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How Wrexham won the National League

How Wrexham won the National League

Actors Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds brought Hollywood glamour to Wrexham AFC – but the National League team created lots of drama of their own during this incredible season

By Chris Miller, Feature Writer

Make no mistake: it’s always exciting in the National League. The race for the title, which brings promotion to the Football League, and the six play-off places is invariable a thrilling one – and with most of the clubs now fully professional, the quality is genuinely high.


But it’s fair to say the past two seasons have been even more dramatic than normal.


Actors Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool, The Proposal) and Rob McElhenney (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia) bought Wrexham AFC in November 2020 and although the first full season under the new owners didn’t go according to plan, as Wrexham lost to Grimsby in the promotion play-offs, this year the north Wales team marched to the title… despite some wobbles along the way.


Though Reynolds and McElhenney may have sprinkled some stardust on Wrexham, with an internationally successful TV documentary and occasional guest stars in the stand including Will Ferrell, Emma Corrin and Paul Rudd, the team have created plenty of drama on the pitch too – and an excellent Notts County team have pushed them all the way. This season has been seriously tense at times. 


Ahead of the final round of National League fixtures, which you can follow on BT Sport 1 HD (CH 527) at 5pm on Saturday 29 April, here are the Oscar-worthy moments of Wrexham’s season – including their Hollywood ending. 


1. 16 August 2022: Another shaky start

As anyone who’s seen the documentary will know, the first half of the 2021/22 season went badly. And at the start of 2022/23, following a draw against Yeovil, Wrexham lost at Chesterfield. Fans – and McElhenney, who flew in to watch the game – started to envisage a repeat of the previous season’s woes. They were relieved when the next match was a 5-0 win over Maidstone.


2. 8 October 2022: Wrexham win 12-goal classic

Results improved, but then Wrexham lost narrowly to title rivals Notts County, who edged ahead in the table. With only one automatic promotion place available, fans feared more play-off pain and they were put through the wringer in the next match, a bizarre game against Barnet featuring 12 goals. Wrexham emerged with the win – and it proved to be the first match in a 28-game unbeaten run in the league.


3. 7 January 2023: An FA Cup giant-killing

After 15 years in the National League, promotion was obviously the focus. But drama followed the Dragons in the FA Cup, this time to Coventry City of the EFL Championship, three divisions higher. Sam Dalby, Elliot Lee, Tom O’Connor and a Paul Mullin penalty fired Wrexham into a 4-1 lead over the Sky Blues, who went down to 10 players after half an hour. Despite a late fightback by Coventry, Wrexham hung on for a heroic victory.


4. 29 January 2023: Another epic Cup tie

Beating mid-table Coventry was one thing. In-form Sheffield United, looking set for promotion to the Premier League, were a different prospect. But when Mullin put Wrexham 3-2 up in the 86th minute, fans – including the watching Reynolds – began to dream of a fifth-round home tie against Tottenham. However, the Blades’ stoppage-time equaliser took it to a replay, which United won.


5. 18 February 2023: Late drama secures a win at Aldershot

It was Wrexham’s turn to benefit from a late, late goal. The Welsh side were 3-2 up at half-time and cruising to victory until an unfortunate 89th-minute own goal. But Sam Dalby, who had only come on a few minutes earlier, headed home in the sixth minute of added time. Out of 1,100 travelling Wrexham fans, we believe about three or four had some fingernails left… Manager Phil Parkinson described it, rather understatedly, as “a big moment in our season”.


6. 10 April 2023: Ben Foster is the Easter saviour

Easter Monday. The Racecourse Ground. The top two. Both on 100 points. Live on BT Sport. Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds in attendance. It was 3-2 to Wrexham as the match entered stoppage time – only for Notts County to be awarded a penalty. The pressure was on 40-year-old former England keeper Ben Foster, who had been coaxed out of retirement to help Wrexham through an injury crisis. He couldn’t save it… could it? He sure could.


7. 22 April 2023: Mission finally accomplished

The penultimate match of the season. Needing a win against Boreham Wood to secure the title, Wrexham maintained their reputation for doing things in the most dramatic fashion possible by conceding a goal in the first minute. But Elliot Lee equalised and then two brilliant strikes from Paul Mullin ensured the Dragons were going up. There were scenes. There were people on the pitch. There were tears, most of them from Rob McElhenney. Finally, Wrexham would be back in the Football League.


When can I watch the National League on BT Sport?

Follow all the matches, including live action, on Saturday 29 April from 5pm on BT Sport 1 HD (CH 527).


The teams finishing second and third claim a place in the play-off semi-finals. Notts County are through. Chesterfield will join them with a win, or a draw if Woking fail to win, or even a defeat if Woking lose. Whichever club misses out will join Barnet and Bromley in the first round of play-offs; seventh-placed Boreham Wood, three points ahead of Southend, need a point to confirm a place too. The play-offs begin on Tuesday 2 May, with the final on Saturday 13 May, live on BT Sport.


At the other end, Maidstone, Scunthorpe and Yeovil are already relegated. Torquay need a win – at home to Wrexham – and for Maidenhead to lose, along with a seven-goal swing on goal difference, if they are to stay up at Maidenhead’s expense. Catching York, three points and 14 goals ahead, seems unlikely. 


What are the National League’s final-day fixtures?

All matches kick off at 5.30pm.


Aldershot Town v Altrincham

Barnet v Dagenham & Redbridge

Boreham Wood v Yeovil Town

Chesterfield v Maidstone United

Dorking Wanderers v Scunthorpe United

FC Halifax Town v Eastleigh

Gateshead v Maidenhead United

Notts County v York City

Oldham Athletic v Bromley

Solihull Moors v Woking

Southend United v Wealdstone

Torquay United v Wrexham


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