping with the Championship. This was achieved on the back of several lucrative sponsorship deals signed last summer. SToK Coffee Brew bought the naming rights for Wrexham’s home stadium and United Airlines replaced TikTok as the main shirt sponsor.

These deals underline the huge value of the Welcome to Wrexham documentary, which won five Emmy awards in January. Despite contributing no money directly to club coffers since first being broadcast in 2022, the show continues to be their biggest commercial asset. It delivers the type of global audience so beloved by blue-chip sponsors.

It was a similar story with last summer’s U.S. tour. A small profit was posted there via a share of gate receipts and merchandise, plus the sponsorship of insurance company Geico.

But, the much bigger picture for Wrexham was how a trip to North Carolina, Los Angeles, San Diego and Philadelphia allowed the club to engage with a fast-growing American support base.

This is already paying dividends — not least in how income from iFollow, the EFL’s streaming service for home and away games, has soared. The governing body rarely reveals figures when it comes to iFollow but club sources say the money banked by Wrexham in the 2023-24 season has exceeded the £1.1million all League Two clubs receive in central payments from the EFL.

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A Wrexham fan during last summer’s pre-season tour (Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

To put that sum into context, Bradford City, by far League Two’s best-supported team, received a club-record £300,000 from iFollow in 2022-23, as their latest accounts confirm.

The true financial value of Wrexham’s attempts to build a U.S. audience will only be known in the future — but the signs are encouraging, with the 2022-23 financial year seeing the percentage of overall turnover from the non-UK market grow from 11 per cent to 25 per cent (£657,000 in 2021-22 to £2.58m).

With Wrexham returning to the U.S. in July, expect that percentage of income from overseas to grow, even allowing for how central payments from the EFL will increase as a League One club.

In a little over two decades in football management, Phil Parkinson has grown to love Friday afternoons. All the work for the week is done, leaving the 56-year-old with a rare opportunity to relax.

The following day’s match still occupies his thoughts. Maybe the make-up of the bench or even a tweak or two to the game plan. And if Wrexham are away from home, there’ll be the travel to consider.

But this downtime is something to savour as he looks ahead to his favourite day of the week: matchday.

There have been plenty of Saturdays to enjoy as Wrexham manager, with 101 wins from his 163 games in charge and just 27 lost.


This season, though, hasn’t all been plain-sailing with enough notable defeats — 5-0 at Stockport County, anyone? — to ensure the general mood among supporters has had more ups and downs than your average rollercoaster ride.

The nadir, perhaps, came at Salford City in February, when a sorry 3-1 loss saw the patience of those who follow the club on the road snap via the chant, “Parky, Parky, make a change.”

Whether this referred to the team’s formation or the need to make substitutions can only be answered by those watching from behind the goal at Moor Lane as Wrexham were bullied into submission — but those fraying tempers told their own story.

Despite that discontent, Parkinson, fresh from adding Luke Bolton and Jack Marriott in the winter transfer window, remained calm and steadfast in his belief that his side was destined to get across the line.

Those close to Reynolds and McElhenney insist the owners retained the same confidence in their manager, even as results dipped in late January and February.

Building a dressing room instilled with the same hard work ethic as the two co-chairmen has helped. As is how Parkinson embraces the documentary and the other aspects of life at Wrexham that are surely unique for a League Two club, such as the commercials filmed for sponsors or a Royal visit.

Cleverly, he uses these as a welcome break from the daily routine that other managers try to achieve with squad go-karting or paintballing days.

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Parkinson with Prince William (Chris Jackson/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The value of this approach could be seen during Prince William’s St David’s Day visit through the fun had at the expense of Mullin and McClean. Neither player can hardly be put in the Royalist camp. Both could only grin and bear it as mischievous team-mates quipped, “You’re next up as the Prince has asked specifically to meet you.”

A day later, a newly relaxed team stuffed Accrington Stanley 4-0 to end a worrying three-game winless run.

This backing for the manager manifests itself in many ways. There’s the obvious, such as the text message sent by McElhenney after the 5-0 thrashing by Stockport that read, “Phil, we are right behind you.”

Parkinson’s opinion also matters to the board. Plans for the club’s U.S. tour this summer differ from last year’s maiden voyage after an in-house debrief that included the manager’s input on what worked and what didn’t.

Instead of zig-zagging from east to west and then back again to play four games, the intention is for the 2024 trip to feature one fewer match and be centred on the west coast to cut down on travel. So far, only the friendly against Chelsea in Santa Clara on July 24 has been confirmed but the others are expected to follow soon.

Wrexham also plan to be back in the UK a week earlier than last year, allowing a full fortnight to prepare for the start of the League One season on August 10.

One friendly is planned on home soil as part of those preparations, though logistics may dictate a change. American organisers also have to juggle the demands of potential Premier League opponents whose season doesn’t start until August 17.

By the time the first all-Wales clash in League Two for more than 20 years came around on the final Saturday before Christmas, Wrexham’s season had found its rhythm.

The chaos of the opening weeks and those five goals conceded at home to both MK Dons and Swindon Town were long gone, replaced by a new-found consistency that had seen 23 points collected from the previous 10 outings.

Wrexham’s Racecourse home also had an addition in the form of a temporary Kop stand, christened fittingly with a 2-0 win over Newport County to break a club record of scoring in 49 consecutive home league matches that had stood for 120 years.

The 2,289 seats have been sold for every game since but the club has still lost money, even if a sponsorship deal involving McElhenney’s Four Walls Whiskey brand has offset some of the predicted £250,000 deficit.

Had the owners’ initial plans to build a new 5,500 capacity Kop in time for the 2024-25 season come to fruition, the temporary stand wouldn’t have been needed. But delays quickly hit the Wrexham Gateway project, including moving a sewer that runs under the land, and an electricity substation. Public and private financing also needed finalising, along with the legal transfer of the lease from the supporters trust to the club.

Some of these issues have been resolved, including the sewer but others remain over a project that will take 11 months to build. Work must start during the close season if the stand is to be ready for 2025-26.

On the pitch, progress has been much smoother. Wrexham moved into the play-off places for the first time on September 9, and the automatic promotion spots another six weeks after that. The only opportunity to go top was blown in January when they lost 1-0 at Newport on a day that saw Stockport and Mansfield’s games postponed.

Other disappointments, certainly for executive director Ker, include the home defeat to Tranmere. The actor invited 30 close friends from either side of the Atlantic, hoping they would see a thrilling win.

Neither McElhenney nor Reynolds has been as frequent a visitor as last season. This is a consequence of the Hollywood actors’ strike getting settled in November. The pair have been playing catch-up with various projects that had to be put on hold during the impasse.

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Reynolds and McElhenney have been over less often this season (Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

This meant the co-owners were absent for arguably the most eventful match of the 2023-24 season, the third-versus-fourth meeting with Barrow on New Year’s Day.

Wrexham came from 1-0 down heading into first-half stoppage time to lead 3-1 at the break. Barrow, who had opened the scoring inside 34 seconds, suffered two serious head injuries en route to losing 4-1 as David Worrall and Luca Stephenson were stretchered from the field.

Worrall had to be taken to hospital after being knocked out by a clash of heads. The ambulance transporting the midfielder had only just returned to the Racecourse when Stephenson was left prone following another accidental collision. Such was the demand for oxygen to treat the two players that supplies ran worryingly low.

Come the spring, Mullin was the one breathing fresh life into Wrexham’s season. After an unusually barren eight-game run without a goal, he hit form at just the right time. Thirteen goals in his last 11 appearances proved pivotal in getting Parkinson’s side across the line with two games to spare.

Landing the title may be asking too much. Leaders Stockport need just one more win from their final three outings to clinch top spot but, this being Wrexham, no one will surely bet against yet another Hollywood ending when the league leaders visit the Racecourse on the final day of the season. Reynolds and McElhenney are likely to be in attendance.

(Top image — design: Eamonn Dalton, photos: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images, Barrington Coombs/PA Images via Getty Images, Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

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