Review: “Welcome to Wrexham”

“Welcome to Wrexham” was always going to be a game-changer. As I explained last week, that was always the intention: the exposure we receive should help us to expand exponentially as new fans are attracted to the club.

After the US premiere of the show, the football club gained 6,000 followers on Twitter overnight. We still have top billing on the various streaming services which carry the show. I’ve even been on RTE, the Irish equivalent of the BBC, to talk about the club

Seeing so many familiar faces cropping up was a delight. It was difficult to resist shouting out “Look, there’s Geraint!” when the club’s secretary-wizard suddenly appeared in the background of a meeting.

The Leader’s own Rich Williams even got a speaking role, and I hear is now insisting he is referred to as Mr. Williams in the office! It’s not much of a problem for the rest of The Leader’s staff, as he now spends most of his time in his trailer!

The first two episodes covered the takeover and the end of Dean Keates’ tenure as manager. Inevitably, that season was presented as a failure, which was inevitable when there’s a narrative to be created. To be fair, Keates did well with a small budget, so I was glad when Humphrey Ker praised the manager’s efforts at the end of the second episode.

I was also glad to see Wayne Evans, mine host at The Turf, become a global superstar. There’s no shortage of people who’d love to portray themselves as a dedicated fan to get some screen time on the show, but the research has been thorough. Wayne’s credentials are impeccable, and he’s one of the good guys.

It was nice to see authentic figures like him and Spencer Harris telling their stories, because they have the club firmly lodged in their hearts, and it’s people like them that deserve to enjoy our unexpected success the most.

The most pleasing element of the show is its authenticity. Speaking as someone who has been lucky enough to be able to witness some of what’s been happening from the inside, I can honestly report that “Welcome to Wrexham” faithfully replicates what I’ve been seeing and experiencing.

That authenticity is epitomised by how Paul Rutherford came across.

He is the indisputable star of the second episode. We see a potted version of his life as a National League footballer: while the “All or Nothing” Arsenal documentary features players fretting over their personal chefs, Rutherford described the D.I.Y. improvements he has made to his house.

When Paul Rutherford talks of his family, the warmth of sincerity is in his voice. You can even hear the love in his gentle rebuke of his little boy when he rewards him for a ride on dad’s shoulders by prodding his head with a lollipop!

Nobody who has ever spoken to Rutherford could doubt his commitment to the club, which makes what happened at Dagenham all the more heart-breaking. Coming off the bench for the last game of the 2020-21 season, with us trailing and a win needed, he lunges into a tackle and receives a red card.

It’s not a vicious tackle, or even an attempt to deliberately stop his man. It’s the challenge of a man who, in that moment, wants to win the ball back for Wrexham more than anything else in the world. His sin is he tried too hard.

It’s a poetic epitaph for a player who always ran himself into the ground, his final act in a Wrexham shirt. The documentary accentuates the pathos by merely allowing it to play out in front of us. There’s no need to lead us by the nose or explain the enormity of what is happening. The light touch takes us into Rutherford’s shoes, his pain on show as he returns to the changing room.

Absolutely inconsolable, all he can do is prowl up and down as he hears the sound of the crowd through the walls. He has let his team mates down, he has let the fans down, and he knows it’s almost certainly the end of his career at this level.

His powerless frustration as he listens to the muffled reactions of the crowd to the efforts of his team mates, no longer able to help them, is pure drama.

In the midst of avalanche of positive reviews from around the world, I noticed that CNN complained the show was staged. Surely Rutherford’s tragedy wasn’t the scene which sparked this criticism? Perhaps this is why sport documentaries have become so popular; attempts to make a drama about sport tends to fail because the heightened extremes of the original are difficult to replicate.

Perhaps that’s what confused CNN’s critic. Believe me, Paul Rutherford has an incredible career in acting ahead of him if he can fake sincerity like that!

It’s the purity of vision of “Welcome to Wrexham”, its honest depiction of the club and the town, which makes the show a success.

And if you think it’s good already, wait until I’m in it!

Watch “Welcome to Wrexham” on Hulu in the USA and Disney+ in the UK, with new episodes every Thursday.

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