May 29, 2023
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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 “footie” for hours – until you ask him what it meant when Canadian A-list movie star Ryan Reynolds and his business partner, actor Rob McElhenney, bought Ulrich’s beloved Wrexham AFC.

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“It’s hard to put into words,” said Ulrich. “It’s like winning the lottery, a fairy tale come true and the stuff of dreams rolled into one. Sometimes we have to pinch ourselves to believe it’s 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 brought the city worldwide attention.”

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

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

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When Reynolds’ name surfaced as the buyer of Wrexham’s ailing football club, few in the hard-fought North Wales community gave much credit.

“I think when people in Wrexham first found out, I don’t think people believed it, if I’m being honest,” said David Bithell, vice-chairman of Wrexham Council. “We never heard any rumours. It was just a story come alive. It was just announced. Now it’s everywhere like Hollywood is rolling into town.”

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

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

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

“They’re really nice, down-to-earth people from what I’ve seen,” Bithell said. “The fans absolutely love her. It was like going from rags to riches.”

Neither Reynolds nor McElhenney knew a lot about “Footie” when they pitched 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 a team’s success can mean to a community like Wrexham. He hired Reynolds – himself a sports fanatic – because he needed “superhero movie star money” for the venture. With his Hollywood contracts and business interests in Aviation American Gin and Mint Mobile Cell Service, Reynolds has an estimated net worth of $150 million, according to website

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

For 15 years the club has been relegated to the National League, the lowest ranking of any professional football league in Britain. Unlike the NHL, those at the bottom of the UK football leagues are relegated to the lower leagues. It would be like the Senators taking the bus to games against the Syracuse Crunch or the American Hockey League’s Lehigh Valley Phantoms after an unsuccessful season (cough, cough).

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

“We didn’t want to go anywhere. It was like we were just treading water,” said Ulrich, a season pass holder who volunteered for the team from 2014-19 until he became frustrated with managing the team. “It has been my lifelong ambition that we get out of this league.”

With Reynolds’ and McElhenney’s star power, Wrexham is now attracting fans from around the world. In their freshman season, the team came up short except for a heartbreaking, nerve-wracking extension of promotion.

“They changed the club,” Bithell said.

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

“I don’t mean that in a derogatory way, but before that (the club) was always looking for ways to make ends meet. If they had the opportunity to sell players, they would sell them. We have developed from an amateur operation, because we had to survive, to a real professional team. There aren’t many teams in the National League that can match the financial strength that Ryan and Rob have brought with them.”

Visitor numbers have risen from a few thousand fans per game to regularly selling out 10,000 seats. It’s difficult now to watch a game at the racetrack unless you have season tickets, Bithell said.

“They turned the fan base inside out overnight. If you mention Wrexham now, it will not only be in the local paper but also in international news. Wrexham is now a global phenomenon with Rob and Ryan.”

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Bithell says he saw the chatter on Twitter about Reynolds and the Sens. Is he worried the star might lose interest in his Welsh club?

“I think they’re both very, very passionate. They have a good relationship with the players and a good relationship with the football club. I don’t think that would decrease,” he said.

“Obviously the UK economy isn’t good at the moment, but football-wise it’s really good at the moment. Let’s hope it goes on.”

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Ottawa vs. Wrexham


Population: 1,000,000

Established: incorporated as a town in 1855

Main Employer: Founded as a lumberjack town, today the federal government is the main employer

Hockey Team: Ottawa Senators

Established: 1992

Estimated value: $655 million

Arena: Canadian Tire Center

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Year of construction: 1996

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

Key players: Brady Tkachuk, center

Annual salary: $8.2 million

Team Current Standings: Last Place, NHL Eastern Conference

Last year: Seventh place, NHL Eastern Conference

Next game: Saturday against Philadelphia Flyers


Population 140,000.

Established: The medieval town of Wrexham officially became the town of Wrexham on 1st September 2022

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

Football Team: Wrexham AFC

Founded: 1864

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

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

Capacity: 10,000 (the club is planning a 5,000 seat expansion which will include a hospitality lounge.

Key players: Paul Mullins, forward

Annual Salary: $234,000 (estimated)

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

Last year: Second overall in the National League

Next game: Sunday against Oldham Athletic

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