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Wrexham earns promotion on wild journey under Ryan Reynolds

Wrexham co-owners Rob McElhenney, left, and Ryan Reynolds in the stands during the National League soccer match between Wrexham and Boreham Wood at The Racecourse Ground, in Wrexham, Wales, Saturday April 22, 2023. (Martin Rickett/PA via AP)

Ryan Reynolds held his head in his hands. Rob McElhenney leaned forward, took a deep breath and was soon wiping tears from his eyes.

Below the Hollywood actors, thousands of Wrexham fans flooded onto the field at the Racecourse Ground, setting off red flares and waving Wales flags.

A previously down-on-its-luck Welsh soccer club thrust into the global spotlight because of its A-list owners was celebrating on Saturday after Wrexham secured promotion to the fourth tier of the English game.

Reynolds and McElhenney, along with actor friend Paul Rudd, were among a crowd of more than 10,000 at the Racecourse in north Wales to see Wrexham clinch the National League title with a 3-1 win over Boreham Wood.

Reynolds and McElhenney embraced in the directors’ box when the fulltime whistle sounded and, before long, were holding up a flag with the words: “Wrexham champions 2022-23.”

They seemingly have become soccer fanatics since completing their out-of-nowhere purchase of the club for $2.5 million in 2021. An offshoot of the takeover was the making of a fly-on-the-wall documentary — entitled “Welcome to Wrexham” — that has charted the journey of a team run by a couple of actors learning the ropes of sports club ownership.

The second season of the show will have a happy ending, with Wrexham heading back into the English Football League — the three divisions below the Premier League — for the first time in 15 years.

“One thing that is running through my head over and over again,” Reynolds said, looking around at Wrexham’s jubilant players and fans, “is that people said at the beginning, ’Why Wrexham, why Wrexham?’ This is exactly why Wrexham.”

Wrexham is four points clear of second-placed Notts County with one round of games left, so is guaranteed the sole automatic promotion spot to League Two. After being greeted by Reynolds and McElhenney, Wrexham’s players lifted the league trophy in the middle of the field to the sound of “We are the Champions.”

Reynolds is best known for starring in the “Deadpool” movies, while McElhenney is the creator of TV show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” One of their stated aims when combining to buy Wrexham from its success-starved fans was to lead the 158-year-old team — the world’s third oldest professional club — to the Premier League and the journey is well underway.

It is Wrexham’s first league title at any level since the old Division Three — then the third tier in the English game — in 1977 and the team has done it in style, collecting a record 110 points so far and winning 34 of its 45 games.

And, as has so often been the case with a club that does drama like no one else, the win was achieved the hard way after falling behind inside 44 seconds.

Wrexham equalized in the 15th minute then Paul Mullin, the team’s star striker, earned victory with two superbly taken goals in the second half.

“Paul Mullin is one of the greatest football players in the world,” McElhenney said.

With the title in the bag, Wrexham fans lapped up the final few minutes of a match that ended more than a decade of hurt. The club fell on such hard times since the turn of the century that its supporters’ trust twice had to save the team from going out of business.

“We can feel what it means to the town,” McElhenney said on the field. “This is a moment of catharsis for them and celebration. For us to be welcomed into the community, and to be welcomed into this experience, has been the honor of my life.”

Since their unlikely takeover, Reynolds (21 million) and McElhenney (1 million) have used their large Twitter followings to promote the club and brought in sponsors such as TikTok, Aviation Gin and Expedia, global brands that typically have no place at this level of the game.

The actors are also living up to the promises they made when taking over, like making improvements to the stadium and investing heavily in the women’s team. They brought in board members and advisers with experience of top-level soccer and who have made good, sensible decisions.

The industrial town of about 65,000 people, located near the northwest English border and close to the soccer hotbeds of Liverpool and Manchester, has been abuzz with excitement for the past two years.

Last season, Wrexham lost in the playoffs to miss out on promotion but made no mistake a year later to get out of the non-leagues, where some teams are semi-professional.

Wrexham finished the game to a backdrop of fans joyously singing “We are going up” – with Reynolds and McElhenney joining in. Rudd also seemed to enjoy the occasion, too — he was spotted drinking a beer with locals before the game.

“I’m not sure I can actually process what happened tonight,” Reynolds said. “I’m still a little speechless.”