Wrexham A.F.C. – Wales’ Oldest Football Club

If you’re like me, you wouldn’t know much of Wrexham Football Club. Hell, I only heard of them a couple months ago, after one of my friends mentioned their new documentary on Disney+. Welcome to Wrexham, the series details the takeover of the club by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. I thought, “Cool, I’ll have to take a look.”  

But once you read of Wrexham, their significance in the Welsh identity and the culture of Welsh football as a whole, you learn about a club with rich turbulent history, which is deeply cared about by its fans. Arguably, Wrexham AFC has had a bigger impact on Welsh football than both Cardiff and Swansea, with them producing some of the highest highs and lowest lows. 

This takeover by the unlikely Hollywood duo has sparked something in Wrexham. It’s become a global franchise. Even my works manager (who I know has no interest in football whatsoever) has been talking about them. Ryan and Rob have put Wrexham back on the map, and they hope they can get the club, and the town, to a so called ‘promised-land.’ And I for one, am totally here for the ride. 

Ryan Reynolds (Left) and Rob McElhenny (Right) posing for the cover picture of ‘Welcome to Wrexham

The Dragons are Born – Wrexham’s Origins

Wrexham Football club is the oldest football club in Wales, and the third oldest professional association club in the world, after forming in October 1864 as an offshoot of the local cricket club.[1] The club would play its first game against the Prince of Wales Fire Brigade on October 22nd of the same year. Their home, known as the Racecourse Ground, hosted Wales’ first ever international match in March 1877, which makes the ground the oldest international football stadium in the world.[2] One that is still in continuous use to this day. 

Wrexham would become one of the most dominant forces in Welsh football in the late 19th century. They would win the Welsh cup (The Welsh equivalent of the FA Cup) four times before the end of the century, the best of which being a dominant 1883 victory.[3] The club would then join the Combination League in 1900, a league containing teams from the north-west of England north-east of Wales.[4] Wrexham would win the Combination a total of four times, in 1901, 1902, 1903, and 1905. With this, they cemented themselves as one of the best teams in Britain, let alone Wales.

By 1921, Wrexham had won the Welsh Cup fifteen times and had been promoted to the third division of the North Football League.[5] Success would continue at the Racecourse after the Second World War, winning the Welsh Cup another five times between 1945 and 1975. European football would first hit the Racecourse in the 1970s, where the team would become famous for its ‘giant-killing’, beating the likes of Anderlecht and Porto.[6]

Pryce Griffiths would buy the club in 1988, after a period of decline and monetary issues. In 2002, however, Griffiths would sell the club due to health concerns. Marking the start of a steep decline for the north-Walian club.[7]

Pryce Griffiths (Owner of Wrexham from 1988 to 2002. Pictured at the Racecourse Ground)

The Fall of a Giant – Wrexham’s Decline

Griffiths would hand over the majority of the club to Wrexham property developer Alexander Hamilton, who would come and destroy the club over his two years in charge.[8] Hamilton would kick Wrexham from the Racecourse and lead them into more and more debt. He would resign in November of 2004, to the joy of every Wrexham fan. But the damage was done, and the club was put into administration that same month.[9]

Wrexham would be bought by Neville Dickens in 2006 and put the club into more debt eventually selling it to Geoff Moss in 2009.[10] Moss would almost destroy the club, staff weren’t being paid, the Racecourse was desperate for renovation and to make matters worse, Moss built student accommodation on land owned by Wrexham. Bringing more debt to the club and betraying the fans, Moss put the club up for sale in 2011, with Wrexham Supporters Trust buying their beloved club in December.[11]

Geoff Moss (Owner of Wrexham from 2009 to 2011)
Geoff Moss (Owner of Wrexham from 2009 to 2011)

Supporters rallied together to raise over £100,000 in 7 hours to buy the club, people left wedding plans on hold, broke their piggy-banks and two fans even used the deeds to their houses as collateral.[12] This showed the prowess of the fans of the Red Dragons when rallied together. The club was fan owned from 2011 until 2021, where Ryan and Rob took over. 

More than just kicking a ball – Football’s Cultural significance in Wales

Throughout Wales, it is often believed that Rugby has had a larger cultural impact than football, however, football has had equal impact, if not more on the culture of Wales since the formation of Wrexham in 1864.[13]

In the late 19th century, football would become one of the largest sports within Wales, especially the north-east. The sport would be followed by thousands and would become a vehicle for regional and national patriotism.[14] Wrexham would become a hotspot for football and football culture in Wales, with it witnessing the creation of the Football Association of Wales (FAW) in 1876.[15] Eleven of the nineteen teams that entered the first Welch cup were formed in Wrexham, signifying how the game had grown in the area. 

By the 1880s, football had become something of a cultural arena within Wales, one which brough middle and working-class people together.[16] In 1879, Evan Morris of the FAW believed that ‘football should be encouraged’ as it ‘brings men together, high and low, rich and poor.’[17]

 And that it did, football in Wales would begin to bring thousands of together in the support of one team. Sometimes football even transcended into the world of politics, where Welsh miners went on strike and held a meeting at the Racecourse in 1882.[18]

The turn of the century would begin to see the football culture in Wales change from bringing working and middle classes together to something inherently different. Football would shift from an expression of supporting one’s club, to one of expressing Wales’ difference with its neighbour, England.[19]

In the 20th century, football would be used to shape the Welsh national identity, after a resurgence of the Welsh nationality at the end of the previous century.[20] After the Second World War and the emergence of more international competitions, football would become a vehicle for expressing the Welsh identity outside of Britain, an identity that tried to show itself as different from its neighbour that overshadowed it. 

In the 1960s and 1970s, with the decline of the Welsh language due to English being used in schools and the decline of the Welsh ‘way of life’, many took to football as a way of proving their ‘Welshness.’[21]

The Wrexham Association Football Club team, League Division Four, UK, 16th December 1961. (Photo by Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

With the Welsh identity in decline, many fans took to their football club to show their ‘Welshness’, with one Wrexham fan stating, “It was on the packed ‘Kop’ that we became true Welshmen.’[22] And so, regional rivalries, with each clubs fans believing they were the ‘true Welshmen.’ 

During the 1970s and 80s, with the decline of the heavy industry within Wales became a source of widespread resentment. Even Wrexham sudffered heavily with the closure of the Bersham Colliery in 1986 and the Brymbo ironworks in 1990. 

This resentment began to adopt a national spin and anti-Englishness began to grow within Welsh football.[23] This national identity became more aggressive, creating the football hooligan culture we know of today.[24] The definition of Welshness always spun back to what it originally was, being against the English ‘other.’ 

“Up The Town” – Wrexham Goes Hollywood

The Wrexham takeover sparks something similar, fans are regaining an identity with Wrexham. With Ryan and Rob sparking a new life into a dying club, Wrexham is on the up, and the figures show it. 

In the 2022-23 season, the club sold 5,892 season tickets, which is more than double the previous season.[25] The club would also sell more than 14,000 shirts in 2022-23, which is a 259% increase from the season prior, and thanks to the owners, many of these shirts were sold overseas.[26]

Even more so, Wrexham have increased their social media presence, with an eye-catching sponsorship deal with the social media platform TikTok (Also having a page on there too).[27] They have more followers than ever on both Instagram and Twitter, and thanks to the celebrity of both Rob and Ryan, Wrexham have been included in the most recent FIFA game.[28] The first ever club from the fifth tier of football to do so. 

Fans have welcomed their new owners with open arms, with one fan calling their takeover a ‘disbelief.’[29]Many fans are ‘optimistic’, and some see supporting the club as ‘fashionable.’[30]


Wrexham fans comment on the takeover (credit to The Parked Bus Podcast)

“This is the third oldest club on the planet, and we don’t see why it can’t have a global appeal. We want Wrexham to be a global force”

-Ryan Reynolds

Ryan and Rob have clearly done their homework. And while its still early days it can be said that they’re making a new culture in Wrexham with the football club. One of global recognition, but also highlighting Wales’ most significant piece of culture; that its different from England. Wrexham sit second in the league, and only time can tell what lies ahead. 


Footnotes

[1] Wrexhamafc.co.uk Editors, ‘The Oldest Professional Football Club in Wales’, <https://www.wrexhamafc.co.uk/club/history/>, [accessed on 10th November 2022] (para. 1 of 17). 

[2] Wrexhamafc.co.uk Editors, ‘Why Wrexham?: 158th Anniversary of First Ever Match’, <https://www.wrexhamafc.co.uk/club/why-wrexham/>, [accessed on 10th November 2022] (para. 7 of 65).  

[3] The Wrexham Advertiser Editors, ‘Wrexham Football Club: Dinner and Presentation of the Welch Challenge Cup’, The Wrexham Advertiser, 2nd June 1883. The National Library of Wales <https://newspapers.library.wales/view/4590097/4590105/62/Wrexham%20football%20club>.

[4] The Wrexham Advertiser Editors, ‘The Wrexham Football Club’, The Wrexham Advertiser, 30th June 1900. The National Library of Wales. <https://newspapers.library.wales/view/4594406/4594411/54/Wrexham%20football%20club>.

[5] Wrexhamafc.co.uk Editors, para. 21 of 65. 

[6] Wrexhamafc.co.uk Editors, para. 30 of 65. 

[7] Aanu Omorodion, Wrexham AFC in the 21st Century and the Path to its Acquisition by Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney: Part 1(2021), <https://breakingthelines.com/investigation-piece/wrexham-afc-in-the-21st-century-and-the-path-to-its-acquisition-by-ryan-reynolds-and-rob-mcelhenney-part-1/> [accessed on 10th November 2022] (para. 5 and 6 of 34.). 

[8] Omorodion, para. 6 of 34.

[9] Omorodion, para. 14 of 34. 

[10]Omorodion, para. 21 of 34. 

[11] Omorodion, para. 25 of 34. 

[12] Sportsmail Reporter, Wrexham Fans stump up £127,000 in ONE day to pull club back from the brink (2011) <https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2024542/Wrexham-fans-raise-127-000-save-club.html> [accessed on 11th November 2022] (para. 4 of 11).

[13] Martin Johnes, ‘We Hate England! We Hate England? National Identity and Anti-Englishness in Welsh Soccer Fan Culture’, Cycnos, 25.2 (2008), 1-11 <https://epi-revel.univ-cotedazur.fr/cycnos/294.pdf> [accessed on 18th November 2022] (p. 5).

[14] Martin Johnes and Ian Garland, “The New Craze’: Football and Society in North-East Wales, c. 1870-90’, Welsh History Review, 22 (2004), 278-304 (p. 278).

[15] Martin Johnes, Anglo-Welsh Football Relations: A History (2021), <https://martinjohnes.com/2021/07/12/anglo-welsh-football-relations/> [accessed on 18th November 2022] (para. 3 of 28). 

[16] Johnes and Garland, p. 289. 

[17] Johnes and Garland, p. 291. 

[18] Johnes and Garland, pp. 302-303. 

[19] Johnes, para. 1 of 28). 

[20] Johnes, para. 3 of 28). 

[21] See Martin Johnes, “A cottonwool fuzz at the back of the mind.’ Language and nationhoods, 1951-70, pp. 178-211 and ‘Nationalists of many varieties.’ 1951-70, pp. 212-244, in Wales Since 1939 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012). 

[22] Johnes, p. 205. 

[23] Johnes, p. 8.

[24] Johnes, para. 18 of 28). 

[25] Wrexhamafc.co.uk Editors, ONE YEAR ON – How Wrexham AFC has Changed Since the Takeover (2022), <https://www.wrexhamafc.co.uk/news/2022/february/one-year-on–how-wrexham-afc-has-changed-since-the-takeover/>  [accessed 11thNovember 2022] (para. 9 of 28). 

[26] Wrexhamafc.co.uk Editors, para. 25 of 28).

[27] Wales.com Editors, Wrexham AFC’s Rise to Stardom <https://www.wales.com/visit/sport/wrexham-goes-hollywood> [accessed on 11th November 2022] (para. 10 of 15).

[28] Wales.com Editors, para. 10 of 15. 

[29] Mattha Busby and Rachel Orbodo, ‘Where the Hell did that Come From?’: Wrexham Fans on the Takeover (2020), <https://amp.theguardian.com/football/2020/nov/25/where-the-hell-did-that-come-from-wrexham-fans-on-the-takeover>  [accessed on 11th November 2022] (para. 3 of 14). 

[30] Hugh Morris, Always Sunny in Wrexham? Here’s how the club’s fans feel about its celeb takeover (2021) <https://theface.com/culture/wrexham-afc-ryan-reynolds-always-sunny-philadelphia-rob-mcelhenney-fans> [accessed on 11th November 2022] (para. 9 of 15). 


Bibliography

Busby, Mattha, and Rachel Orbodo, ‘Where the Hell did that Come From?’: Wrexham Fans on the Takeover(2020), <https://amp.theguardian.com/football/2020/nov/25/where-the-hell-did-that-come-from-wrexham-fans-on-the-takeover>  [accessed on 11th November 2022]

Johnes, Martin, A cottonwool fuzz at the back of the mind.’ Language and nationhoods, 1951-70, pp. 178-211 in Martin Johns, Wales Since 1939 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012)

———, Anglo-Welsh Football Relations: A History (2021), <https://martinjohnes.com/2021/07/12/anglo-welsh-football-relations/> [accessed on 18th November 2022]

———, Nationalists of many varieties.’ 1951-70, pp. 212-244, in Martin Johnes, Wales Since 1939(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012)

———, and Ian Garland, “The New Craze’: Football and Society in North-East Wales, c. 1870-90’, Welsh History Review, 22 (2004), 278-304

———, ‘We Hate England! We Hate England? National Identity and Anti-Englishness in Welsh Soccer Fan Culture’, Cycnos, 25.2 (2008), 1-11 <https://epi-revel.univ-cotedazur.fr/cycnos/294.pdf>. [accessed on 18thNovember 2022] 

Morris, Hugh, Always Sunny in Wrexham? Here’s how the club’s fans feel about its celeb takeover (2021) <https://theface.com/culture/wrexham-afc-ryan-reynolds-always-sunny-philadelphia-rob-mcelhenney-fans> [accessed on 11th November 2022]

Omorodion, Aanu, Wrexham AFC in the 21st Century and the Path to its Acquisition by Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney: Part 1 (2021), <https://breakingthelines.com/investigation-piece/wrexham-afc-in-the-21st-century-and-the-path-to-its-acquisition-by-ryan-reynolds-and-rob-mcelhenney-part-1/> [accessed on 10thNovember 2022]

Sportsmail Reporter, Wrexham Fans stump up £127,000 in ONE day to pull club back from the brink (2011) <https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2024542/Wrexham-fans-raise-127-000-save-club.html> [accessed on 11th November 2022]

Wales.com Editors, Wrexham AFC’s Rise to Stardom <https://www.wales.com/visit/sport/wrexham-goes-hollywood> [accessed on 11th November 2022]

Wrexham Advertiser Editors, ‘The Wrexham Football Club’, The Wrexham Advertiser, 30th June 1900. The National Library of Wales. <https://newspapers.library.wales/view/4594406/4594411/54/Wrexham%20football%20club> [accessed on 10th November 2022] 

———, ‘Wrexham Football Club: Dinner and Presentation of the Welch Challenge Cup’, The Wrexham Advertiser, 2nd June 1883. The National Library of Wales <https://newspapers.library.wales/view/4590097/4590105/62/Wrexham%20football%20club> [accessed on 10th November 2022] 

Wrexhamafc.co.uk Editors, ONE YEAR ON – How Wrexham AFC has Changed Since the Takeover (2022), <https://www.wrexhamafc.co.uk/news/2022/february/one-year-on–how-wrexham-afc-has-changed-since-the-takeover/>  [accessed 11th November 2022] 

———, ‘The Oldest Professional Football Club in Wales’, <https://www.wrexhamafc.co.uk/club/history/>, [accessed on 10th November 2022]

———, Why Wrexham?: 158th Anniversary of First Ever Match’, <https://www.wrexhamafc.co.uk/club/why-wrexham/> [accessed on 10th November 2022]

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