The latest bit of promo for Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s unlikely takeover of Wrexham AFC has reliably gone viral, but is the fanfare (and forthcoming documentary) as genuine as it seems? Esyllt Sears isn’t so sure.
Strap yourselves in, I’m about to critique football.
For those of you who may be unaware, last year, Wrexham AFC was bought by actors, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, injecting much-needed cash into the club and some Hollywood pizzazz into the proceedings. I mean, who hasn’t fantasized about sharing a long island ice tea pitcher with Blake Lively (actress and Reynolds’ wife) in ATIK on a Saturday night?
However, maybe it’s because 40 years of being Welsh has taught me to stay on the defensive every time someone from “outside” tries to get involved with Wales or the language (in case we’re the subject of ridicule and derision, yet again); maybe it’s because I can usually sniff a PR stunt from a mile off (I have carried out plenty of them in my time); maybe it’s because football club owners don’t have the best track record when it comes to putting club and supporters ahead of their greed and furthering their own profiles (have we already forgotten the Super League? RIP); or maybe it’s a combination of all three that has made me wary of the whole Reynolds – McElhenney – Wrexham AFC love-in.
Over the last few months, there’s been a steady drip-feed of publicity from the club’s new owners that has, without exception, gone viral. Everyone is understandably lapping it up. It’s been nicely created. Nothing too contentious. So why do I get a “pit of the stomach” feeling that the club and the town at large are being treated as a pet project?
Both buyers have admitted to knowing next to nothing about football but they’re saying all the right things – how the club belongs to the town and how they want the town to flourish. But they’re actors, used to reciting lines and getting a reaction in as authentic a way as possible. They also make a point of referring to Wrexham as a working class town in their latest viral video which, to me, just feeds into the carefully curated narrative.
So, what came first? The documentary they’re planning or the idea to buy a football club?
Why does it have an undercurrent of a ‘90s “oh no, we’ve bought a soccer team” kind of film?
Does it even matter?
I’ve already been told online that I don’t know enough about the situation to comment and that I should pour my cold water elsewhere. But the sooner people realise that pouring cold water left right and centre is my jam, the better.
These people are right though, in that I don’t have an in-depth knowledge of the talks that took place between the supporters and new owners. I haven’t been to every meeting. In fact, I haven’t been to any. But that doesn’t mean I can’t and shouldn’t have a view on what is an ongoing and very public publicity campaign.
I don’t have anything against Reynolds and McElhenney. They seem like a great pair of lads. I also have no reason to wish Wrexham ill. I have a massive soft spot for it after five years of dating someone from the town and even attending one of the club’s home games. It leaves a mark.
There is an air of expectation that not only will these new buyers help elevate the club but the town itself, and I really hope that’s the case. You don’t build the hopes of an area that’s experienced its fair share of deprivation lightly.
I just think it needs saying.
But I will also admit that I do sometimes get things wrong.
Maybe I do have a chip on my shoulder, maybe I’m not as good at PR as I thought, maybe I don’t know football. But this wariness comes from a place of pure fondness and hope, and I can’t let go of it completely. Not just yet.
Esyllt Sears is a writer and comedian and a regular contributor to Wales Arts Review.