Wrexham: The Gang Gets a New Member

by | Sep 24, 2020

If there’s one thing that can be said for certain about the attempted buyout of Wrexham, it’s that they weren’t kidding when they were building it up. The Wrexham Supporters Trust had been trailing their release of the identities of the proposed buyers for a little while, and once the vote was taken their identity could be revealed. Far from being one of the normal carousel of football club owners that we get in this country, of course, it turned out to be somebody quite unexpected. Actor, writer, film producer and occasional entrepreneur, Ryan Reynolds and actor, director, producer, screenwriter and creator of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Rob McElhenney.

Reynolds and McElhenney have offered £2m in investment into the club should the Supporters Trust opt to sell to them, and there seems to be an audience more than ready to listen to them. When the Trust took ownership in August 2011, following a protracted battle to take ownership from the deeply unpopular Geoff Moss, the club was in a financial mess, although the mess behind the scenes wasn’t matched on the pitch. At the end of that 2010/11 season, they finished in fourth place in the Conference.

It felt for a while as though promotion back into the EFL, from whence they were relegated in 2008, would only be a matter of time. In the Trust’s first season of ownership, the club finished in second place in the Conference, and their total points haul of 98 would have been enough to win it most other seasons. This season, however, was the season of Fleetwood Town’s financially-plumpened rise to EFL status. Despite having finished their season on their highest ever points total (the previous holder, beaten by 14 points, had been accompanied by promotion), they still finished five points adrift of Fleetwood and then lost in the play-off semi-finals against Luton Town. The following year they won the FA Trophy after beating Grimsby Town in a penalty shoot-out. They were back two years later, this time losing a penalty shoot-out to North Ferriby United.

Hindsight offers us the contemplation that the perhaps the 2011/12 season was their chance. Wrexham have failed to scale such heights again, though they did finish in fourth place in the table in 2018 before losing at home to Eastleigh in the quarter-finals of the National League’s convoluted play-offs. Last season, however, they struggled more than ever before and finished nineteenth in the National League table, the lowest final league position in the club’s 155 year history. It’s clear that a large section of the support have lost faith in the Trust, and in a sense that’s understandable following a period of ownership which started with a considerable amount of promise (on the pitch, at least), but which settled into stagnation and steady decline.

The benefits of such an arrangement to the club should be obvious. A couple of million pounds of investment in the National League would be substantial at the best of times. It may be that any investment might have to be spent on keeping the club afloat rather than on buying shiny new players, but all National League clubs are in the same boat at the moment, and that £2m would likely give the club a competitive advantage over everybody in the division, regardless of when things get back to normal. There aren’t going to be any other National League clubs getting £2m thrown at them any time soon, that much we can say with a degree of confidence.

However.

There have already been points where the reaction to all of this has passed straight through “breathless excitement” and into “hysteria.” This article in the Leader this morning promised readers “Five reasons why Ryan and Rob are the perfect investors for Wrexham AFC”, only for the five reasons to be: Ryan Reynolds has got a lot of money, Ryan Reynolds likes beer, “Reynolds is used to going above and beyond for a project he believes in” (no, me neither, even after reading their explanation), Rob McElhenney is a massive sports fan, and Rob McElhenney gained 50lbs in six months for his role in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

The obvious question to ask is what happens if or when Reynolds and McElhenney get bored/disillusioned/weary of how much money they’re having to pour into it and decide that they want out. What say does anybody else get over who they sell the club on to? This isn’t the only question that the prospective new owners should be answering, either. It’s all very well being dazzled by a sign with “TWO MILLION POUNDS!!!” printed one side of it and “HOLLYWOOD!!!!!” on the other, but what’s the actual business plan? How is this money going to be spent? What’s the aim?

These are the questions that have to be answered before the next vote, because the promise of investment isn’t a short cut to success in and of itself. It has to be spent wisely by people who know what they’re doing, and it’s likely that, within the next couple of seasons, it will have to be done within the confines of a salary cap of around £900,000 a year, following discussions held by the National League this summer. On the 7th August, Wrexham manager Dean Keates was very much in favour of such a cap. One wonders how far the opinions of Keates and those amongst the Wrexham support with dollar signs currently in their eyes might have shifted on this particular subject over the last 48 hours or so.

A number of fan-owned clubs have sold up to private investors in recent years, and the results have been mixed. Wycombe Wanderers’ ascent to the EFL Championship means that their supporters are unlikely to be unhappy with their choice. Portsmouth, however, have had more mixed results – they won the League Two title in 2017 under mutual ownership, sold up that summer to former Disney executive Michael Eisner, and have fallen just short of another promotion every year since. And the sale of Notts County by their Supporters Trust in 2010 very nearly led to the death of the club. Ten years on, Notts, who were one of the twelve founder members of the Football League, are another National League club with aspirations of reclaiming their former status.

None of this is said with the intention of killing any particular buzz. It’s more to point out that it’s important to keep a grip on reality, even at the most exciting-sounding of times. And this conjecture does all feel somewhat academic, regardless. 97.5% voted in favour of the talks proceeding, and it’s difficult to imagine that half of those people will change their minds upon hearing what Reynolds & McElhenney have to say. It’s also worth pointing out that much of talk online is already discussing this as though it has been completed.

But for the criticism that has been flying about over the last few months and years regarding the Wrexham Supporters Trust, it is worth remembering two important things. Firstly, that Trust saved Wrexham AFC when it needed saving. They did achieve some degree of success, and were unlucky to find their best season coinciding with Fleetwood’s. And secondly, if Wrexham Supporters Trust weren’t the owners of the club, their supporters wouldn’t even have a say in who the club’s new owners might be.

Cover image by  licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license.