‘The Wrexham story is bigger than soccer and epitomises the relationship of sport and community’
AS USA caught up with Michael McGinnis founder of Go Wrexham, a San Diego (CA) based Wrexham AFC fan club to analyse the club’s international appeal.
Following the 2021 acquisition of the football club from North Wales by Hollywood superstars Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds, things will never be the same for again for the town of Wrexham. Sporting success coupled with the immense popularity of the ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ documentary has seen the club attract a new legion of fans from all corners of the world.
As Phil Parkinson’s team prepare for life in the EFL preceded by the forthcoming USA pre-season tour, we caught up with one of the many Stateside based ‘Red Dragons’ supporters groups to analyse the global Wrexham phenomenon.
What prompts a guy from San Diego, 5,000 miles away from North Wales to start a supporters club for a fifth division team in the English football pyramid?
It’s a great question… I’m originally a Manchester United fan and was invited to the Snapdragon Stadium for the announcement about United coming to town to play Wrexham. I had previously watched the Welcome to Wrexham documentary and it really caught my attention. The event was attended by the likes of United legend Andy Cole, Landon Donovan was there too and Rob McElhenney also showed up. I got a chance to talk to Rob and my first question was “okay the truth, what’s really behind this Wrexham thing?”. His answer was so frank and honest as he talked about the community aspect and how important it was to really understand that that element was the backdrop to everything that they had learned with the acquisition.
In my time travelling, I’ve seen how soccer can impact local communities around the world and as I dug deeper into the Wrexham thing and began to speak to people in the town it was enriching to discover amazing people who began to share about the nature of what Wrexham AFC means on a local level. I believe this is a story much bigger than just soccer and much bigger than just Wrexham. It is a story about the interrelationship of sport and community.
We’ve seen the opposite scenario with the Manchester United’s American owners and investors who seem only focused on big business. We’ve also seem the impact here with the San Diego Chargers packing up and leaving to go to LA. The team was the heart and soul for so many and it was just ripped apart.
I really feel that we need to rediscover the importance of the interrelationship of sport and community and this is my chance to just add my voice in a small way.
With the documentary being your introduction to Wrexham AFC, were you aware of the existence of the club previous to that?
Not at all, I knew plenty about the big names in the Premier League and La Liga but it was a Welsh friend of mine who insisted that I watch the documentary. I have to admit that Welcome to Wrexham left a major impact and images such as that 90 year-old gentleman talking about what the club means to him was really powerful.
You mentioned your interaction with Rob McElhenney at the presentation for the United vs Wrexham game at the Snapdragon. Have you had any more communication with the pair?
Just that conversation a few weeks back, they are incredibly busy and the club has consumed so much of their time. I hope that that initial talk with Rob does develop as the game in July gets closer as it would be interesting to pick their brains a little bit more.
Football fans are critical by nature but I think even the most cynical Wrexham fans would acknowledge that Rob and Ryan’s interests are genuine and positive. How do you see their ownership going forward?
From my conversation with Rob It was clear, he spoke from the heart and their interests are genuine and my hope and belief is that both Ryan and Rob are on board for the long term. Of course, their business venture is important to them but I think they have the vision to edge the club forward. But it’ll be interesting to see how things go in League 2 next season. How will the team cope and will that international and national interest remain or will some see it as a novelty?
At present there’s episode two of Welcome to Wrexham to come plus the US tour but how long can this momentum last...Should the club spend two or three seasons in League 2 will interest globally remain?
Let’s see if we get past that honeymoon phase. Leaders influence the culture of any organisation and I’m confident in Rob and Ryan and believe they’ll give the project the best chance to grow. There are so many who want to see this phenomenon continue. What’s happened at Wrexham is a great story, and hopefully it’ll continue to help to influence other soccer communities and towns and cities around the world today too, but I get that there’s just as many questions as answers right now.
I know that there are some lifelong Manchester City fans angry that they can’t watch big City matches with international fans now getting priority tickets for key games. Can you see this situation emerging at Wrexham where international demand for tickets at The Racecourse edges local fans out?
Growth always brings new challenges and of course there will be plenty of related questions.
Hopefully the community element will persist and be complimented by these outside influences and influx of fans but sure I can understand that there will be questions asked. I genuinely love this is this is a case study where the Wrexham community which has now become a global community.
But this has been such a dramatic change in a short period of time?
It has but I hope all that go to Wrexham go with an open mind and want to understand this culture. I’d hope that there are no desires to ‘Americanize’ it or change it. I’ve seen instances where Americans typically want it to be done ‘our way’. I hope that there’s a much greater focus on understanding ‘their way’.
This comes back to trust again? Trusting that Rob and Ryan are respectful as custodians and not trying to force through situations that would not sit well with local fans?
That was something that Rob alluded to when talking to me. He stated that there was an innocence initially about the project but also a thirst to learn. That’s not something you often see with financial investments where profit is always premium.
The pandemic has created plenty of broken parts, a lot of frustration, people not willing to listen. We’ve also lost a sense of community. The Wrexham story is a little glimpse of this return to a community ideal.
And in terms of the San Diego group, what have you lined up for the season ahead … watch parties, the Snapdragon game?
We plan to offer a resource to be able to connect with all Wrexham fans to share from our experiences and offer a collection point for these stories which all help this growing of a community in a very positive way as we’ve seen happen in Wrexham. And of course, a trip to the Racecourse Ground would be a lot of fun. So fingers crossed.
The Wrexham AFC San Diego supporters branch can be contacted via email at: email@example.com , follow them on @GoWrexmamFC