Lights, camera, Wrexham: Film stars bring glamour to Welsh football outpost
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Paris (AFP) –
Wrexham will bring a rare sprinkling of stardust to the fifth tier of English football when they belatedly kick off their National League campaign at Solihull Moors on Saturday.
The club from the market town and former mining hub in northeast Wales only missed the promotion playoffs for a place in the Football League by one point last season, but that is not the reason for the upsurge in optimism.
Wrexham has surprising new owners and while most fans in Britain dread Americans taking over their clubs, so far at Wrexham the signs are good. One of them is also very big.
Last weekend, huge white letters imitating the famous Hollywood sign but spelling out 'W.R.E.X.H.A.M' appeared above the town, although, instead of the sun-kissed hills above Tinsel Town, the sign rests on the slagheap of a disused coalmine.
It emerged on Friday that the sign had been paid for by the sponsors of the National League.
In February, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, two Hollywood movers and shakers, bought the club, saying they wanted to turn it into a "global force".
Canadian Reynolds is a Hollywood A lister, the star of "Deadpool" and the former husband of Scarlett Johansson.
McElhenney has a less glitzy filmography but has produced long-running US TV hit "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia".
Now the pair face the more difficult task of making Wrexham sunny.
The club has a proud history but has never come close to being a 'global force'.
Until this year its most famous name was Joey Jones, who became the first Welshman to win the European Cup when he was with Liverpool but had three spells and 270 games at Wrexham.
Wrexham played in the Football League from 1921 to 2009, reaching the second division for four seasons in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Before they were exiled from the Welsh Cup because they opted to remain in the English leagues, Wrexham appeared eight times in the old Cup Winners Cup, losing 2-1 on aggregate to Anderlecht in the quarter-finals in 1976.
They have been stuck among English football's barely-noticed since 2009.
Yet star power is drawing in fans. The club halted season-ticket sales at 5,500 at the 10,500-capacity Racecourse Ground. In 2019-20, Wrexham drew an average of 4,057.
Promoting his latest blockbuster, "Free Guy", Reynolds found himself in the unusual position, for a Hollywood actor, of discussing Wrexham.
- 'Super excited' -
"Well, first off, super excited," he told a press conference this month. "I mean, we've made no secret of that, it's the role of a lifetime for both me and for Rob McElhenney."
He also made clear he was aware of British fans' suspicion of Americans.
"I wouldn't dare call it soccer," he said. "I care about my well-being enough to not call it soccer."
Reynolds is not the only Hollywood star getting into soccer.
Eva Longoria owns stakes in Nexaca in Mexico and, like Natalie Portman, in Angel City FC, a Los Angeles women's team.
Will Ferrell, Matthew McConaughey and Drew Carey own stakes in Major League soccer franchises.
In the 1950s and 1960s baseball was fashionable. Bing Crosby invested in the Pittsburgh Pirates, Bob Hope in the, now renamed, Cleveland Indians, Danny Kaye in the Seattle Mariners. Bill Murray has a stake in the minor-league St Paul Saints.
Justin Timberlake invested in the Memphis Grizzlies and Will Smith and his wife Jada Pinkett-Smith in another NBA team, the Philadelphia 76ers.
Adopted Australian Russell Crowe is part owner of Australian rugby league club the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Wrexham kick off their season on Saturday after their opening home game was cancelled when opponents Yeovil reported covid-19 cases in their squad.
So far, Wrexham have shown no interest in joining the other glamour clubs in chasing Lionel Messi or Harry Kane, but among the summer dealings, which brought in players from Morecambe, Port Vale and Cefn Druids, they also hired manager Phil Parkinson, whose last job was in charge of Sunderland.
"We've got to live with that expectancy," he told the Guardian this week.
"The owners are very genuine," Parkinson said. "They've got an incredible passion about what they want to achieve...They want to win."
© 2021 AFP