Wrexham Americans on tour: American fans at matches from Barcelona to Bromley

Pick the odd one out from watching El Clasico at Camp Nou, Premier League leaders Arsenal playing in Europe, Erling Haaland scoring five goals for Manchester City and a Vanarama National League game between Bromley and Wrexham.

A year ago it was not such a difficult task. However, after Welcome to Wrexham documentary put the Welsh club, owned by Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny, on the global sporting map, the lines have become rather blurred.

Suddenly, spending an afternoon cheering on Wrexham in a south London suburb perhaps best known for being the filming location for Monty Python’s iconic skit Spam is on the bucket list of many North American soccer fans.

“You might not believe it, but Wrexham was probably the hardest to get tickets of all the games we watch,” says Andy Popple, after flying to the UK with four friends from California.

“Even the hotel suite was sold out. As Americans, it is quite difficult to get tickets. You’re not official supporters and the other weird thing that’s different from the United States is that they don’t release tickets a week or two in advance.

“It made things a little nervous. We were asking each other, “Are we really going to be able to get the tickets or not?” We only found out a few days ago.

“But we all wanted to be here, watching this team that feels so familiar to us on TV.”

Athletic joins Popel and his pals – Tammy Bachmani, Barney Schäuble, Marcus Sandoval and English-born Jason Davey – for the day in the capital. Kick-off is still a few hours away when we meet, but the excitement of the group is clear for all to see.

Davey, Bachmanny, Popel, Schäuble and Sandoval prepare to watch Wrexham live in the National League game at Bromley (Photo: Richard Sutcliffe)

All five of them had a great time. So good, in fact, that this inaugural trip may become a regular event with a few friends back home who have already expressed interest in any future trans-Atlantic trips.

Leeds United’s Elland Road was the group’s first stop for last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion, followed by the Etihad Stadium as Haaland hammered RB Leipzig in a 7-0 Champions League win on Tuesday night and then Arsenal for their Europa League penalty shootout defeat by Sporting SK two days later.

Sunday night will be spent at Camp Nou as Real Madrid take on Barcelona in arguably the greatest game in club football. For now, however, all their attention is on Wrexham’s pursuit of promotion to the English Football League (EFL) with the group determined to be here, bringing a welcome little windfall for the local property owner.

“Our flight to Barcelona leaves at 7:30 tonight,” Andy explains, already looking at his watch. “So we booked an Airbnb 10 minutes from the ground just to hold our luggage so we could go straight to the airport after the game.

“It’s going to be a tight squeeze.”

Community. It’s the one word that keeps coming up in conversation when discussing why Wrexham’s history under their flamboyant owners has affected this particular group of soccer fans from Marine County, just over the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.

“It’s easy for us, as a group that supports the Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City of this world,” says Davey, who spent his first 10 years at Newcastle before moving to Brighton and then emigrating to the US

“We all know the benefits and advantages these clubs have. But at this level of football, it lacks a huge part of the culture and authenticity of the game. The meaning, if you like. Wrexham, as a story, has that.

“The first episode really focused on Ryan Reynolds’ background and his working-class upbringing. Its principles of supporting the underdog and perhaps the underserved to some extent.

“These were compelling reasons and motivation for him. And you really see how seriously he takes the responsibility of ownership. It recognizes the club’s value to society.”

As a man involved in the creation of Oakland Roots SC – a team that plays in the USL Championship, the second tier of US soccer behind only Major League Soccer above – Barney was also drawn to the community element of Wrexham’s history, which this season extends to the club giving away 200 free home game tickets through local charities and groups to help those who might not otherwise be able to attend.

“We don’t have promotion and relegation in the United States,” says Schäuble. “But we still face some of the same issues as Wrexham in the documentary – the pitch, the selection issues and all the other unmanageable things you can face when you’re trying to do something for the community around football.

“It was fun to see similar to what we experienced in the Bay Area through a different lens.”

The top five in Thursday’s Europa League clash between Arsenal and Sporting Lisbon, a game in which the hosts were eliminated on penalties

Series one of Welcome to Wrexham — first shown last fall on FX in the United States and Disney+ in the United Kingdom — chronicles Reynolds and McElhenney’s takeover and first 16 months at the helm.

If the premise – a TV actor inspired by watching the Netflix series Sunderland Til I Die joins forces with a Hollywood A-lister he’s never met to buy a fifth-tier football club – was presented as a fictional story set in Tinseltown, without doubt the scenario would have been dismissed as too far-fetched.

However, the reality worked quite well with the audience, who found themselves gradually drawn in over 18 episodes to the point that Wrexham’s defeat by Grimsby Town in the play-offs could really hurt.

“I believe this show brought new people into the sport,” said Bachmani, who attended his first MLS game in New York. “There are so many hooks, including the characters featured, plus the city, the players and the owners.

“Seeing Rob and Ryan suffer through zero-zero draws and devastating ends is real. This shows a serious pursuit of the promotion. Not like Ted Lasso where everything is played for laughs and winning doesn’t really matter. Here, the result is everything.”

Sandoval agrees, adding that even those who don’t care much for the sport at home are now talking about events at the Racecourse Ground. “My kids, ex-wife, family and friends ask me about Wrexham, even though I don’t know football at all,” he says. “It’s because of Ryan’s star power. He is a cultural actor.

“However, people come to the football, I think it’s great. The main point is that they are watching a program that is in-depth about football and asking questions. That has to be a good thing.”

When he breaks news of the trip to his family and friends once he’s back in the States, Sandoval will be able to regale them with tales of a great afternoon for Wrexham in the title race. Two goals from Paul Mullin, who took his tally for the season to a phenomenal 40, were enough to secure a 2-1 win over Bromley, while second-placed Notts County drew 1-1 at Barnet.

Easter Monday’s clash between the top two still looks pivotal in the promotion race, but the Welsh club now boast a three-point lead at the top, with the added bonus of a game in hand.

For Popel and his friends, the trip to the UK was a good one.

“Leeds was the first game,” he says. “As Americans, we chose this because there are three Americans on the team. “Plus fired US coach (Jesse Marsh). He was still at work when we bought the tickets. That’s good because we cared more about the players anyway! We knew there would be goals.

The group visited Elland Road, with the Billy Bremner statue adorned with scarves, last Saturday to take part in Leeds’ 2-2 draw with Brighton in the Premier League

Then we saw Haaland score those five goals and then Arsenal. We even squeezed in a pick-up football game (against a London-based team) which we organized through a website called footyaddicts.com. We’re all 50 or older, so the win for us is always no pulled hamstrings. That’s why we were so pleased to see a hospital (St Thomas’s) so close to where we played at Archbishop’s Park.

“But we actually won the game. We were 3-0 down and they got a bit cocky, saying things like ‘They’ll never score’. So it was great to come back and win 5-3 with Jason scoring a hat-trick – although one could have been an own goal.”

Still to come, as they head to Gatwick Airport via a nearby Airbnb property rented out just to store their luggage, is the Camp Nou blockbuster between the two best teams in La Liga.

Regardless of the result in Spain, Wrexham and their supporters left a lasting impression on the group. “The Wrexham fans we were standing with are so dedicated and vocal,” said Popel, whose group had to leave five minutes before the end of the win at Bromley after kick-off was delayed 15 minutes due to traffic. “They really embraced us for the afternoon.

“We even swapped the Charleston Battery jersey for a Wrexham scarf.”

Sandoval’s Charleston jersey was passed on to Janet, Derek and Daniel Jones of Coedpoet, Wales (above) – a deal the US visitors felt was more than a fair exchange.

“I hope that we, as Americans, never overstay our welcome with Wrexham fans,” adds Sandoval. “We see it partly as our club as well.”

(Top photo: Richard Sutcliffe)

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