Chris Maxwell Playing For Wrexham FCChris Maxwell Playing For Wrexham FC (Image Credit: Maxwell football, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Many fans of lower league football detest Wrexham, but for lots of neutrals, especially supporters of Premier League teams, their story is something of a fairytale. Or perhaps more accurately, a Hollywood blockbuster. The Welsh side had endured some tough years and had dropped from the third tier of English football down to the non-league fifth level.

And there they stayed for well over a decade, going close to promotion on a number of occasions but never quite getting over the line. In February 2021 everything changed, as Hollywood A-lister Ryan Reynolds and TV star Rob McElhenney were confirmed as the club’s new owners.

That started an incredible journey for the Red Dragons and one that is far from over yet. On Saturday the 13th of April 2024 the club hammered Forest Green 6-0 and with those three points they guaranteed promotion from League Two into League One. This means that in 2024/25 they will play in the third tier for the first time since back in 2005.

How Did Wrexham Secure Promotion to League 1?

To the uninitiated it seems rather strange that there is just one automatic promotion place up for grabs in the National League, but then three in League Two. This is largely due to the desire for more stability among teams. The gap between the top of the National League and the bottom of League Two is very small in playing terms but financially there is a real gulf.

As such, having three teams swapping places (two automatically and one via the play-offs) every season is deemed to be a bad idea. That means that many view the National League as one of the hardest divisions to break free of, something Wrexham found.

In 2021/22 they accumulated 88 points to finish second in the fifth tier, winning 26 of their 44 games. However, they had to settle for a place in the play-offs and lost out, being forced to play yet another season in non-league football.

National League 2021-22 League Table

In contrast to these struggles, the system in the fourth tier must have appeared very welcoming and so it proved. That said, Phil Parkinson’s side took a little while to settle in the division and did not get off to the rip-roaring start some had predicted. After 11 games they were down in ninth, having won just four times, although they had only been beaten twice. However, a fine run of 11 wins in 14 games had them well set for promotion and they hit the automatic spots after just 15 games of the campaign.

Since then they have been as high as second and also occasionally dropped down to fourth or fifth, notably after losing four times in six games either side of the new year. The battle for promotion has involved a number of teams but steadily they were whittled down to just three, handily enough given there were three places on offer.

Other rivals fell away but Wrexham, Stockport and Mansfield kept on winning. The Welsh outfit put a run of five wins in six games together and it was the last of those, that 6-0 success at the Racecourse against Forest Green, that saw them over the line with two games of the season to spare.

Stockport also booked their spot in League One on the same day, beating Morecambe when just a point would have been enough. They then made sure of the title by thrashing Notts County 5-2 in Nottingham, whilst Mansfield have now also joined County and Wrexham in guaranteeing a top-three finish.

Wrexham FC Promotion - League Two Table 2023-24 - Top Four

After the tense, almost season-long battle with Notts County (or just “Notts” if you’re an American owner of Wrexham and/or want to really annoy fans of the club!), the ease with which Wrexham booked their spot in League One was almost anticlimactic. As said, they took a few games to get to grips with the league but after that, bar the odd minor hiccup, it was very much plain sailing.

Once again, their new signings performed admirably, whilst stars such as Paul Mullin showed again that they were always too good for non-league football and quite probably League Two as well. Mullin has 23 league goals at the time of writing, with Elliot Lee (son of former Newcastle star Rob), who joined the club in August 2022, improving on the 12 National League goals he got with 15 and counting in League Two.

Celebrations and Great Joy But Big Task Ahead

Whilst Reynolds and McElhenney’s troops made promotion look relatively easy, that is not to say that it had been taken for granted or was not celebrated in style. There was jubilation from the owners, manager and players and, of course, on the streets – and in the pubs – of the town.

Parkinson and his side achieved what they set out to and can enjoy the rest of the season, as opposed to the battle going to the wire with all the associated tension and pressure. That said, there is no doubt that preparation for life in the third tier will already have begun, with everyone knowing that this is a huge step up, both on the pitch and off it.

Can Wrexham Compete in League One … or Even Make it Three in a Row?

There will be some huge teams in League One next season, including several with experience of playing in the Premier League. We could also see really huge clubs, such as Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham drop down from the Championship. Wrexham were no longer the biggest fish in League Two and they certainly will not be in the third tier, where they will face sides who can attract 20,000 or more fans for the biggest games.

Average salaries in League One are around double what they are in League Two but that in itself is not really the main problem Wrexham face because they can easily afford League One salaries. In fact, many of their players are already being paid that sort of money because that is how the club has operated.

Racecourse Football Ground (Wrexham FC)
Racecourse Football Ground (Wrexham FC)

And therein lies the problem, because much of their success has been achieved by recruiting and paying players who do not really belong in the same division as Wrexham. But the wages needed to attract Championship-level footballers will be beyond the club, with the jump between League One and above much greater, both in simple terms and proportionately, than League One and the division below.

However, there is little doubt that the club can still be highly competitive, thanks to their almost unique ownership, vast global fanbase (in particular huge and potentially lucrative support in the US) and solid local support.

The Racecourse Ground, it should be remembered, is of a comparable size to some of the smaller Premier League teams, holding over 12,000 fans – Bournemouth’s Vitality holds around 11,300, with Luton’s iconic Kenilworth Road holding only a few hundred more. So, whilst things will be tough for Wrexham in League One, who is to say they can’t go all the way to the PL, let alone the Championship!


By cf378

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