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FA Cup: Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney revel in the FA Cup enchantment


When Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney took over lower league football club Wrexham AFC in 2021, it was widely assumed that it would be the Hollywood stars who would bring the magic.

Two years later, however, it’s not just a story about the A-listers liberally sprinkling stardust – it’s more about the Hollywood duo discovering the enchantment of English football, notably the FA Cup.

“I think what a lot of people don’t understand about the sport of football is how much anxiety it creates more than any other sport,” McElhenney told CNN’s Don Riddell as he reflected on Wrexham’s remarkable 4-3 win over Coventry City to reach the fourth leg of the world’s oldest competition.

“These last 20 minutes have been heartbreaking, it was among the best 20 and worst 20 minutes of my entire life,” added McElhenney, as he relived how Wrexham held nervously after leading 4-1 at a stage of the match.

The third oldest football club in the world, Wrexham have never played in English football’s top flight, but the club have a proud FA Cup record, having already reached the quarter-finals and beaten Arsenal in the third round in 1992 .

Currently playing in the National League – the fifth tier of English football – Wrexham were 60 places and three divisions below Coventry when the two sides met in the FA Cup third round.

McElhenney and Reynolds made headlines when they completed their takeover of the club in 2021, with ambitions to return the Welsh club to the top of football.

Wrexham are one of several Welsh teams that play in the English football league system due to the club being established before the Welsh football league was established.

At the time of the McElhenney and Reynolds takeover, Wrexham had languished outside the top four divisions of English football, known as the Football League, for over a decade.

McElhenney and Reynolds have already delivered a TV series – ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ – which documents their time at the club as it emerges from obscurity.

Second in the domestic league – behind leaders Notts County on goal difference, but having played one less game – if Wrexham win promotion they will play in English football’s League Two next season.

Get three more promotions and Wrexham will play in the Premier League.

And on Sunday, Wrexham host Sheffield United in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

United are second in the Championship – and on course to earn promotion to the Premier League – and are likely to provide a much tougher test than Coventry.

“I think, especially for Americans seeing a tournament like this, we just don’t have anything like it. So there’s something really, really special about this one,” McElhenney says.

The owners’ obvious passion for the club won the hearts of Wrexham fans and connected Philadelphia lad McElhenney with a rural community in Wales.

“I know those people, I grew up with those people, I’m one of those people and being welcomed into their community has been the ride of my life,” McElhenney added.

McElhenney’s love for soccer, like many in North America, is a new love.

The ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ star was more of an NFL and hockey man, but that changed when he watched a football documentary about Diego Maradona.

“I was watching this little man who was a magician, I never saw an athlete do what this man was able to do with football,” McElhenney recalled of the man widely regarded as one of the most great players in the world.

But it was Maradona’s successor – Lionel Messi – who consummated McElhenney’s love for the beautiful game.

“I had a friend say to me, ‘Do you think this guy is magic? I know another little guy who’s playing right now, who’s doing exactly what Madonna did, except he’s doing it at the higher level for a longer period.

“Of course it was Messi.”

McElhenney started to take more interest in football, although he admits to having struggled with the concept of promotion and relegation.

“It’s amazing how many times I’ve had to explain the system over the past year and a half to wide-eyed, slack-jawed Americans who’ve never heard of anything like it, and to be fair , I was one of them.”

McElhenney missed the final two minutes of Wrexham's win over Coventry when the American viewership temporarily dropped.

McElhenney loved the concept that a team could rise from nothing to the pinnacle of a sport through the merit of their performances.

“That was really the impetus for it all,” McElhenney said when buying Wrexham.

“It just made me spin the wheels in that what a great story, what a great opportunity to take on a legendary club with a rich history, which perhaps hasn’t succeeded at the level it should be and to invest in him.

“Not just in them, but in the community itself and to see if we could bring them back to their glory in a way that you just couldn’t do in American sports.”

An FA Cup fourth-round tie isn’t the only unexpected experience for McElhenney – in December he and Reynolds met King Charles III and Camilla, the Queen Consort.

The British monarch visited Wrexham to commemorate the granting of ‘town status’ as part of Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations earlier in the year.

As part of the royal visit, Charles and Camilla visited the Racehorse Ground – the oldest stadium in the world according to Guinness World Records and the home of AFC Wrexham – and shared a moment with the two actors on the pitch.

Wrexham Football Club co-owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney talk to Britain's King Charles and Queen Camilla, during their visit to Wrexham Football Club.

“I hadn’t planned to go in December, but when the king calls you, you jump on a plane and you come,” McElhenney recalled.

“Her Majesty made a joke which I thought was very funny to me and Her Majesty the Queen Consort, really curious and curious about the women’s team, what we were doing with the stadiums.

“We talked for over an hour, and I didn’t expect it at all. It was, it was truly an honor and something that I will cherish forever.

McElhenney and Reynolds have clearly been on quite the journey. A second set of ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ is due out later this year and with ambitions of reaching the Premier League there’s plenty more in store for the pair.

But Sunday’s opener against Sheffield United.

“I went there last summer and it’s a beautiful town full of great people, they couldn’t have been more welcoming,” smiled McElhenney.

“But they are of course now the enemy… I’m sharpening my blade for the Blades,” a reference to United’s nickname, which is a nod to Sheffield – once the steel capital of the world.

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