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Expressed by artificial intelligence.
WREXHAM, Wales — Sitting in the Royal Oak, a narrow but impossibly long pub in Wrexham town centre, Gary Tipping ponders the roller coaster fortunes of his favorite football team.
Wrexham Association Football Club (AFC) – a barely recognizable lower league side since being bought out by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney in 2021 – have just lost their season opener. But little can dampen the enthusiasm of Tipping or his fellow fans.
“What they’ve done for this city is beyond what I could have dreamed of,” he says.
“People want to see the city and breathe the atmosphere here,” adds his son Sam, 21, who has been going football with Gary since he was 5. “There’s a hype around the place.”
“Hype” was not a word once associated with Wrexham. The third-oldest professional football club in the world, it was going through tough times and struggling to stay afloat in the 2010s. But that all changed when Reynolds and McElhenney arrived, looking for a project and with money movie star to spend.
Wrexham’s fortunes were transformed by new players and a new manager, funded by US dollars. Fans came back in droves. A Netflix documentary series charting their progress, ‘Welcome to Wrexham’, has been a smash hit on both sides of the Atlantic. In May, the rejuvenated team was promoted to the professional football league after a 15-year absence.
The city also seems like a different place.
Strolling down a busy street in Wrexham on a Saturday evening, local call center worker Christopher Lamb points out a string of new bars that have opened in the past two years.
“The city had been in decline for some time since 2010. But it has changed a lot. Today there are a lot of American tourists here, although they don’t always go to the places that need the money,” says Lamb.
But not every struggling football club – or every struggling city – finds a superhero.
Football in the English leagues – where Wrexham play, despite the city’s location in North Wales – is a wildly uneven game. The hundreds of millions of pounds that fuel top Premier League clubs stand in stark contrast to the small budgets of lower league teams, most of whom are simply struggling to stay afloat.
Wrexham faced the same endless financial battles before its unlikely takeover, with financial difficulties leaving the team at sporting lows. Other clubs, constantly threatened with extinction, watch with envy and with a lingering sense of injustice.
Knights in shining armor?
“You have wonderful things like Wrexham, it’s a dream, isn’t it?” says Jenny Chapman, a former MP for the town of Darlington in the north east of the country, and now a Labor member of the House of Lords. “We were hoping for that knight in shining armor.”
First elected to Parliament in 2010, Chapman found herself embroiled in a local nightmare: the impending collapse of her town’s beloved soccer club.
Darlington FC had been placed in emergency financial proceedings on several occasions during the 2000s, after recklessly betting on a huge new stadium on the outskirts of the city. That purchase had been partly covered by a £4m loan from the club’s former owner George Reynolds – who arrived with ambitions to take the club to the Premier League but found himself in prison for tax evasion.
“It was a very difficult and upsetting time,” Chapman recalls.
“I’m not a football fan at all, I never claimed to be. But I felt very strongly that Darlington was a club with real heritage and was an important part of the community that needed to be supported and survived,” she adds.
As the club desperately searched for a buyer to save it from liquidation, Chapman spent hours each day on the phone with the club administrator and tried to vet and cajole potential buyers.
It didn’t help. Darlington was eventually kicked out of the Football Association in 2012. A fan-owned Phoenix club was set up in his place and is currently trying to rise from the bottom of English football’s pyramid.
“There was absolutely no support from Westminster,” Chapman recalled.
But a decade later, there are signs that Westminster is starting to pay attention. A similar collapse in 2019 at Bury FC – another lower league club in the north of England – grabbed headlines far beyond the Greater Manchester area and came just as politics around football was starting to change.
Constituencies including Wrexham, Bury and Darlington all went from Labor to Tories in 2019. All could be described as ‘Red Wall’ seats which the Tories promised under Boris Johnson to ‘step up’ and regenerate after years of office. -industrial decline.
Football is of particular importance in these seats. A study earlier this year by the centre-right think tank Onward showed that people in the north of England “are more likely to regard their local football team as one of the main sources of pride in the region “.
“You have to think about the institutions that are fundamental and essential in these places,” said Conservative MP John Stevenson, chairman of the Northern Research Group, a backbench Conservative caucus focused on support for the north of England.
“I always propose two: one concerns universities and the second football clubs. As a social, economic and sporting enterprise, football clubs are at the forefront of their communities.
dead and buried
Bury was kicked out of the English Football League in 2019, after the cash-strapped club failed to find a buyer. Onward’s research shows that clubs in the North – such as Bury and Darlington – have been particularly exposed to financial difficulties, often due to unscrupulous owners pushing them far beyond their means.
In response to Bury’s expulsion, Conservative MP and former Sports Minister Tracey Crouch was commissioned by Johnson’s government to carry out a fan-led study into the governance of English football clubs. The study, published in November 2021, recommended the creation of a new independent regulator for English football and the introduction of tests for better ownership of police clubs.
The government accepted Crouch’s call to establish a regulator in a white paper – a draft legislative document – responding to his review. But there is still no sign of any legislation to formally implement its recommendations, prompting furious complaints of foot-dragging.
“The fan-driven review has come a long way…but it feels incredibly slow. It took two years for a white paper to come out,” says Christian Wakeford, MP for Bury North, who switched from Conservative to Labor last year.
“There are so many clubs that are on the verge of no longer existing – we don’t want Burys anymore. It’s not fair to the fans and it’s not fair to a city.”
Conservative MP and NRG Chairman Stevenson adds: “I am convinced that governments of all persuasions have neglected [and] ignored northern communities. It’s not just about economies, it’s also about communities. And football clubs are an integral part of it.
A government official pointed to POLITICO on a speech given by Sports Minister Stuart Andrew in June at the English Football League’s annual conference, in which he acknowledged that there were “a number of clubs across the ‘EFL who are now in real distress’. Andrew said the government intended to publish its response to a consultation on the white paper “in the coming weeks”.
While some MPs eagerly await the government’s next decision, not everyone is convinced that it is up to the state to try to save clubs from the vagaries of the market, especially as the elite of the country seems to be in poor health.
Karren Brady, a Tory peer and vice-chairman of West Ham United, said last year that “a lot of the [the fan-led review] should be welcomed as a giant hole in the Wembley pitch.
“It undermines an industry that works better than most, and it’s hard to see what football has in common with banks or other financial institutions that also have regulators,” she wrote in the newspaper. Sun. “We have to remember that the Premier League is the envy of world sport, so why break it up because Bury went bankrupt?”
This is Wrexham
Back in Wrexham, the signs of what forward-thinking – and hugely wealthy – owners can do are on full display. It’s no surprise that MPs concerned about their own local success look upon the club with envy.
“All of a sudden everyone knows who Wrexham is – it had a huge effect,” says Geraint Andrews, a local engineer outside another successful town center bar.
Indeed, the whole town center is full of replica Wrexham AFC shirts and memorabilia dedicated to the club and the ‘This Is Wrexham’ documentary series. A Wrexham AFC mural adorns the glass of the city’s McDonald’s branch. American flags waved by tourists or fans who have taken Hollywood stars to heart are only slightly outnumbered by Welsh national flags.
Since the takeover in 2021, the town of Wrexham has even been officially transformed into a city. Amid the buzz around the takeover, it was also shortlisted for Britain’s City of Culture last year.
For fans of other small-town clubs, like Bury and Darlington – not to mention currently struggling Derby County – a bit of stability would be enough.
“Not everyone can win the league,” notes Stevenson of Northern Research Group.
“But in good times and in bad times, you want clubs to have financial stability and good management. That’s what we’re asking.