Relief. That was my overriding sentiment last Tuesday night. Just after 10p.m, the 9th February 2021, Wrexham fans all around the world (I think I can conceivably say that now), released a collective sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that the takeover is done; that the utopian ideal is here, tangible, and we can sleep easy again. But why this relief? Indeed, all this has me (over)thinking: what does this takeover mean for us – for the lifeblood of this club – the fans?
Football is a religion, the best idol we have in a world increasingly secularised and impersonalised. I don’t think that’s an exaggeration. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with this fanaticism, but it comes with all the mental baggage that any intense attachment engenders. When we lose, we’re damned to oblivion; when we win, we’re ‘on our way’, so to speak. But whatever happens, we’re powerless to detach ourselves; we always come back for more: over 4000 of us last season, over 5000 the season before that. We shouldn’t underestimate just how incredible these numbers are given our particular context. Since 2008, we’ve occupied purgatory, existing in a kind of vacuum, the wilderness of the National League. Here, good and bad, win and loss, seem to coalesce into the same end result: disappointment.
Disappointment. The word rings true for Wrexham fans like no other, at least in the last decade or so: it reminds us of ninety-eight points (98!), and a second-place finish to Jamie Vardy’s Fleetwood, or of four failed play-off campaigns: for each stinging loss, I exited the Racecourse believing us to be cursed. There’s another symbolic word. Perhaps because I support this club, it is destined for mediocrity. Egotistical no doubt, but sitting on the coach after our loss to Newport at Wembley in 2013, watching their fans jubilant in our misery, I knew this to be true, as I know the sky to be blue or the earth to be round. Wrexham AFC is cursed, I said, and no-one could convince me otherwise.
Much of this was bad luck, plain and simple. At other times, poor decisions stunted progress. But we need not get into that here. The WST, for all its footballing mistakes, hands the club over financially sound and structurally stable. That ought to count for something when we look back at its divisive legacy. Besides, all this in-fighting and antagonism has threatened to obscure the simple fact that we are all of us Wrexham fans. This passion, whether for good or bad, was always a consequence of our fanaticism.
And so, remarkably, as our progress on the pitch has declined, our numbers off it have expanded. If Ryan and Rob want evidence of the potential of this club, then I can provide no greater evidence. But as we all know too well, fanbase counts for little in the day-to-day scramble for success. Reel off a list of clubs who’ve had it worse than us in the last decade: the list will be a short one, I have no doubt.
This is the context that precedes the takeover. Given the relentlessness of our disappointment, who can blame us for our perennial pessimism? Even when the first press release dropped in September, I was sceptical: ‘An approach to invest in Wrexham AFC Limited has been received by two extremely well-known individuals of high net worth’. I was driving back to university when I read this, and my mum patiently listened for an hour as I threw potential names at her. Who was I expecting? I don’t know, but several weeks later our probing questions were answered (well, some of them). Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. I was stunned into silence. Being intimately involved only heightened the sense of unreality as the world sat up and turned its gaze to North Wales. Even now, reading their names seems almost inexplicable, too perfect; images of Ryan Reynolds and Steve Cleeve flash side by side in my mind. The future and the past, what is and what could have been. Is there a greater contrast as to the shift in our fortunes?
And this, I think, explains the particular anxiety that has racked us all for the past several months. An expectation that something will go wrong, because it always goes wrong: it will turn out to be a hoax, or the FCA will reject the contract, or Dean Keates will bore R&R so completely that they change their minds. But no 90th minute sucker-punch this time.
So we come to this moment, ecstatic and joyful and . . . relieved. Our new chairmen are official. In some sense, the result of this season is immaterial: it will do little to temper the explosion of optimism that has washed over us. Not even the pandemic will dull that. If anything, all this has increased our anticipation. The leather of our sofa is no replacement for the Mold Road; the warm, lulling ambience of our living rooms no replacement for the bite of wind on our necks. All of this is what makes football real. We can scream and curse all we like, but our television screen remains impervious to our protests. And so we are left in relative silence, watching a shell of the game we love.
But we can dream of our return. It’ll be a celebration in two parts: a celebration of normality and of unfamiliarity; of our old, old home and its new stewards. The Racecourse will be packed to the rafters (of that I’m quite sure) to greet the players, and to embrace friends and to indulge ourselves in that ever elusive feeling: hope. United as one, we can look to our chairmen with all the thanks in the world, and feel proud to call ourselves Wrexham fans. Who knows when, but it’ll come. Just the thought is a tonic like no other.
The despair of Newport, or of Fleetwood, feels a lifetime away. Even the relegation fears of last season seem inconsequential. Maybe with the benefit of hindsight, it’ll be easy to dismiss the lows of the past ten years as an exaggeration. But my desolation after Fleetwood or Newport was quite real; if I could head back in time I would reassure my 15-year old self that we are not cursed. Even then, maybe I would have thrown it back. But what I didn’t know then, I know now. Our slump is over, and a new chapter has begun. Two men have answered our prayers. They’re not God, but they might as well be within our tiny footballing family. To the neutral, this is all a passing joke; to us, it’s everything. And I have a feeling it’s going to be glorious.
By Euan Rice-Coates