Wrexham: Cup run may be over but Hollywood dreams live on

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Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney at the Racecourse
Movie stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney completed a takeover of Wrexham in February 2021

When Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney first took charge at Wrexham, their mission statement made no reference of success in the FA Cup.

The aim was always about growing the team, the club, the stadium and the feel-good factor around the community – with promotions along the way.

And so Blackburn’s comfortable fourth round victory should not be seen as any unfortunate plot twist to scupper Wrexham’s story.

However, as their team exited at the same stage to Championship opposition for a second successive season, it is the FA Cup that shines a light on both the romanticism and the reality of what the Hollywood ownership want to achieve at the Racecourse.

Wrexham’s long history is one intertwined with cup success: three times quarter-finalists as a third tier side, their iconic 1992 success against Arsenal, and so many more.

It is the beauty of the cup and its predictable unpredictability that would make it so alluring to those only now becoming charmed by the game via Wrexham’s primetime US profile.

“Cup competitions aren’t really a thing in the States,” said Humphrey Ker, Wrexham’s English executive director who splits his time between north Wales and north America.

“One of the things I’ve found talking to people over here is you don’t often have those concurrent competitions across a season – they would stop to play a cup competition and pick the season back up – so initially it was about wrapping their heads about that,” he told BBC Radio Wales Sport in the build-up to Monday night’s fourth round tie.

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“But anyone associated with Wrexham quickly gets to hear about Mickey Thomas and Steve Watkin and 1992, and great results in the past against Newcastle and West Ham.

“For a lot of lower league clubs those are some of the greatest days in their history, so very quickly Rob and Ryan, myself and anyone else coming into the club have been swept up in that excitement as well.”

McElhenney’s unprompted tweets of congratulations to sixth-tier Maidstone after their win at Ipswich back up the claim.

It is simply not something that happens in US sports – and yet what movie audience would not cheer for the underdog winning?

It is the same against-the-odds narrative, with their owners’ celebrity attachment, that has worked so far in making Wrexham such a name Stateside.

That is the romantic part, with Ker admitting that the documentary simply “shines a light on what we already love” about such things as the magic of the cup.

Andy Cannon scores for Wrexham at Blackburn
Andy Cannon put Wrexham ahead after 19 minutes before Blackburn went on to win the FA Cup fourth round tie 4-1

Reality check

But Rovers offered a reality check about where, away from the cup, Wrexham stand in continuing their story up the divisions.

After all, their hosts’ Championship status is not beyond the aspirations of Wrexham who took 7,000 fans to Ewood Park.

“There’s been so much progress made in the last few years but there’s still a lot of progress to be made,” Nathan Salt of the Rob, Ryan, Red Wrexham podcast said on Radio Wales Sport.

“The squad has done wonders but there’s no secret that changes are going to be made, players who have become fans favourites will go out of the door, players out of contract.”

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After the game, manager Phil Parkinson talked of the defeat being “a great lesson against players of that calibre” but added his team knew where their focus was. Currently second in the League Two table, with back-to-back promotions a possibility, he said he was looking forward to “a really exciting second half of the season”.

Former Wrexham striker and player-manager Andy Morrell admitted the defeat may be something Parkinson can use to ask for help before Thursday’s transfer deadline and beyond.

“Whether it will take a couple of players to take them to that next level, but they’re not a million miles away,” Morrell told Radio Wales Sport.

“I would go and get another striker to play alongside [Paul) Mullin. It’s difficult in January, it will take a bit of money, but if the owners want to go where they say they want to, maybe this is the time to go and strengthen.”

It could prove decisive to this season and to the hopes of a second successive promotion and third-tier football for the first time in almost 20 years.

But what of the reality of the dreams beyond that?

Asked about whether there was the need or the interest in extra investment given Wrexham’s growing profile and increasing demands, Ker said: “I don’t doubt when the time comes that more investment is required.

“We’ve often talked about that transition from the bottom of the Championship to the top end would require a huge amount of money, and from there to the Premier League even more. When the time is right I am very confident they [Reynolds and McElhenney] would be inundated with offers.”

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That is all for another day. With the FA Cup over for this season, it is Salford on Saturday that is of more concern in the here and now.

“Blackburn was a stark reminder of where we want to be and how we have to be better to get there,” added Morrell.

“But if you don’t have dreams and hopes then you don’t get 7,000 travelling to Blackburn. The owners have got huge aims, and it might take ten years or might never happen.

“But look at Luton; they changed managers, players, favourites, but they got there. There’s no reason it can’t happen at this club with the owners they have and the finances they have got.

“And you just have to enjoy the ride because it is better than being at the bottom worrying about if the ground is going to be sold and who is going to pay the players.”

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