CU in ’24: Wrexham West?

If you haven’t been watching the FX sports documentary series, “Welcome to Wrexham“, I highly recommend that you check it out.

If you were a fan of Ted Lasso, you’ll find the series to be fun and entertaining.

If you are any kind of a sports fan, you’ll find the drama of the games captivating.

And … If you are a Colorado football fan, you can draw many parallels between what is taking place in Wales, and what is going on these days in Boulder.

Let’s back up a bit …

Is it possible that CU is Wrexham West?

Spoiler alert: If you haven’t watched the show and are planning on doing so, but don’t want to know how the story unfolds, you can be forgiven for bookmarking this Essay and saving it to read later … 

CU v. Wrexham … Struggling programs 

Wrexham … Wrexham A.F.C., is a Welsh professional association football (soccer) club, based in the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham, North East Wales in the United Kingdom. Wrexham AFC was founded in 1864, making it Wales’ oldest professional Football Club and the third oldest in the world.

A proud program with a long history of success, Wrexham has fallen on hard times. In 2020, the team was described to be “struggling”; Management was described as having  “mismanaged the club to the point of near collapse”, with fans “starting to fall out of love with it”.

Living in a world of relegation, Wrexham had fallen to new lows. In the English soccer hierarchy, there is the Premier League at the top (Ted Lasso fans remember the struggles to get the fictional A.F.C. Richmond promoted the Premier League). Below the Premier League, there are three more tiers of the English Football League.

Below all that, there is what is known as the National League … the fifth league.

Wrexham, after 87 consecutive years playing in higher leagues, was relegated to the National League in 2008 … and had never gotten back out. A decade-plus of misery for Wrexham … Misery for its coaches. Misery for its players. Misery for its fans. Misery for its town.

Then, in September 2020, American actor Rob McElhenney and Canadian-American actor Ryan Reynolds announced their intention to buy Wrexham A.F.C. … and the “Welcome to Wrexham” series was born.

Colorado … No need to belabor the point. If you are reading this, you know that CU has had one winning record in a full season since 2007.

The Buffs weren’t relegated for their poor play, but if relegation had existed during CU’s time in the Pac-12, it would have happened … and CU would have deserved it.

CU v. Wrexham … Savior from an unlikely source

Wrexham … English football, like its American counterpart, is driven by dollars.

Winning create dollars. Dollars get you better players and better media revenue, which, in turn, gets you more wins, better players … and more money.

Wrexham was a coal mining town, and with the declining in mining came a decline in the economy of northern Wales. Wrexham, a city of less than 50,000, stagnated as the primary means of subsistence left town. (Wrexham did have another claim to fame. In the early 20th century, Wrexham Lager was world famous, rivaling Guinness and Molson for popularity. It was so well thought of that the White Star Line featured Wrexham Lager on its most famous ship in its fleet … the Titanic).

So, when Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney came to Wales and said they wanted to buy the Wrexham Dragons, and turn the program around, the town was excited … but also justifiably skeptical.

Two Hollywood stars coming to town with no connections to Wrexham, north Wales, or even soccer, for that matter? It looked like a publicity stunt, with the already suffering populace of Wrexham to be the punch line, with the net result being the already suffering Dragons becoming the joke of English football.

CU … Deion Sanders, a/k/a Prime Time, a/k/a Neon Deion, came to Boulder with equal flair … and equal skepticism. Coach Prime had only two seasons of collegiate head coaching experience, and that was at the FCS level at Jackson State.

Coach Prime came to Boulder with his entourage … and film crew. He told the existing members of the CU football team, on camera for all to see, that they were not good enough, and that they should seek playing time elsewhere.

The long-suffering Buff fans were excited, but also a little leery. Yes, the pride and tradition of Colorado football had become tarnished over the previous 15 years, but it was still our pride and tradition. We didn’t need someone coming in and mocking what we had … and then making it worse.

Not following any script or known road map to success at the Power Five level, Coach Prime set off to mold the Colorado football program they way he wanted. As was the case with Wrexham’s fan base, all the Buff Nation could do was sit back and watch … and hoped it all worked out.

Season One …

Wrexham … Ryan and Ron brought in their own money, and found ways to raise other funds, raising the profile of the down-trodden Wrexham Dragons. They bought and paid for better players, improving the team’s chances at victories on the pitch. They barnstormed the town and endeared themselves to the fan base, restoring hope.

And the results were amazing … at least to start.

Fans flooded the Racecourse, the home field for Wrexham. Merchandise sales went through the roof. Fans from all over the United Kingdom – and beyond – flocked to Wrexham to watch the home team play.

Season one had all the appearances of having a Hollywood ending. In the National League of English football, the team at the top of the standings at the end of the regular season automatically gets promoted to the next higher league. Teams which finish 2-6 in the standings face each other in a playoff, with the survivor also being promoted.

Wrexham was in position to win the National League with only two games to be played, but couldn’t complete the miracle, finishing second. The favorite to win the playoff, though, there was still hope for promotion. Instead, Wrexham lost in the semi-finals, 5-4, ending its season where it started … a National League team.

Colorado … Coach Prime overhauled the Colorado roster, making national news. CU bought and paid for better players, improving the team’s chances for victories on the field. Coach Prime and the Buffs were the national story heading into the 2023 season, with the Buff Nation (and the college football world) wondering what he could do with a team which had finished 1-11 in 2022 … and had looked particularly bad in doing so.

Hope had returned to Boulder.

And the results were amazing … at least to start.

Playing before national television audiences, CU raced out to a 3-0 record and a national ranking. Fans flooded Folsom Field. Merchandise sales went through the roof. Fans from all over the country – and beyond – flocked to Boulder to watch the home team play.

And the season had all of the appearances of a Hollywood ending. A 3-0 start seemed to all but guarantee a bowl bid, with fans thinking of even greater prizes.

Instead, the Buffs faltered, losing eight of their last night games, finishing 4-8. Colorado ended its season where it started … home for the holidays yet again.

Season Two … 

Wrexham … Despite not meeting the main goal of season one – promotion – the Dragons’ first season under Ryan and Rob nonetheless had a dramatic impact on the team and its town.

In the interviews with the coaches, players and fans leading up to Season Two, there was one constant … hope had been replaced by expectation.

Wrexham fans were no longer looking back at its history, but pointing forward to the new campaign. A winning season and promotion were no longer the goal, it was the baseline for what the team was expected to accomplish.

And … spoiler alert … they did it! In an emotional roller coaster of a season, Wrexham won its league, and with it automatic promotion to the next level of English football.

Colorado … If there has been one constant phrase that Coach Prime has used for the University of Colorado football so far it has been this: “Last season was about hope. This season is about expectation”.

Colorado fans are no longer clinging to CU’s history, but pointing forward to the new campaign. A winning season and promotion – I mean, a bowl bid – are no longer the goal, but the baseline for what the team is expected to accomplish.

Now … no chance for a spoiler alert here … we’ll have to see whether Coach Prime and his restructured team can accomplished what the team in Season One failed to do … produce wins on the field.

The parallels between what is taking place in Wrexham, Wales, and in Boulder, Colorado, are clear. Two proud programs who have been down on their luck have been the benefactors of an unlikely outside source. Both programs have become national and international stories. Both programs made significant strides in Year One, but fell short of their goals.

In Year Two in Wrexham, the goals were met.

In Year Two in Boulder … to be determined.



5 Replies to “CU in ’24: Wrexham West?”

  1. Spot on here Stuart! Love the analysis and look forward to “promotion” to a winning season and bowl game this year!

  2. As a fan of the Buffs and the Wrexham show, I really enjoyed this! I recall in Spring 2016, the Ralphie Report had a similar soccer comparison for CU to follow: Leicester City’s unlikely rise to win the Premier League. That fall, of course, we saw The Rise in Boulder and a 10-win season.

    Let’s hope this comparison is equally as prescient!

  3. Wrexham, the mouse that roared. Wouldn’t it be something if the Buffs made the expanded playoff field? Defying the pundits being delicious enough, and exceeding most Buff fan’s expectations as well. Go Buffs!

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