Considering Paul Mullin has scored 11 of the goals that have helped propel Wrexham to second in the National League, a division from which they are desperate to win promotion, one might be forgiven for assuming the powers that be at the Racecourse Ground would wholeheartedly endorse any tweaks or adjustments their top scorer might consider implementing in an effort to improve his game.
On Tuesday morning, at about the time Rishi Sunak was standing behind a lectern promising the return of “integrity and accountability” to 10 Downing Street, Mullin elected to make a statement of a different kind. On social media the Liverpool-born striker showcased the boots he presumably intended to wear for his side’s come-from-behind victory over Halifax that night. It kicked off at about the time our new prime minister had finished doling out cabinet positions to the kind of servile no-marks, shamelessly vacuous flip-floppers and security-threatening hate-mongers that suggested the return of “integrity and accountability” to 10 Downing Street could scarcely be further from his mind.
Mullin’s Nike Air Zoom Mercurial boots had been customised and bore the player’s name and number, and a likeness of the Liverpool skyline under the words “This Place”, a nod to the popular local singer-songwriter Jamie Webster. In a rather less subtle nod to the feeling of indignation, despair and anger felt by many in the UK as the Conservative party continues to find new depths to plumb, they were also embossed with the slogan “F*** The Tories!” The picture, clearly taken at the Racecourse Ground, was met with almost unanimous approval but Mullin’s show of mischievous dissent incurred the wrath of his employers. They were quick to stress they would not have given permission for the impromptu photoshoot had they known about it.
A club statement tut-tutting Mullin’s act of insubordination was drafted and any plans the player had to lace his pimped-up boots that evening were shelved. It is unclear who ordered or drafted the slap-down disassociating the club from what it described as an “unwelcome distraction”, but this chapter in Wrexham’s history will make for intriguing viewing when discussed by the owners, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, in the next season of their documentary series Welcome To Wrexham.
All too predictably Wrexham’s reaction to Mullin’s politicking created far more of a furore than the photos of the boots. The club came in for criticism from many who did not see the statement as being in keeping with the “blue collar” credentials of the largely working-class Welsh town that McElhenney claims gave him the idea to invest in the club.
The previous day the It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia star had posed proudly for photos with staff at the Wrexham Foodbank, a charity he and Reynolds have supported since their takeover and one of 1,400 similar monuments to austerity in the UK run by The Trussell Trust. The pictures weren’t captioned “F*** The Tories!” but they might as well have been. Wrexham, far from criticising their co-owner for highlighting social inequality under the Conservative party, used their Twitter account to flag it up.
We can but assume Wrexham gave permission for a different photoshoot at the Racecourse Ground in July, when the local Conservative MP, Sarah Atherton, posed alongside fellow Tories Jacob Rees-Mogg and the Welsh secretary, Robert Buckland. The resulting snaps certainly did not tally with the club’s recent line that, “while everyone is entitled to their own opinions, whether that be employers or supporters”, they would “also highlight that an individual view cannot be fairly attributed as the view of everyone or the club itself”.
But while the distance Wrexham scrambled to put between themselves as a club and Mullin’s stunt may have seemed unduly harsh, and unnecessarily obsequious towards those in power, there is a very good reason why they need to keep the Tories sweet.
Atherton, elected in 2019 to what had been a safe Labour seat, has been a driving force behind the Stadium for the North campaign in Wales. With her support Wrexham council has bid for levelling-up funding to redevelop the derelict Kop End at the Racecourse Ground and is waiting to see whether its application will be looked on favourably.
The stand has been unfit and unsafe for purpose or occupancy since 2008 but a successful bid would see Wrexham county borough receive £18m to cover the costs of transforming the Mold Road gateway into the town, which would include a 5,500-capacity stand, new floodlights, improved media facilities, a 400-space multi-storey car park and ground works for a hotel and convention centre. Supplemented by money from the club’s celebrity owners, it would mean north Wales could again host international football, even if the preference of the Wales men’s team for the Cardiff City Stadium means Wrexham would not get high-profile games.
Although hopes of receiving the funding are high considering the local MP is a Conservative, a cynic might argue that Wrexham’s prospects of success may have taken a hit. When Atherton broached the subject of Wrexham’s bid at prime minister’s questions in April, Boris Johnson said, “I will do what I can”, a promise almost certainly as disingenuous as it is now moot considering he has been banished to the back benches. Two prime ministers on and the incumbent faced questions in the chamber this week about a surreptitious recording in which he told affluent Tory voters in Kent about steps he had taken to divert funding their way from far more deprived areas. One suspects Sunak, fabled for his inability to use a debit card, may struggle to point to Wrexham on a map.
Considering what’s at stake, Wrexham’s overreaction to one of their players publicly disparaging the Tories is perhaps understandable, in so far as they have no wish to bite the hand publicly that they fervently hope will feed them. Plenty of Wrexham fans will share the sentiment stitched into Mullin’s boots and it is to be hoped that the well-meaning striker they adore has not scored what could prove an extremely costly own goal.