‘America’s club’ – Wrexham fever hits the US

'America's club' - Wrexham fever hits the US


Fans queue at a Wrexham fan park in San Diego
‘Wrexham USA Invasion’ fan parks have sprung up on America’s east and west coasts this summer

The story of Wrexham’s Hollywood transformation – a tale which feels like pure fantasy – is still sinking in for many, and it now has a new plotline as ‘America’s club’ embarks on its own takeover of the United States.

Wrexham are proving to be a spectacular hit on their pre-season tour of the US – a far cry from summers spent navigating non-league outposts closer to home in north Wales.

While in previous seasons a trip to Cefn Druids may have been on the agenda, this year the Welsh club are traversing the US from east to west as they take on the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United.

Manager Phil Parkinson said it had been “surreal” watching his side play in front of crowds of 50,000, though that was not as strange a sensation as being stopped in the street by Americans who recognise him from the Disney+ documentary Welcome to Wrexham.

Wrexham had been mired in non-league football for more than a decade when film stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney took over in February 2021. Now, the club is operating on a different plane altogether.

On the pitch, the team are back in the English Football League after a 15-year absence. Off it, they are famous across the world.

“It’s been incredible, from the minute we landed,” says Jason Roberts – a Wrexham fan of 45 years who has travelled to the USA from Wales to follow the club’s tour with his son Owen.

“We’re walking down the street and cars stop, people wind the windows down and shout things like: ‘Go Wrexham!’

“We’ve seen posters in shops and, whenever we’ve gone to a bar, we’ve met people from all over America who’ve come to watch Wrexham. In North Carolina, we met a family that had driven 12 hours from Tampa Bay to watch them play against Chelsea. We’ve met people from Kentucky, Georgia, Charlotte, Philadelphia. I have to pinch myself.

“A lot of them have been introducing themselves to me. I’m just your everyday fan and people are coming up to me and asking for a selfie or for me to sign a flag. I’m thinking they’re mistaking me for someone else but they tell me they love the Wrexham story and just want to be a part of it.

“We were in one bar in San Diego and ordering a round of drinks when a guy saw our Wrexham shirts and told us he loved the show and was putting all the drinks on his tab.

“I know it’s a mad statement, but we are America’s club. There are Wrexham shirts everywhere.”

Wrexham fans Jason Roberts (right) and his son Owen
Jason Roberts (right) and his son Owen have followed Wrexham throughout their tour of the USA

Welcome to Wrexham has been instrumental in the club’s new-found popularity, as demonstrated by the thousands of people who have flocked to the club’s American fan parks branded ‘Wrexham’s USA invasion’.

Whether they have been in North Carolina or California, these parks have been heaving with new Wrexham converts queuing for player autographs or having their photos taken with cardboard cut-outs of Reynolds and McElhenney.

The music blaring from the sound system is exclusively from Wales – ranging from Shirley Bassey to the Manic Street Preachers – while Welsh rarebit is on offer at food trucks. Even the beer has a Wrexham flavour as it is served by the pint at a pop-up version of the Turf – the pub near the club’s home ground.

“It’s crazy,” says the Turf’s landlord Wayne Jones, who features in the documentary and has made the journey to the US.

“People ask me all the time if life has changed. I’m just the same person. I’ll be cleaning the toilets this time next week, for example.

“But I’m in San Diego, with a mock-up Turf with thousands of fans cheering on Wrexham, so of course life has changed. But it’s all for the better.”

The fan park is a sea of red – not just replica Wrexham kits but also shirts resourceful new fans have made for themselves because official merchandise has sold out.

“As soon as I heard Rob and Ryan had bought the team, I did a deep dive and it spiralled from there,” says Keri Eaton – one of Wrexham’s recently converted American supporters, who took a 90-minute flight from Salt Lake City to be in San Diego.

“I watched a game in Welsh. I didn’t understand any of it but I was happy to get on board and I am all in.

“I like the fact they were kind of at the top but then they had been the underdog for so long. Then to have owners come along who are passionate, and not only care about the club but the town, that’s what I fell in love with.”

Wrexham keeper Ben Foster poses for a selfie with a fan during the pre-season friendly with Chelsea in North Carolina
Wrexham keeper Ben Foster poses for a selfie with a fan during the pre-season friendly with Chelsea in North Carolina

If this all sounds like a fanciful script their owners might be pitching to Hollywood producers, Wrexham’s financial projections should offer a starker reminder of the huge strides the club is making.

Turnover is expected to exceed £20m for the first time next season. It is a baffling figure for a League Two club but, then again, this is a baffling reality for a League Two club.

Which other team in the EFL’s fourth tier could dream of preparing for a new season by facing two former European champions on a different continent?

After losing 5-0 to Chelsea in North Carolina, Wrexham flew to California. There they beat LA Galaxy II 4-0 before a memorable 3-1 victory over Manchester United – albeit comprised primarily of under-21 players – in front of a sell-out crowd of nearly 35,000 in San Diego.

“It’s the equivalent of Port Vale playing Real Madrid in Thailand,” says Roberts. “It just wouldn’t happen, would it?

“Manchester United might be the biggest club in the world but, going around the USA and seeing it first-hand, we’re America’s club.

“We met a guy, Paul McCord, who had played for the Dallas Cowboys and had won the Super Bowl as a coach with the Baltimore Ravens. He’d watched the show with his son and now they’re all in as Wrexham fans.

“He came to the Manchester United game wearing his Super Bowl ring and said: ‘Here you go, try it on.’ I didn’t think I’d ever be wearing a Super Bowl winner’s ring.”

Wrexham co-owner Rob McElhenney speaks to players before the match
Wrexham co-owner Rob McElhenney was in attendance for Wednesday’s win over Manchester United

Wrexham still have one game left against Philadelphia Union II – from the hometown of McElhenney – before they fly back to Wales and prepare for the League Two season.

“Palm trees, beaches – it’s glorious. Wrexham away days are improving,” says Nathan Salt – a Daily Mail journalist and co-host of the RobRyanRed Wrexham podcast who has been in the US following the tour as a fan.

“It’s amazing. Everyone’s asking not just about Wrexham but Wales. Somebody came up to me asking about Snowdon, which I wasn’t expecting on Hollywood Boulevard.

“People are making their own merchandise because they can’t get hold of it. It’s Wrexham fever. In North Carolina, I saw a lot more Wrexham shirts than I did Chelsea, and I didn’t think I’d be saying that a few years ago.”

Wrexham will make their long-awaited return to league football when they host Milton Keynes Dons on Saturday, 5 August.

It is a measure of their new-found global status that for every home fixture Wrexham now allocate 75 tickets for their “international members”.

And while a game against MK Dons might not offer the same glamour of a meeting with Manchester United in San Diego, thousands of miles from their booming American fanbase, Wrexham will know the world is watching.

Watch on iPlayer bannerWatch on iPlayer footer


Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *