Why Wrexham can’t bank on another Hollywood ending

Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s ownership means the Welsh club approach their first season back in League Two since 2008 with plenty of expectation

Ben Fleming
Friday 04 August 2023 15:15 BST
Wrexham co-owner Rob McElhenney meets Man United boss Erik ten Hag

For a team whose first three fixtures back in League Two are MK Dons, AFC Wimbledon, and Walsall, it feels somewhat out of kilter that three of their last pre-season games saw them face Chelsea, LA Galaxy and Manchester United. Such is the Wrexham way.

Fresh off a nail-biting National League campaign, Las Vegas promotion party and sellout Stateside pre-season tour, Wrexham fans and players, if only momentarily, might be brought back down to earth by the prospect of a 46-game slog as they look to pick up where they left off back in the Football League for the first time since 2008.

Perhaps if this were a Hollywood script, Wrexham’s journey under owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney would continue unperturbed; the Welsh side coasting to League Two glory and continuing their march up the English football pyramid.

But football isn’t always that straightforward.

Ask Salford City. The Manchester club, owned by “Class of ‘92” teammates Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, Phil Neville and David Beckham were the original celebrity-owned lower-league club and arrived in this very same league back in 2019 to similar fanfare. Four seasons and four managers later, they still remain. In their quartet of campaigns since promotion from the National League, their best finish has been last season, placing seventh before ultimately bowing out in the play-off semi-finals.

Ask Mansfield Town. The Stags will now enter their 11th straight year in the division after their promotion from the then-Conference League. After four unsuccessful promotion challenges in the last six seasons as one of the league’s bigger spenders, Nigel Clough’s side have become part of League Two’s furniture, last year missing out on a spot in the play-offs to Salford courtesy of goal difference.

Ask Stockport County. Last season’s shiny new toy, having pipped Wrexham to promotion in 2021, Stockport were many people’s favourite to achieve back-to-back promotions with their National League record and stellar squad. However, a play-off final penalty-shootout defeat to underdogs Carlisle means that Dave Challinor’s side will again compete in the fourth tier this season.

None of this is to suggest that Wrexham can’t achieve back-to-back promotions for the first time in the club’s history. They are clear favourites with the bookmakers to do just that after their record-breaking points tally (111) last season in the fifth tier.

But even with four promotion spots on offer, rather than the two in the National League, history has shown that nothing can be taken for granted in a league full of clubs looking to move up the pyramid.

The Welsh club accrued a record 111 points last year in the National League
The Welsh club accrued a record 111 points last year in the National League (Getty)

In that sense, Parkinson can be grateful that Wrexham’s riches and big-spending in the past gifts him a squad full of League Two know-how with no better example than talisman and last year’s Player of the Season, Paul Mullin. Although a punctured lung, suffered in a pre-season friendly against Manchester United, will see the striker miss the start of the season, the 28-year-old will need no time to acclimatise to the division.

It was in League Two, after all, that he first caught the eye of Wrexham having fired 32 goals in 46 games to guide Cambridge United to an unlikely promotion in 2021. His move back down the pyramid to Wrexham was an early sign of Reynolds and McElhenney’s pull and pockets.

Then there is Ben Tozer and Jordan Tunnicliffe. Tozer captained Cheltenham out of League Two the very same season that Mullin burst onto the scene, while Tunnifcliffe made it into the division’s team of the season that same year for his performances at Crawley.

This year, Tozer will be reunited with fellow centre-back, Will Boyle – Wrexham’s lone signing so far this window – with whom he formed a sturdy partnership at Cheltenham. Add to that Eoghan O’Connell, signed last January from League One Charlton Athletic, and recent Premier League goalkeeper Ben Foster, who has postponed a second retirement to sign a new contract, and it’s clear to see the enviable quality that the Welsh side have in defence.

The creativity of fan-favourite and former Luton Town midfielder Elliot Lee, alongside the goalscoring prowess of Ollie Palmer, who joined for a club-record £300,000, is further evidence of why Wrexham went on to smash the record points tally last season. It is perhaps also why, other than Boyle, the club have not made any signings in the transfer window.

There is money available, especially after new, lucrative shirt and stadium sponsorship deals with United Airlines and US coffee brand, Stok, but it also points to a squad that was ready to compete with League Two’s best long before they reached this point.

Paul Mullin will be one of the key men in Wrexham’s bid for back-to-back promotions
Paul Mullin will be one of the key men in Wrexham’s bid for back-to-back promotions (Jon Super)

They are by no means out on their own, though. Wrexham’s great title rivals in the National League, Notts County, look likely to challenge them again, especially after the coveted signing of veteran striker David McGoldrick who scored 22 goals for Derby County last year in League One.

And there is also Stockport, last year’s Wembley losers, who have recruited Nick Powell from Stoke City, the 29-year-old returning to the league where he first caught the eye of Manchester United aged 18.

Gillingham, fresh off their own US investment, and those teams relegated from League One last season – MK Dons, Morecambe, Accrington Stanley and Forest Green – could all contend as well in what promises to be one of the most intriguing and high-quality seasons the league has ever seen.

Wrexham will continue to attract global eyeballs and bring renewed pride to their local community, that much is assured. On the pitch, though, nothing is guaranteed. As League Two has shown before, no amount of money or high-profile ownership is a guarantee of success. Wrexham will be wary of that and Parkinson will have his work cut out against any number of fancied promotion rivals but with a squad built for the level, the Welsh club and its owners will surely be dreaming of another Hollywood ending.

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