Wrexham Women: What to expect in top-flight return under Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney
Wrexham Women won promotion to the Welsh top-flight in April as part one of a sensational double-promotion for the north Wales club
Less than 72 hours after Wrexham denounced their National League demons and staked their flag back into the Football League pyramid, the club’s training pitches were back to full capacity.
Wrexham Women were in training, two weeks on from securing promotion to the Adran Premier, the top-flight of women’s football in Wales, with their 1-0 promotion play-off victory over Briton Ferry.
An eight-year return journey from forcible fold to the apex of women’s football had been completed, but the club aren’t resting on their laurels, nor the ostensible global tour de force that is Wrexham under co-owners Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds.
The Hollywood duo declared in their mission statement of their takeover proposal that they wanted Wrexham to become “the best women’s team in Wales, in the shortest period practically possible”.
Step one is complete, emphatically so, but already the next steps are being taken. The club have made the women’s set-up a department within the club this season, while McElhenney and Reynolds have worked doggedly to not only raise its profile but level out the support provided.
Below, Mirror Football takes a look at what you can expect in the future for Wrexham Women.
Making women’s football in Wales a global game
The club aren’t getting ahead of themselves of what’s possible within the Welsh women’s game but they aren’t placing a ceiling on it either. The sentiment around the club is simple: north Wales is the first frontier, then Wales, then the world.
The first step is establishing Wrexham as a dominant force in the Welsh top-flight. While many have jumped to the conclusion that Wrexham will immediately be challenging for the title, those within the club have remained grounded in their aspirations given the jump in competition levels. Those close to the team point to a top-four finish as a main objective before pushing for a title and a pop at European football.
The larger aspiration, of course, is the ongoing marketing of the club to the rest of the world. Actress Blake Lively sponsors the women’s team through her mixer brand Betty Buzz, and more sponsorship from elsewhere is likely, as are more eyes, and subsequently and critically more funding, injected into the Welsh women’s top-flight with Wrexham’s inclusion.
Wrexham’s women’s team are also set to feature heavily in the second season of Welcome to Wrexham , with the docuseries cameras having followed the women’s squad throughout their promotion campaign, including their thrilling 2-1 victorious season finale in front of a Welsh record crowd at the Racecourse Ground.
“A lot of people are starting to know who we are as a women’s team across the world,” head of women’s football operations Gemma Owen said after the promotion triumph in April.’
“That’s really important to us. It was one of the reasons why we wanted the game at the Racecourse against Connah’s Quay to be the success that it was because so many people, even just within the ground, will take notice and realise that women’s football is here, women’s football is growing, and it’ll continue to grow.”
Glamour friendlies are flattering but not in the pipeline yet
The bridge between Wales and the USA is becoming busier by the month courtesy of Wrexham’s romp through the hearts and minds of a teeming American audience. In another example of the Wrexham co-owner’s untameable marketing savvy, McElhenney and Reynolds have struck while the iron is burning.
This summer, Wrexham Men are set to face Premier League sides Chelsea and Manchester United as part of their stateside tour, along with LA Galaxy II and a feature in The Soccer Tournament in North Carolina. All of which follows a thrilling, all-expensed Las Vegas celebratory sojourn.
That Wrexham Women will follow a similar blueprint of high-profile friendlies is the obvious line to draw, particularly as the club look to build on the notoriety garnered in recent months with their success on the pitch.
Actress and activist Natalie Portman recently lifted the lid on an enticing proposition following conversations with Reynolds over a potential clash with Wrexham women and her own team, Angel City FC, who compete in the National Women’s Soccer League.
However, despite the flattering reports, there are currently no concrete plans in the pipeline for Wrexham to take part in a glamour friendly with WSL or NWSL calibre sides in the near future, according to a source close to the club.
Semi-pro status and new ground
Wrexham’s promotion victory over Briton Ferry not only provided a cathartic climax to an eight-year journey from a forcible fold to top-flight return; the club also became the first in Welsh football history to declare semi-professional status for their women’s team.
McElhenney and Reynolds declared their mission of making Wrexham the vanguard of women’s football in Wales, and already they’ve ignited a knock-on effect in Wales.
Other clubs, namely The New Saints and reigning champions Cardiff City Women, are set to follow Wrexham in offering historic semi-professional status for their women’s first-team players.
The club will announce their semi-professional contracts in the coming months ahead of next season.
Wrexham Women will also play their home matches next season at The Rock Stadium, about eight miles south of the Racecourse. Wrexham will share the ground with Cymru North side Cefn Druids.
The stadium has a capacity of 3,000 people and while more matches at the Racecourse will certainly feature next season–particularly after the raucous record crowd for their final regular season match–consistently enticing crowds to fill The Rock and build a core women’s following is a major ambition.
“We’re not going in there to mess around” – Increase in competition is exciting prospect
While Wrexham set a terrifying tempo in the Adran North division, Wales’ second tier, notching a whopping 70 goals while conceding only six, they faced a heady acid test against Adran South champions Briton Ferry in the promotion play-off final.
Throughout the first hour’s exchanges, Wrexham cut the convincing figure of the underdog, forced into last-ditch defending and often pegged into their own half for long spells. That the game’s winner came through a precipitous moment of inspiration from Rosie Hughes, Wrexham’s leading goalscorer with 24 goals and all-around taliswoman, was unsurprising but telling of a reliance on an individual moment of brilliance.
The victory spoke to a clinical edge that defined Wrexham’s season, in which opposition profligacy was routinely punished as Wrexham made the most of chances. Nevertheless, Wrexham’s coaching staff are working on evolving the team’s strength in depth and playing style to counter the calibre of the top-flight.
“We’re really tough to even be up there and competing in there in the first place, but we’re not going in there to mess around,” said Owens.
“We’re going in there to grow as a club. We’re going in there to improve and to build on the standards that we already have. But we know it will be tough.”
Wrexham can take confidence in their defence, particularly with keeper Delyth Morgan remaining in goal. The team’s promotion hinged heavily on the former Liverpool academy product’s authoritative display against Ferry.
With only six goals conceded and a highlight reel of impressive saves–including a finger tip denial against Ferry in the final seconds–the inveterate keeper will be critical to any push into the league’s top-four. So too will centre-back Erin Lovett instrumental in the victory, with the 30-year-old flexing her experience to deny Ferry’s more dangerous salvos.
Academy system key in developing north Wales hub
The step-up in quality next season means Wrexham will be keen on bolstering their squad, with moves for quality players from opponents not out of the question.
However, the foundations of the club’s women’s department have been built on sustainability and an emphasis on the local community. The club are keen to carry on down this path, continuing to provide football sessions in local schools for young girls as well as develop the club’s academy system.
North Wales has conspicuously lacked a modern women’s football hub, and Wrexham are keen to be the suppliers, with the academy a fundamental pillar in their plans for the club’s women’s department.