North Carolina, Los Angeles, San Diego: the three stops on the first US tour in the widening horizons of Wrexham under their Hollywood A-list owners, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.
After losing 5-0 to Chelsea in front of 50,596 spectators at Kenan Memorial Stadium and beating LA Galaxy II 4-0 (10,553, Dignity Health Sports Park), Phil Parkinson’s promoted League Two team face Manchester United at the Snapdragon Stadium at 7.30pm Pacific time on Tuesday (3.30am BST), about 20 miles from Mexico.
Founded in 1864 at the Turf Hotel, the world’s third-oldest professional club now exists in an orbit of Disney (via the Welcome to Wrexham documentary) and multinational sponsors: United Airlines (shirt), Betty Buzz (training kit) and SToK Cold Brew Coffee (the tour of the States and ground rebrand as the SToK Racecourse).
Through all this Parkinson has a side to manage, expectations to hold down as he plots for the visit of MK Dons when pre-season’s phoney war ends and League Two starts on Saturday week.
“We have to separate the Hollywood aspect away from the training ground,” the manager says. “The documentary is only successful if the team is doing well. It has been a great tour so far, very exciting for us. We were blown away by the reception in North Carolina, and for our area the positivity is incredible, our profile has raised spirits in Wrexham.
“Long may that continue – especially with Rob and Ryan putting in place the structures at the club, which is the most important.”
The trip across the US is down to the exposure caused by the documentary, which has made unlikely breakout stars of the club and town. And the squad. It means Paul Mullin, a journeyman striker who is Parkinson’s best player, can be recognised in Chapel Hill, the modest North Carolina town where Wrexham lost to Chelsea.
The 28-year-old says: “Nothing surprises any more. We’d been there two hours and I was walking down the street to get a drink, and a car drove past and stopped and the driver wound the window down and started singing ‘Super Paul Mullin’. But football is why we are here.”
Ben Tozer, Wrexham’s club captain, echoes his teammate. “It’s mind-blowing – we never realised how big it would be in America,” he says. “I was walking along the beach here in San Diego and people were stopping me for a photo.”
Parkinson, Mullin and Tozer are talking at the Marriott Mission Valley hotel where, outside, Brian Flynn, the former Wrexham player and manager of 12 years, is in black training kit and telling a reporter: “When I was told about America and asked to come I said: ‘I’m coming, don’t ask again.’”
Nearby is Ben Foster, the former England and United goalkeeper whose added-time penalty save against promotion rivals Notts County at Easter helped propel Wrexham to automatic promotion. The 40-year-old jokes about his YouTube channel then happily poses for a photograph with a young fan who is wearing a United shirt.
Parkinson, who is managing his seventh club, offers a shrewd take on what he oversees: “Ben has played for his country, he epitomises what we want. He has stuff going on off the field but when he trains he is incredible. He adds to the group.
“Commercially for the club it is important, the tour. Everyone has tried to get the balance right. The reason we are here is because the second series of the documentary is coming out. I have not detected any jealousy. All the people I’ve spoken to at away grounds [at home], opposition players – they’ve all enjoyed the story.
“They want to beat us but when we have a drink afterwards people say: ‘I loved watching the show.’ And opposition fans say the same, so I haven’t really picked up any anti-Wrexham feeling, because genuine football people love the story. Teams go the extra yard to beat us, but I haven’t detected jealousy.”
Wrexham are favourites to claim a second successive promotion and the inevitable question is whether Premier League football is a credible dream. Parkinson says: “When you look at teams like Luton, who have gone up, you have to say: ‘Why not?’ Because Luton were in this position I don’t think it’s a case of us getting carried away with it ourselves. If you understand that you need to build a club properly and put the foundations in place, like Luton Town have done, then why can’t Wrexham emulate them one day?
“Years ago Bournemouth, under Eddie Howe, were on the brink of going out of business, and got into the Premier League. Blackpool have also got into the Premier League, so there’s lots of examples. So why not Wrexham? But at the moment we’re concentrating on the start of this season.”
At the Snapdragon Parkinson’s men will take on a United of mostly junior players, though the 35-year-old Jonny Evans will feature. McElhenney will be at the game but Reynolds is in London filming Deadpool 3. “It won’t get much bigger than Man Utd and Chelsea,” Parkinson says. “It is incredible to test yourself against this level of players – not just the technical ability, the power and pace of them – and I like to think we are ready for the test.
“Chelsea was an interesting game. They were clinical in the final third and with the final pass. That quality is what separates teams.”
Parkinson does not view playing aUnited second XI as disrespectful towards his side. “We have to be realistic,” he says. “If Man Utd had their first team out we wouldn’t have the ball. This will be good for us.”
Down time Stateside has included a tour of Tinseltown and on Wednesday some of the travelling party will catch a baseball game between San Diego Padres and Pittsburgh Pirates. “I’m not going,” says Parkinson. “It’s my wife’s birthday.”
All Wrexham enthusiasts at the moment feel as if it is their own very special day – every day.