Choose the odd to watch El Clasico at the Camp Nou, Premier League leaders Arsenal playing in Europe, Erling Haaland scoring five goals for Manchester City and a Vanarama National League game between Bromley and Wrexham.
A year ago, it was not such a difficult task. However, after the Welcome to Wrexham documentary put the Welsh club owned by Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney on the world sporting map, the lines have become quite blurry.
Suddenly spending an afternoon cheering on Wrexham in a south London suburb, perhaps most famous for being the filming location for the iconic Monty Python sketch, Spam is on many a football fan’s bucket list.
“You might not believe it, but Wrexham was probably the hardest to get tickets of all the games we’re seeing,” says Andy Popell, who flew to the UK with four friends from California.
“Even the hospitality suite was sold out. As Americans, it’s pretty hard to get tickets anyway. You’re not official fans and the other weird thing that’s different from the US is that they don’t release tickets until a week or two before.
“That made things a bit stressful. We were asking each other, ‘Are we really going to be able to get the tickets or not?’ We didn’t find out until a few days ago.
“But we all wanted to be here, watching this familiar team on TV.”
the athletic He will join Popell and his friends, Teymy Bahmani, Barney Schauble, Marcus Sandoval and England’s Jason Davey, for a day in the capital. Kickoff is still a couple of hours away when we meet, but the excitement of the group is clear for all to see.
The five have had a great time. So good, in fact, that this maiden voyage may well become a regular event with several friends back home who have already expressed interest in any future voyages across the Atlantic.
Leeds United’s Elland Road was the first group stop for last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion, followed by the Etihad Stadium as Haaland knifed RB Leipzig in a Champions League win by 7-0 on Tuesday night, and then Arsenal for their Europa League penalty shootout loss to Sporting SC two days later.
Sunday night will be spent at the Camp Nou as Real Madrid take on Barcelona in arguably the best game in club football. For now though, all their attention is focused on Wrexham’s quest for promotion to the English Football League (EFL) with the group’s determination to be here bringing a small windfall for a local property owner.
“Our flight to Barcelona leaves tonight at 7:30 pm,” explains Andy, already looking at his watch. “So, we booked an Airbnb 10 minutes from the ground just to store our luggage and then go directly to the airport after the game.
“It’s going to be a handshake.”
Community. It’s the one word that keeps coming up in conversation when discussing why Wrexham’s history with its glamorous owners has struck a chord with this particular group of soccer fans from Marine County, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.
“It’s easy for us, as a group that supports the Arsenals, Chelseas and Manchester Citys of this world,” says Davey, who spent his first 10 years at Newcastle before moving to Brighton and then emigrating to the US.
“We all know the benefits and advantages that these clubs have. But at that level of football, a large part of the culture and authenticity of the game is missing. The meaning, if you will. Wrexham, as a story, has that.
“The first episode really focused on Ryan Reynolds’ background and his working-class upbringing. His principles of supporting the underdog and perhaps the underserved, to a degree.
“Those were compelling reasons and motivation for him. And you really see how seriously he takes ownership responsibility. He recognizes the value of the club for the community”.
As someone involved in the creation of the Oakland Roots SC, a team that plays in the USL Championship, the second tier of soccer in the US with only Major League Soccer above it, Barney was also drawn to the community element of the story. for Wrexham, which this season extends to the club giving away 200 free tickets per home game through local charities and groups to help those who might not otherwise be able to attend.
“We don’t have promotion or relegation in the United States,” says Schauble. “But we still face some of the same issues that Wrexham did in the documentary – the pitch, the selection issues and all the other unwieldy things you can face when trying to do something for the community around football.
“It was fun to see something similar to what we’ve experienced in the Bay Area through a different lens.”
series one of Welcome to Wrexham —first screened last fall on FX in the US and Disney+ in the UK— charted the acquisition of Reynolds and McElhenney and their first 16 months at the helm.
If the premise (a TV actor inspired by watching the Netflix series Sunderland Til I Die joins forces with a Hollywood celebrity he’s never met to buy a fifth-tier football club) had been presented as a fictional story revolving around Tinseltown , no doubt the script would have been rejected as too exaggerated.
The reality, however, worked quite well with the audience gradually finding themselves drawn in over the course of 18 episodes to such an extent that Wrexham’s loss to Grimsby Town in the play-offs can really sting.
“I think this show has brought new people to the sport,” says Bahmani, who attended his first MLS game in New York. “There are so many hooks, including the characters introduced, plus the city, the players, and the owners.
“Watching Rob and Ryan suffer through 0-0 ties and nail-biting endings is real. Shows pursuing promotion in a serious way. Not like Ted Lasso, where everything is played for laughs and winning doesn’t really matter. Here, the result is everything.”
Sandoval agrees, adding that even those with little interest in the sport at home are now talking about events at the Racecourse Ground. “My children, my ex-wife, family and friends ask me about Wrexham even though I don’t know anything about football,” he says. “That’s because of Ryan’s star power. He is a cultural figure.
“However, people come to football, I think it’s great. The main point is that they are watching a program with deep details about soccer and asking questions. That has to be a good thing.”
When he relays the news of the trip to family and friends back in the States, Sandoval will be able to regal them with stories of a great afternoon for Wrexham in the title race. Two Paul Mullin goals, taking his season goal total to 40, were enough to secure a 2–1 win over Bromley as second-placed Notts County drew 1–1 with Barnet.
The Easter Monday showdown between the top two still looks to be pivotal in the promotion race, but the Welsh club now boast a three-point lead at the top, with the added bonus of one game in hand.
For Popell and his friends, the trip to the UK has been a good one.
“Leeds was the first game,” he says. “As Americans, we chose that because there are three Americans on the team. “As well as a fired American coach (Jesse Marsch). He was still at work when we bought the tickets. That’s okay, because we care more about the players anyway! We knew there would be goals in that.
“Then, we saw Haaland score those five goals, and then Arsenal. We even got into an impromptu soccer game (against a London-based team) that we organized through a website called footyaddicts.com. We’re all 50 and older, so a win for us is always without hamstring strains. That’s why we were so pleased to see a hospital (St Thomas’s) so close to where we were playing at Archbishop’s Park.
“But we actually won the game. We were 3-0 down and they got a little cocky, saying things like, ‘They’re never going to score.’ So, it was great to come back and win 5-3, with Jason scoring a hat-trick, although one could have been an own goal.
Yet to come, as they make their way to Gatwick airport via the nearby Airbnb property rented solely to store their luggage, is that Camp Nou blockbuster between the top two teams in La Liga.
Regardless of the result in Spain, Wrexham and their supporters have left a lasting impression on the group. “The Wrexham fans who have supported us are very committed and vocal,” says Popell, whose group had to leave five minutes before the end of the victory in Bromley after the start was delayed 15 minutes due to traffic congestion. . “They really hugged us in the afternoon.
“We even traded a Charleston Battery jersey for a Wrexham scarf.”
Sandoval’s Charleston jersey was given to Janet, Derek and Daniel Jones of Coedpoeth, Wales (above), a deal that the visiting USA considered more than a fair trade.
“I hope that we as Americans never spend our welcome on the Wrexham fans,” adds Sandoval. “We also see it partly as our club.”
(Top photo: Richard Sutcliffe)