Wrexham AFC, the third oldest professional football club on the planet, was founded in 1864 and began playing at the town’s Racecourse Ground, which is even older. It was inaugurated in 1807, making it the oldest international football stadium in the world.
On Tuesday night at 7:30, Wrexham will play at Mission Valley’s Snapdragon Stadium, which opened last August and could be the newest.
Wrexham is in League Two, the fourth division of British football.
Their opponent on Tuesday: Manchester United Red Devils, considered by many to be the most famous and popular club in the world.
The surreal is nothing new these days for the unassuming Welsh club on Mold Road, ever since actors Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney bought the Red Dragons two years ago and announced they would make it the subject of an FX docuseries. He had 18 appearances and chronicled the last two seasons, culminating in his emotional fifth division National League championship which saw promotion to League Two.
“The day they told me they were making a documentary,” said “Super” forward Paul Mullin, 28, “my first thought was, ‘This could be a waste of time. Who will be interested in Wrexham?”.
They are now on a four-game US tour, traveling in a red bus with “Wrexham USA Invasion Summer ’23” plastered on the side and opening last week against English giants Chelsea before 50,596 at the University of North Carolina football stadium.
“We had been in North Carolina probably two hours,” Mullin said. “I was walking through Chapel Hill, and a car window goes down and it’s, ‘Super Paul Mullin!’ That was the moment I thought, “Ah, maybe what Ryan and Rob have been telling us is true.”
“Obviously, we have been surprised by how it has been received. But I think it has been received that way because it reflects us truthfully. It’s real life, and reality reflects. Everyone who watches the show can relate to it. We don’t live in mansions and drive ridiculous cars. They are normal people who, luckily, play football for a job.”
At their hotel in Mission Valley on Monday, fans were waiting for them to return from practice. A few players went to the beach and were stopped to take pictures.
“It’s mind-blowing, actually,” goaltender Ben Foster said.
Foster is about everything the Red Dragons and Red Devils have in common. He was owned by Manchester United for five years, but spent most of that time on loan with smaller clubs. He is now 40 and in his eleventh club (and second spell with Wrexham).
The good news for Wrexham, and the bad news for the unsuspecting fans who paid $150 for tickets expecting to see the Man U stars, is that he will essentially be up against an under-21 roster of local academy players. The first team practiced Monday at UC San Diego but will fly to Houston Tuesday afternoon before Wednesday night’s game against Spain’s Real Madrid at 71,795-seat NRG Stadium.
Some may consider it a classic bait and switch. Tickets for the Wrexham game went on sale at the end of March and sold out quickly. In May, Man United announced the Real Madrid game, which will be played a day later and 1,300 miles away. Fans began to think they might not see Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and the rest of the first team, as evidenced by the amount on the secondary market.
To the club’s credit, he explained early on that he would field a “youth-focused squad drawn from United’s traveling touring squad supplemented with academy prospects”. Man U did not release a roster for Tuesday but Dutch coach Erik ten Hag said former Man U defender Jonny Evans, back at the club in pre-season hoping to land a contract elsewhere, will stay in San Diego with the youngsters you’ve never heard of.
They will stay in San Diego and train the rest of the week. Ten Hag will stay at the game and then fly to Houston.
“For us, it’s a very good game,” he said. “It’s a great experience for (the academy players). It will help them break into the first team. In that sense, it’s a huge game. It’s really a good opposition. It’s in the US so they have to travel. It is very good for their education. They have to deal with the pressure, the stadium is sold out, there’s a great atmosphere, the game is being broadcast (on ESPN2). It’s a fantastic experience for the young players … a great opportunity.”
Wrexham manager Phil Parkinson isn’t too gutted not to play the Man U crew that mauled Arsenal 2-0 on Saturday in front of 82,262 at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium.
In North Carolina, they faced a Chelsea that started 11 years old with an average age of 19 and a few regulars fumbled … and lost 5-0.
Last Saturday, they played Los Angeles Galaxy II, the MLS club’s development team, and won 4-0.
This, then, might represent a happy medium.
“We have to be realistic,” Parkinson said. “If Man United had their full team, it would be an afternoon of not having much of the ball. There will still be a bit of that, but I think it will be a very competitive game for the fans. That’s what the goal is.”
Mullin added: “They all aspire to play in the Premier League. They’re obviously not too far away, because I don’t think Man United are stockpiling players just for that. They’re keeping players there who they believe are capable of playing in the first team one day. They could have the next Rashford in the squad, and in two years’ time we’ll be able to say, ‘We played him.’
“We don’t feel slighted. … We just want to go and play football, either against the first team or the under-23s. It’s 11 against 11”.
Snapdragon Cup: Manchester United v Wrexham AFC
When: Tuesday at 7:30 p.m
Where: Snapdragon Stadium