Welcome to Wrexham: Watching England-USA after day in the pub with Wales fans


They say my enemy’s enemy is my friend but for one night at least in Wrexham, would that be a little complicated?

Normally the Wales supporters gathered in the Turf Hotel adjoining Wrexham’s Racecourse ground would chase you up Mold Road if you suggested they may want England to win.

Especially as Gareth Southgate’s side are facing USA, the homeland of Rob McElhenney and adopted home of Ryan Reynolds, the Hollywood owners who have inspired deep devotion from the Wrexham faithful. In most circumstances Gregg Berhalter’s side would be considered a dear friend to locals propping up the Turf’s bar.

But after their dismal loss to Iran in Group B earlier on Friday, Wales are in the uncomfortable position of knowing an England win would improve their waning chance of qualification into the World Cup knock-out stages in Qatar.

So, would they bite their lips and swallow their pride to urge Harry Kane & Co to victory in Doha on Friday?

The question is greeted with a chuckle by the first person The Athletic asks, barmaid Rachel Jones. Like many in the Turf she is clad in the red of club and country and a little tired after an early start for the big game of the day nine hours earlier. “No,” she adds succinctly, just for clarity’s sake.

On the bar in front of her are draped several Welsh flags, and dragons aplenty hang from the walls which are festooned with Wrexham memorabilia and quotes associated with the famous old club, most notably the pledge by its new owners to ensure the world will one day knows its name.

It’s a buoyant club, fizzing towards another shot at promotion to the Football League, but tonight the pub where Wrexham diehards drink is, unlike the lager they’re still stoically supping, a little flat.

“If you’d been here at 10am you’d have seen it was very very different,” says Rachel. “We had about 200 people wedged in for the game and most of them were having a drink. Some had started even earlier in Wetherspoons. One guy was in to celebrate his 50th birthday by watching the game but he was asleep by half-time.

“If we’d won I reckon a lot might have still been out. It’d be bouncing.”

As it is, a section of the subdued Turf has been reverted to the usual Friday poker night, and the commentary on TVs showing the England game is turned down in deference to Rick Astley.

The deflation of losing 2-0 to Iran has taken its toll, but there are still around 50 here to watch the game, some with only mild interest. At least one man is getting into the grudging spirit, interrupting his pint of Guinness to cheer the USA national anthem and boo God Save the King.

In a nearby corner Andy and Chris are behind enemy lines. Sort of. They are Englishmen in exile; hailing from nearby Chester, but living in Wrexham and married to Welsh women.

“Even if they probably do need England to win they couldn’t stomach wanting it,” says Chris. “There’s definitely no love lost.”

Richie Griff is a Turf stalwart and Wrexham season ticket holder since 1978. “Wales should have called up Paul Mullin (the Wrexham striker with 14 goals this season who would be eligible through his grandmother),” he says.

“I’d rather we play our younger players on Tuesday and then bring on Gareth Bale or Aaron Ramsey later. Gareth has been an unbelievable ambassador for Wales and we love him to death but he is on his last legs now.”

Left, Ady Morrison with Griff, right

Suddenly loud groans and anguished shouts drown Richie out as Christian Pulisic’s dangerous strike hits the bar and England are reprieved.

Conversation switches back to McElhenney and Reynolds (The Turf features often in their hit documentary ‘Welcome to Wrexham’ chronicling their purchase and hopes for the club).

“They’re so down-to-earth and genuinely invested in this community,” he says. “I work here (in the Turf) and we’ve had Rob’s brother behind the bar pulling pints and his mother out collecting glasses.”

He shows a video McElhenny recorded for his ex wife and daughter who are fans of cult comedy series ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ in which the actor rose to fame.

“If Wales can’t go through to the knock-outs then we’ll all get behind USA for Rob and Canada for Ryan,” he adds to an assortment of nods from his drinking pals.

One of them, Ady Morrison, 62, is another Wrexham season ticket holder. He acts as a convivial club historian and tour guide of the pub for The Athletic, pointing out the wall of fame — autographed by the owners — with bricks that supporters can personalise for £10 a pop. Many are dedicated to some of Wrexham’s newfound American supporters.

“I think Wrexham would have beaten Wales today. We were so bad against Iran,” he says. “It’s a bit flat in here tonight but it’ll be huge on Tuesday. We’ve got a fan zone outside in the car park for the England game and they’ll be packed in. It’s every other team in the National League’s cup final to come to Wrexham and Wales will have that underdog spirit against England.”

Next to Ady is Kelly Jones. Her brother Wayne is the Turf’s landlord and she has mixed feelings about Tuesday’s game against the old enemy. “I said to my friend Debbie if we play like today we’ll get battered. It’ll be double figures — maybe even 8-0.” She teases her own numerical malaprop but adds: “If we go out then I hope we go out with a bang and surprise everyone to at least stop England going through.”

Gwilym Mansfield-Thomas, 26, is drowning his sorrows with pals Rhodri Griffiths and Curtis Tierney.

The trio are less bothered about England’s fate and more disappointed that the Wales side they have cheered through Nations League and World Cup qualification campaigns have not yet shown up.

“Usually there’s so much passion and we suit being under-dogs,” says Gwilym. “But so far in our opening games we just haven’t had that intensity. We’ve seemed lethargic and tired.

From left: Gwilym Mansfield-Thomas, 26, from Wrexham, Rhodri Griffiths, 26, from Monmouth, Curtis Tierney, 26, from Monmouth

“I wanted us to get out of the group but if not to at least show our true level and we really haven’t done that yet. That has to change on Tuesday.

“If England had beat USA they might have put out a weaker side against us and we could have exploited it. But I’m more bothered about Wales. I wasn’t particularly bothered who won tonight. I just want our boys to show up on Tuesday.”

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