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Wrexham balancing soccer with stardom as team preps for B.C. friendly

Subject of Emmy-winning soccer show taking on the Whitecaps in Vancouver
Wrexham manager Phil Parkinson has embraced the task as head coach of the Welsh club Wrexham AFC, subject of the show ‘Welcome to Wrexham,’ and encouraged everyone around the team to balance soccer with stardom. Parkinson celebrates after the English League Two soccer match against Stockport in Wrexham, Wales, Saturday, April 27, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jon Super

Coaching a professional soccer team comes with challenges.

Coaching a professional soccer team that’s the subject of an Emmy award-winning TV show brings a whole other degree of difficulty.

Phil Parkinson has embraced the task as head coach of Welsh club Wrexham AFC, the subject of the show ‘Welcome to Wrexham,’ and encouraged everyone around the team to balance soccer with stardom.

“I always say to the lads, ‘Remember, we’re representing a working-class town in Wrexham. And the performances have got to reflect that,’” Parkinson said on a video call Monday.

“We’ve embraced all the extra demands on the players, whether it’s cameras around them or other commercial activities. But we never lose the focus that the most important thing we can do is win on a Saturday afternoon at three o’clock. And all our energy goes into that, really.”

Wrexham exploded into the spotlight in 2020 when actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney announced they were buying the club and planning to film a documentary about it. The show premiered to solid reviews in 2022 and is currently in its third season.

Now Parkinson and his team are preparing to play in Canada for the first time. The Vancouver Whitecaps will host the Red Dragons for a friendly on July 27 in the final game of the Welsh club’s pre-season tour.

The game will be critical to Wrexham’s preparation because it will come just before the team kicks off the English Football League regular season, Parkinson said.

“By then, we’ll be looking to get as near as we can to full fitness. So it’ll be interesting in terms of playing (a Major League Soccer) team, the standard,” he said. “Sometimes it’s difficult to judge different leagues around the world. But I’m sure it’ll be a great game for us and for them to test ourselves.”

The friendly will be a special game for Reynolds, who was born and raised in Vancouver, and comes after the Red Dragons played a friendly in McElhenney’s hometown of Philadelphia last summer.

The game — a 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union of MLS — was punctuated by a thunderstorm that elongated halftime, but overall provided a good measuring stick, Parkinson said.

“It was very competitive. I was impressed with Philadelphia. It was a tough game,” he said. “The players were really fit and obviously in the middle of their season.”

“I expect the Vancouver game to be very, very similar in terms of the physicality and the running power and the athleticism of the players in the MLS. And that’s great for us, because that’s going to be a real test.”

Whether Wrexham’s celebrity owners will be in the stands at B.C. Place remains to be seen, said Humphrey Ker, the club’s executive director.

“I hope Ryan (Reynolds) is going to be there, because he’s promised to pick us all up from the airport in his uncle’s minivan,” he said. “So if not, the team will be stranded at the airport.”

Fans hoping to glimpse the players they’ve been watching on the show will likely be in luck.

Parkinson said he’ll be taking his whole squad on the West Coast tour — which will also see the club take on AFC Bournemouth in Santa Barbara, Calif., on July 20 before facing Chelsea in Santa Clara, Calif. on July 24 — and expects to field a “strong team” in Vancouver.

“All the players will be there,” the coach said. “All the key players who’ve been on this journey with us will figure into that game, because it’s an important match for us.”

Cameras will certainly be rolling when the Red Dragons visit Vancouver, but how fans will have to wait to see how the match figures into ‘Welcome to Wrexham.’

There are a team of producers who determine the storylines for the show based on what they film along the way, Ker explained.

“To be honest, it’s sort of a case of, they trawl a big old net behind the team and behind the season, and they catch all sorts of amazing, interesting things in it,” he said.

“And I think that there’s really almost an inexhaustible supply of interesting stories around a football club like Wrexham, because the size of the club is such and the size of the fan base is such that there will always be interesting things happening.

“There’s always kind of these incredibly human moments that occur around it.”

READ ALSO: Ryan Reynolds-owned Wrexham set to play Whitecaps in B.C. Place