SOCCER

What to know about Welcome to Wrexham

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Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FX

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The new FX series Welcome to Wrexham is a strange little bundle of speakers. Its half-hour episodes flow smoothly, but can leave you unsure of how to process what you’ve just seen. The first half of its eight-episode run is the explanatory equivalent of revving the engine, followed by a fifth episode that finally begins to deliver on the promise of its comforting premise. A-list celebrities Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds are unquestionably the bait to draw viewers to this series, but to say it’s about them would be way too simplistic. Let’s unravel some of the narrative and structural quirks of this inconsistent but compelling show, shall we?

So what is a Wrexham?
Wrexham is a proud, hopeful and often anxious place, team and spirit. As you will be reminded several times during the season, Wrexham is a working-class town of around 60,000 located in North East Wales, around an hour’s drive from Liverpool and Manchester. Despite its proximity to two major English cities, you would take your life slightly in your own hands if you confused Wrexham with England. Wales is part of Great Britain, and it is extremely not England, thank you very much.

Wrexham was hit hard by the near collapse of coal mining and steel production in the 1980s, and has still not fully recovered. So does the fortunes of the city, that of their beloved professional football (soccer) team, Wrexham AFC. After spending years relegated to the lowest tier of professional football and surviving a string of bad, ineffective owners, the team goes all-in when Hollywood stars Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds make an acquisition bid. It could end in triumph or tears, but you should probably bet on a bit of both. As one of the team’s staunchest supporters puts it, Wrexham is “a place where people deserve a little more than what they got out of life”.

Wait, so what is Rob and Ryan’s connection to a random Welsh football club?
It’s funny that you ask: there is none! Well, not to begin with, anyway, as neither Rob nor Ryan are from Wrexham, and their interest in The Beautiful Game is fairly recent.

Sports were central to Ryan’s relationship with his late father, while Rob is an avid sportsman in general and a Philadelphia sports enthusiast in particular. As a lifelong fan of the NFL’s Super Bowl LII-winning Philadelphia Eagles, Rob knows firsthand the complex feelings of spending decades loving a team that tends to run out of gas sooner than its fans do. hope so. For Rob, the appeal of Wrexham is obvious: the two places are a bit rough around the edges, and the two bond closely as communities in celebration and in crisis. When irascible but dedicated Wrexham AFC super-fan Wayne Jones describes the team as ‘meaning everything to the people of this town’, it’s in perfect harmony with Rob’s heartfelt belief that he and Ryan can help the team. to rebuild and recover some of its past excellence.

Both seem to really care about these underdogs, but Rob is the true believer, waking up at 4am in Los Angeles to watch Wrexham play live with his son and spending 90 minutes on the phone convincing a future manager (coach) to board. Ryan knows his roles are Money and Resident Quip Artist. The dude always gets in the crosshairs with deadpan zinger after zinger, helpfully reminding viewers to find him and Rob ridiculous as they try to do something they don’t know how to do.

Who are we supposed to care about besides Rob and Ryan, and why?
It’s here that Welcome to Wrexham falters in his first half. The familiar stars of mythical questionsand dead Pool may be the initial lure, but they’re not the reason to keep watching.

Judiciously, Welcome to Wrexham invites viewers to engage with the players and the fans, but in a way that can feel like bait and switch. We spend quite a bit of time getting to know veteran player Paul Rutherford, who in his spare time has been remodeling his very modest home in anticipation of the arrival of his third son. By the end of the second episode, however, we’re encouraged to blame much of the team’s lost playoff chances at Rutherford’s feet. The team immediately abandons him and ten other players. This footage provides the introduction to Rob and Ryan agreeing – from their Los Angeles homes – that it’s time to make some big personnel changes with the aim of promotion to League Two the following season, but did we really need ten minutes of Rutherford-targeted footage to get there?

As he continues, Welcome to Wrexham reveals that the true heart of the show is the team supporters (fans). The most notable of these is Shaun Winter, a resentful house painter for the City Council and doting father estranged from the mother of his sons. He’s wonderfully quotable, capturing the bravado and heartache of the fandom, but his role on the show doesn’t fully fall into place until mid-season.

You mentioned relegation. Why does this sound so familiar?
If you’re familiar with relegation, you probably remember it as the specter that loomed over the first season of an obscure little show called Ted Lasso. Relegation is the demotion of an underperforming football team to a lower level of competition at the end of the regular season. The two teams at the bottom of the table fall one tier, while a number of higher ranked teams are promoted to the next tier. Relegation is the shared trauma of Wrexham AFC and its supporters.

Over the past few decades, Wrexham AFC have been relegated three mortifying times. For the past 13 years they have been stuck playing in the National League, which is the lowest tier of British professional football. In the Queen’s English, the technical term for this chronic state of affairs is “pretty bad”, which in American English roughly translates to “I am prostrate with shame and fury, and must isolate myself to mourn the terrible fortune of my beloved”. team, which I also hate.

A relegated team box move up to a higher league, but the further down a team’s tiers and the longer they stay there, the more promotion becomes out of reach, mainly because of money. Premier League teams have financial resources that National League teams can only dream of. As we learn in the Welcome to Wrexham first in the series, average salaries in the Premier League are around 100 times higher than those in the National League. Great players, those who could propel a team to promotion, can choose to play for much more money in the higher tiers. And on the whole, they do.

The challenges of recruiting, retaining and developing players on a shoestring budget often leads to difficulties in building a championship-winning squad that plays well together as a team. It can be a vicious and demoralizing cycle. As Wrexham AFC volunteer manager Spencer Harris puts it, “Getting out of the National League is the toughest job in international football.” No pressure guys!

Are you 100% sure that you are not talking about Ted Lasso?
A fair question! The similarities between the shows are inevitable: you have your colorful characters, your big-hearted underdog team whose fans rely heavily on team performance as the foundation of their identity and mental well-being, your know-a-side nothing but enthusiastic, ironic North Americans, and your fear of relegation. It’s easy to imagine Ted himself appearing in this series.

But under the veneer of tantalizing similarities, the distinctions are stark: Ted LassoAFC Richmond are a well-funded (and imaginary) Premier League side in a bubbly, delicious sitcom set in the swing of London. There’s reason to hope we’ll see the Greyhounds return to the Premier League by the end of the show’s third and final season. By contrast, Wrexham AFC is a real underfunded team of real players facing real problems in a small town hundreds of miles from London. Try to imagine a US-based professional sports team relying on full-time volunteers for many key roles. Their players are getting by on meager salaries in an economically and emotionally depressed city, many of them knowing full well that this is as prestigious as their sporting career is likely to be.

If you are looking for a sports program close to Welcome to Wrexhamtwo best bets are Sunderland till i die on Amazon Prime and basketball or nothingthe 2019 award-winning Netflix docuseries about the fortunes of the Chinle High School Warriors of the Navajo Nation.

So if Rob and Ryan don’t need to know anything about football to own the team, do I need to know football to watch this show?
Welcome to Wrexham that’s football like that Friday night lights was about (American) football. It’s really about what a specific football team means to the community they belong to. As long as you know football and football are the same thing and Wales is not England, you will be fine. You’re more likely to have trouble understanding the regional accent, but that’s what subtitles are for.

Relegation, stacked odds, a depressed hometown: it all sounds a bit disappointing. And is it a light and comforting documentary? Do we laugh at them or with them?
Trying to keep Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds from cracking up at every chance would be trying to keep the sun from shining, so Welcome to Wrexham is often funny. The show invites viewers to laugh a little, but not to the players of Wrexham AFC and never to the team’s supporters, who are treated with genuine respect at all times. The jokes are made by and about the wayward rich guys in Los Angeles, very frequently and skillfully, at their own expense.

Get straight to the point, already! East Welcome to Wrexham worth watching?
Do you believe? Do you wake up just a little every time you hear “clear eyes, full heart, I can’t lose”? Are you forgiving enough to wait for this unsubtle show to find its rhythm? If so, you will be conquered by Welcome to WrexhamThe sincerity and big heart of , showcased in episode five, airing September 7, with its vignettes of superfans of all ages interspersed with gameplay footage and commentary from some players. High-scoring player Paul Mullin is particularly philosophical, noting that “everything in life is just a memory”. His real job, he says, is not to score goals, but to create “memories for other people, so they have something they can tell their grandchildren and children about”. On Welcome to Wrexhamfans, players, Rob and Ryan all want the same thing: to create and share game memories, good or bad, for the love of the game.

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