We already went over how Welcome To Wrexham spent the first four episodes of its first season basically extolling how charming, funny, and nice Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney are. The show isn’t meant for footy diehards, which is fine — it’s really meant for anyone who is already in love with these two to fall more so. It’s a worthy goal; there’s probably more than enough of that crowd to give the show good ratings. Whether or not they put a football club’s future and that club’s fans’ emotions in the blender to achieve that was to be determined.
Not much has changed in the season’s ensuing seven episodes, though the duo finally did make it over to Wales to meet everyone. And they did and said all the right things, though celebrating the fact that they were hungover as shit for their first meeting with their manager to figure out the future of their roster isn’t cool when you’re not in college and are in charge of a football club (though incredibly relatable, admittedly).
Still, last night’s episode 10, which was entirely focused on hooliganism, seems to have a weird goal of painting it as a much larger problem than it might be, while also trying to lionize the purchase Reynolds and McElhenney have made simply by making it. Which has seemingly been the goal of the whole series, when all it looks like is they didn’t do their due diligence. Their stress over what it costs to relay the pitch or wage bill or transfers or what it might take to find promotion — these aren’t things they should be finding out months into their ownership. And we also are going to struggle to find sympathy for two rich guys having to spend money. They have a ton of it and we know it. They aren’t heroes because they look stressed out at having to dump a portion of their fortune on the football club they chose to buy.
The hooliganism episode centers around one incident at the Wrexham train station that took place after the match Reynolds and McElhenney attended at The Racecourse, where a group of youths mugged and beat another Wrexham fan. It is certainly an abhorrent and disgusting event, and has no place in any relation to sports and fandom. That much is obvious.
However, it appeared to be an isolated incident, as there’s no other mention of this being a regular occurrence in the season the documentary is following, and the only other incident involving Wrexham comes from three years ago. That is because the episode is partly centered on one Wrexham fan who was an admitted hooligan, and had been banned from the stadium and city center during home games for years. And the episode at least paws at some of the root causes of hooliganism, as he describes his life and how “having his Saturday” was something of a release, and how economic and social factors played into hooliganism during its heights of the 70s and 80s. That is a discussion worth having, and it would be worth Rob and Ryan talking about anything they might be able to do to get at the roots of the problem.
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Instead, it’s presented as more of “Look what we learned because we’re so cute!” that the whole series really has been, peaking with the incredibly weird fake-Wales infomercial they plopped down into the middle of the series just so they could front for a full 30 minutes. While hooliganism is still an issue in England, it’s hardly the issue it was, and remains a much bigger one in Italy or Eastern Europe, where fascism has found an outlet and plays a major role. That is also worth talking about, and if you’re trying to show much you know about hooliganism now because you read a Wikipedia entry, that’s worth putting on your show.
Again, this isn’t to say that hooliganism and violence are not a problem, because any amount of it is. But as the fans of the club stress throughout the episode, it’s a handful of “fans.” When your home crowds are 9,000-10,000, 40-50 stick out more than they would in Premier League crowds for sure. However, McElhenney makes no bones about his Philadelphia Eagles fandom, a team that used to have a court and jail under its own stadium to deal with all the yobbos who attended. Wouldn’t it be worth him commenting and linking that to the problems Wrexham might be having? Or would that lessen his glow? Or like most Eagles fans, he thinks it’s only part of the charm of being an Eagles fan?
And again, much like whatever their vision for the club is and plans to get there, there is no attempt at some sort of resolution here. There’s one sentence from McElhenney about how that behavior would never be accepted or tolerated, which you could have seen in the trailer for the episode. No mention of beefing up security or cameras or whatever else they might be able to do. No message from them to their fans that this element isn’t welcome, which might wield more influence than most owners given the adoration these two have from the Wrexham fans currently and how involved they claim they want to be.
Like the rest of the show, whatever the scale of the problem might be is merely presented to highlight how angelic Reynolds and McElhenney are for lowering themselves into this world and trying to bring the club out of it. Again, the show isn’t made for huge fans like me, but it also isn’t fair to present to a less soccer-inclined crowd that soccer fans are some massive, uncontrollable rabble that has been gifted these two actors. Which the show seemingly wants to do, while also highlighting it’s not that big of a problem.
Fairly, the show does present what the personal cost of hooliganism can be, as the girlfriend of the aforementioned former(?) hooligan tells us the story about how she lost out on a job as a detective with the police because of her association with her former thug-boyfriend (also, this dude SERIOUSLY outkicked his coverage). Again, worth knowing, but also no answers.
As we said before, the story of two guys learning about soccer while immersing themselves in it is a familiar tale. But while it is obvious the goal of Reynolds and McElhenney was the documentary first and the club second, there are real-life consequences for the latter that is more important than the charm of the owners. And it’s still not clear who’s making the decisions here, because we see the two in meetings and being updated, while at the same time they flaunt how much they don’t know. Someone has to decide on the players and manager, and it hardly burnished their cred when episode 11 focuses on Wrexham ripping off seven wins in 10 and all McElhenney can focus on is the 0-0 draw because he watched it with all his friends and felt embarrassed. This the guy you want running your club?