In Welsh, the virtually untranslatable word “hiraeth” (pronounced eith here) describes a blend of nostalgia and yearning for an era that can never be recreated.
For Wrexham, a working-class town in northern Wales, post-industrial malaise is defined by the rickety gates of the last remaining coal mines closing in the 1980s, and then the cold furnaces of nearby steel mills. It was a feeling that made me want to. .
Only the beloved football club, Wrexham AFC, remained: Wales’ oldest team, which has been in operation for many years but is an indomitable source of local pride.
“We’ve been through as much as we’ve been in town,” said Terry Richards, 56, sitting at home in the team’s bright scarlet jersey and a lifelong fan of the club. Those were difficult times.”
Wales has a legend of heroes returning to save the day, but an unlikely pair of Hollywood actors, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, stepped into town a little over two years ago to open up an ailing club. It set off a chain of events that lifted the town out of its doldrums, garnered it international attention, and led its residents as the protagonist of the football club-based Hollywood reality show Welcome to Wrexham. was cast.
To begin with, little did we expect two famous actors to set foot in town. But McElhenney, an American who was immersed in his sports documentaries during lockdown, scoured for a down-and-out football team with growth potential and landed on Wrexham AFC, convincing Reynolds. to participate in your favorite projects. .
After paying a bargain of about $2.5 million, they moved to town (the Canadian-born Mr. Reynolds had even bought a house) and began overhauling the team’s operations. It upgraded its roster and offered relatively hefty salaries to attract established players from the upper levels of English football.
Last Saturday, that Hollywood story finally got its own Hollywood ending: after a 15-year absence, the team’s post-season win over the English Football League, the next tier of England’s multi-level football pyramid. As the referee blew the final whistle, generations of teary-eyed supporters jumped from the stands and jumped onto the rain-splotched field in joy.
At that moment, the city was reborn, and the former “Hirae” was gone.
“Doom and gloom are gone,” said Richards, still plagued with headaches after days of celebration. “It’s hard to put into words.”
“It’s the new Wrexham,” he said.
The charm of the town’s new honorary resident appears at odds with Mr. Richards’ neighborhood in Kaia Park, a long-stoken corner of Wrexham that has come to symbolize the town’s decline. But few people in this region find that contrast offensive. They’re happy to step into the Hollywood spotlight, especially in time for the Hollywood finale that rocked the town last Saturday.
“They brought a little sparkle,” said Donna Jackson, 55, Richards’ partner.
Richards’ son, Nathan, 34, who played professionally for Wrexham as a teenager, agreed. “You don’t have to be a football fan to see it.”
It’s the glow that illuminates underserved areas, including local boxing gyms that try to keep underprivileged teenagers out of trouble.
“This place is known for being a bit of a fighting town,” said gym coach Gareth Harper, 43. “But after that game, all the fans and each pub were crammed and not a single arrest was made. Everyone is very high.”
While his students shadowboxed with him, he added:
Not everyone made adjustments. But Wayne Jones, his 40-year-old sleep-deprived owner of his hotel in Turf, the pub made famous by the FX documentary, doesn’t complain.
Knowing what was coming, he desperately tried to stock up on supplies before last Saturday’s big game, but the crowd just kept coming. I was. By daybreak the pub was drunk and he was forced to close for the first time in 15 years.
“I didn’t ask for this. “I don’t think I have enough vocabulary to describe what I’ve done for you,” he said of the new celebrity owner.
American entrepreneurs who pay billions of dollars to clubs like Manchester United have baffled some British football fans, but Wrexham’s acceptance of outside ownership is a new owner. Even I am surprised.
It wasn’t without suspicion from the beginning.
“Is it the 7th Cavalry coming over the hill?” Geraint Parry, the club’s longest-serving staff member, recalled when the town first heard rumors of the actor’s proposed purchase. I got
But Mr. Parry, who has been watching the games at the racetrack grounds, the club’s stadium, since 1974, quickly cleared the doubts. of.
“Now I’ve got a lifetime supply of maple syrup,” he joked, referring to gifts some tourists brought from their home countries. . “All of a sudden we start getting emails from Brazil, Poland and Thailand, so we know where in the world the series will be screened next.”
Cultural encounters can sometimes seem straight out of an outdated sitcom script. At the club’s fan shop this week, a tourist from Pennsylvania was greeted with a puzzled look when he asked to use the bathroom. .
The town museum is building a football section to accommodate the growing public interest in the team. But within the building’s archives, the depressing days of the past are never removed.
“Everything looks awful,” said Mark Taylor, the museum’s assistant archivist, staring at the scraps of old newspapers spread out in front of him.
“End of the Road,” read the headline documenting the closure of the town’s brewery.
“I am closing this club,” another front page blasted, a window into the dark ages of Wrexham AFC less than 20 years ago.
It all seemed alien to the glory emanating on airwaves around the world and in the team’s dressing rooms (which took five hours to clean after the club’s promotion on Saturday).
Back at Kaia Park, Jackson reminded his partner, Richards, that he was not yet married. With the sun shining through the blinds, he promised to do it again next year, but with the strict stipulation that the ceremony had to take place on his football pitch in Wrexham.