Wrexham had never seen anything like it: thousands of fans cheering their team as an open-top bus made its way through the city’s streets. On board, Wrexham’s footballers celebrated their side’s promotion back to the English football league. The club’s star owners, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, were there too – and with them, as usual, came the cameras.
The rise of Wrexham has become the subject of a hit Disney+ documentary, Welcome to Wrexham. It’s a feel-good story about Ryan and Rob, two rich and handsome actors from the other side of the Atlantic, taking over a down-and-out club in a depressed industrial heartland and giving it hope.
Wrexham is not the only football club to have let the cameras in. Manchester City, Tottenham, Sunderland and Arsenal have all been the subjects of docu-series in recent years. These programmes satisfy an insatiable appetite for football content. Broadcasters fight for rights to show games, but that is expensive: the current deal for the Premier League, which runs from 2022 until 2025, is worth £4.8 billion. Even the lower rungs of English football command a huge premium for broadcasters: a five-year deal announced this month between Sky Sports and the football league will set the broadcaster back £935 million.
A documentary costs a fraction of that and often makes for good television. But is it good for sport? Much like Made in Chelsea and Keeping Up with the Kardashians, these shows represent a ‘structured’ version of reality in order to maximise their dramatic value. It can be hard to know what is honest and what is scripted – or at least staged for televisual effect.
That’s not to say that what is served up is fake. It’s just that, inevitably, viewers get a sanitised version of what it means to be a footballer.