Forget Liverpool Eurovision. Who needs the New York Met Gala? There’s only one place to be today: Wrexham.
No, really. The streets of the former industrial city in north-east Wales were packed with fans from around the world last night as they cheered on the open-top bus parade from the racecourse, home of Wrexham AFC. It marked the Wrexham side that secured promotion to the English Football League after 15 years and consisted of three coaches, with the men’s and women’s teams also clinching promotion.
The club’s co-owners, actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, have completed their training, having bought the club in 2020 and turned its fortunes around. It’s a story worthy of a Hollywood film for the third oldest professional football club in the world, dating back to 1864, and makes up for the fact that Wrexham narrowly lost out to Bradford in their bid to become the UK’s City of Culture for 2025 last year.
“Wrexham traditionally attracts around 2 million visitors a year, generating around £140 million in tourism value for the city,” says Jim Jones, CEO of North Wales Tourism. “But you can’t put a value on the recent exposure. Wrexham is the gateway to North Wales and the whole world now wants to know the history of Wrexham and the region.”
Indeed, Tinseltown’s regular dusting of stardust has helped make Wrexham an unlikely celebrity haunt. Reynolds and his actress wife, Blake Lively, are said to have bought a £1.5million house in the modest village of Marford, located between Wrexham and Chester. The news sparked speculation on social media about the couple, who have four children, meeting up for the porn star’s martinis at her local pub, The Red Lion.
Lively also appears to have recovered from any reservations about her husband’s decision to buy the club. In a recent interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Reynolds recalled the moment she told her the news: “I remember seeing Blake, saying, ‘I have bad news and I have really bad news. I slipped into someone’s DMs again. The really bad news is that I may have bought half of a fifth tier national football league team in Wales.”
Reynolds has spoken fondly of the slower pace of life in Wales, which is a world away from A-list LA, and seems to have already embraced the local cuisine on his many visits to the region. The Deadpool actor sparked a stampede at the Light of India restaurant in Ellesmere Port last summer when he posted a photo of the restaurant’s flyer with the caption “Best Indian food in Europe” on Instagram.
The Wrexham side celebrated promotion after a match against Boreham Wood at The Fat Boar, a café-restaurant on the city’s York Street, while The Saith Seren, a community center and pub, regularly hosts cheering fans after home games . Following this week’s triumphant fashion show, the Wrexham co-owners were photographed dining at The Forge, the modern British grill located on the ground floor of the Indigo Hotel, just over the border in Chester. The restaurant posted an image on Instagram showing the smiling couple with the kitchen team.
The beating heart of North Walian’s A-list haunts, however, has to be The Turf, the historic pub located behind the Mold Road Stand at the racecourse. The bar, which traces its sporting history back to the 1840s, is now a place of pilgrimage for Wrexham converts after the landlord, Wayne Jones, had a starring role in the documentary series, Welcome to Wrexham, tracing the history of the Wrexham takeover. When Reynolds praised the pub on Twitter for its “highly recommended burger and beer” last August, he completely ran out of food.
To ditch their turf dinners, or simply indulge in some culture, the power couple could stroll the pristine gardens of Erddig Hall, the former stately home of the Yorke family, now managed by the National Trust. Also worth a look is Chirk Castle, Roger Mortimer’s Marcher Fortress with its ornamental gardens offset by a Baroque mosquito net. Then there’s the Llangollen Canal, which once provided the backdrop for a canal boating holiday for Harrison Ford and his wife Calista Flockhart: it is now part of an 11-mile-long Unesco World Heritage Site with the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, built in 1805 by Victorian canal engineer Thomas Telford, at its heart.
The joyous scenes in Wrexham this week should be just a taste of what’s to come. Rock band Kings of Leon play two huge open-air shows at the racecourse later this month, and the ground may soon have a new 5,500-seat stand, taking its capacity to 15,000. It would include a hospitality room, of course. The National Football Museum for Wales, meanwhile, is due to open in 2024 in Wrexham city centre, alongside the Wrexham County Borough Museum and Archives.
“It’s amazing to see the looks of pure joy on everyone’s faces and the sense of pride in the community,” says Jim Jones. “It looks like the future is bright.” So, they’re stocking up on Champions 22/23 red shirts at the Wrexham AFC Club Shop and The Turf landlord Wayne better start stockpiling pork cracklings. Hollywood’s A-list will be beating a path to north east Wales for years to come.
Where to sleep and eat near Wrexham
If any of Ryan and Blake’s Hollywood pals feel like paying a visit, the elegant rooms at the Grosvenor Hotel and Spa, located in nearby Rossett, might appeal. So should afternoon tea in the hotel’s Palm Court with piano accompaniment. Or they could try Sunday lunch at The Hand at Llanarmon, set in the tranquil Ceiriog Valley with its brooding mountains and paparazzi-free trails.