The Ryan Reynolds effect: Why Welsh football fans love their team’s Canadian co-owner

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Football superfan Richard Ulrich can talk ‘football’ for hours – until you ask him what it meant when Canadian movie star Ryan Reynolds and his business partner, actor Rob McElhenney, bought the property -Like Ulrich’s Wrexham AFC.

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« It’s hard to put into words, » Ulrich said. “It’s like winning the lottery, a fairy tale come true and all things dream come true rolled into one. Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves to believe this is really happening,” he said.

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« I mean, it’s ‘hopes and dreams’ isn’t it? » And it’s not just the football club. It literally drew the world’s attention to the city.

Two years ago, Reynolds, star of the Deadpool film franchise, and McElhenney, star and creator of the comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, bought the club from the financially struggling Wrexham Supporters Trust. The two friends documented their foray into football on the FX series Welcome to Wrexham.

Now Reynolds’ name is being floated as a potential buyer or investor for the Ottawa Senators, who officially announced the team was for sale Friday.

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When Reynolds’ name emerged as a buyer for struggling football club Wrexham, few in the tough North Wales community gave him much of a share.

« I think initially when the people of Wrexham found out about it, if I’m honest, I don’t think people believed it, » said David Bithell, deputy leader of Wrexham Council. « We never heard any rumours. It was just a story come to life. It was just announced. Now everywhere you go, it’s like Hollywood is coming to town.

Hockey is a game dear to Reynolds and Ottawa is a city where he and his wife, actress Blake Lively, once shared their love through donations to the Ottawa Food Bank and the Ottawa Distress Line. Ottawa and playful cries on social media in Ottawa. Public health. A new street in the town will be known as Ryan Reynolds Way.

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But if Ottawa has a crush on Reynolds, it has a rival in Wrexham for Reynolds’ affection.

Next week, the city’s executive council will vote on a motion that, if approved by council, will grant Reynolds and McElhenney the “Freedom of Wrexham” – his highest civic honour.

« They’re really nice, down-to-earth people from what I’ve seen, » Bithell said. « Fans absolutely love them. It’s been like rags to riches.

Neither Reynolds nor McElhenney knew a lot about « football » when they made their presentation for Wrexham AFC. In Welcome to Wrexham, McElhenney explains how his passion for his hometown Philadelphia Eagles of the NFL made him realize how much one team’s success can mean to a community like Wrexham. He enlisted Reynolds – himself a sports fanatic – because he needed « superhero movie star money » for the business. Reynolds, with his Hollywood deals and business interests in Aviation American Gin and Mint Mobile cellular service, has an estimated fortune of $150 million, according to the website.

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Reynolds and McElhenney’s impact on the team and the city has been profound, Bithell said. Wrexham AFC was established in 1864 and is the third oldest professional football club in the world. The Hippodrome, Wrexham’s home ground, is the world’s oldest international stadium still in use. But after glory days in the early 1970s, Wrexham AFC, like Wrexham itself, fell on hard times.

For 15 years the club was relegated to the National League, the lowest ranking of fully professional football leagues in the UK. Unlike the NHL, the bottom of the UK football leagues are relegated to the lower tier leagues. It would be like the Senators after an unsuccessful (cough, cough) season finding themselves bussing to games against the Syracuse Crunch or the Lehigh Valley Phantoms of the American Hockey League.

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Conversely, success on the football field can propel a team upwards into higher level play, generating higher revenue and the ability to attract better players. Ending Wrexham’s football purgatory is a goal for the club’s new owners.

“We weren’t going anywhere. It was like we were treading water,” said Ulrich, a season ticket holder who volunteered with the team from 2014 to 2019 until he became frustrated with the management of the club. crew. « It’s my life’s ambition that we can get out of this league. »

With Reynolds and McElhenney’s star power, Wrexham now attracts fans from all over the world. In their first season, the team suffered a heartbreaking and biting loss of extra time following promotion.

« They transformed the club, » Bithell said.

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Wrexham owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney stand with wreaths as part of remembrance commemorations ahead of a National League match in 2021. Action Images via Reuters/Paul Burrows
Wrexham owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney stand with wreaths as part of remembrance commemorations ahead of a National League match in 2021. Action Images via Reuters/Paul Burrows Photo by PAUL BURROWS /Action images via Reuters

« I don’t want to say this in a pejorative way, but before (the club) was always looking for ways to make ends meet. If they had a chance to sell players, they would sell them. We moved from amateur management « Because that’s what we had to do to survive, to be a true professional team now. There aren’t many teams in the National League that can match the financial muscle that Ryan and Rob brought.

Attendance has grown from a few thousand fans per game to regular sales of 10,000. It’s now hard to see a game at the racetrack unless you have season tickets, Bithell said.

“They transformed the fan base overnight. When you mention Wrexham now, it’s not just in the local paper, it’s in the international news. Wrexham is a worldwide phenomenon now with Rob and Ryan.

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Bithell says he saw the chatter on Twitter about Reynolds and the Senses. Does he fear that the star will lose interest in his Welsh club?

“I think they’re both really, really passionate. They have a good relationship with the players and a good relationship with the football club. I don’t think it would go down,” he said.

“Obviously the economy in the UK is not good at the moment, but as far as football is concerned it is really good at the moment. Hopefully that continues.”

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Ottawa v Wrexham


Population: 1,000,000

Foundation: Incorporated as a city in 1855

Primary Employer: Founded as a logging town, primary employer is now the federal government

Hockey Team: Ottawa Senators

Creation: 1992

Estimated value: US$655 million

Arena: Canadian Tire Center

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Built: 1996

Capacity: 19,000 (The club signed an agreement with the NCC to build a new arena on LeBreton Flats)

Key Player: Brady Tkachuk, Center

Annual salary: US$8.2 million

Current Team Ranking: Last place, NHL Eastern Conference

Last year’s ranking: seventh place, NHL Eastern Conference

Next game: Saturday vs. Philadelphia Flyers


140,000 inhabitants.

Foundation: Established in medieval times, the town of Wrexham officially became the town of Wrexham on 1 September 2022

Main industry: Originally coal mining and heavy industry, the city is now an administrative center and home to light industry

Football team: Wrexham AFC

Creation: 1864

Estimated value: Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bought the club in 2020 with backing from the Wrexham Supporters Trust for US$2.5million

Arena: The Racecourse Ground, home of the club since 1864

Capacity: 10,000 (the club is planning an extension of 5,000 seats which will include a reception lounge.

Key Player: Paul Mullins, Striker

Annual salary: US$234,000 (estimated)

Current ranking: Second overall in the National League, fifth and lowest tier in professional football in the UK

Last year’s ranking: Second overall in the National League

Next match: Sunday against Oldham Athletic

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