We went for the football but ended up falling for the city and its people
Not even a match cancellation could dampen the spirits of Daragh Keany on a mini-break to Wrexham and Manchester for something of a Disney+ documentary pilgrimage
On paper, this doesn’t jump out as a romantic trip of choice. In fact, as I explained to several family members and friends in the days and weeks after Christmas about how I was sweeping my wife Sarah off her feet with a night in Wrexham, I was met with a unanimous sense of confusion.
Only when I detailed our mutual love of the Disney+ show Welcome to Wrexham — documenting Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s spontaneous purchase of a Welsh football club in the fifth division — did the penny drop and some people started to appreciate the ‘quirkiness’ of the notion.
Throw in the fact that any night away from the kids is an added bonus these days, and eventually people started to understand the draw.
The only problem was that in my haste to book flights (Manchester and Liverpool are the nearest hubs) to correspond with a home fixture, I ended up booking a weekend that ultimately succumbed to a fixture change.
For context — and I promise not to dwell on it too much — the game I bought tickets for, Wrexham v Woking, was postponed to facilitate the FA Cup fourth round match against Sheffield United.
And because the new fixture was moved to Sunday from Saturday, it meant that last month, Sarah and I travelled to a small Welsh city (if you can call it that) crippled by mine closures and fifth tier football, to stand outside an empty stadium. One month on, looking back, we have absolutely no regrets.
OK, so the Racecourse Ground wasn’t completely empty. It was actually a hive of activity because of the big game the following day as the BBC was erecting its makeshift commentary box.
Situated 50 minutes west of Manchester, we got to the famous ground by noon on the Saturday, just in time to check out the merchandise store.
Weirdly, they were closing and hurried the few patrons out the door quite quickly. But not before we overheard an American calling home begging his wife to quickly give him his kids’ jersey sizes before the store closed. He walked out with four of them.
The Disney+ effect was spreading way further than Dublin, it seems. As we walked around the picturesque centre, we quickly got a sense that the Hollywood element to the iconic football club was seeping down to all facets of the local community.
Deadpool paraphernalia seemed as common as Welsh dragons. Tourists of all nationalities were dotted around the gorgeous pedestrian streets as local buskers performed, and it took us a while to find somewhere to eat due to the business.
We ended up in the Priory Cafe, which is as old as the waiting staff who served us and is definitely one to avoid. Sometimes it isn’t advised to immerse yourself completely into the local way of life. Lesson learned.
Thankfully, it wasn’t the final establishment on our whistle-stop tour of Wrexham. Any fan of the 16-part documentary will know who Wayne Jones is. Owner of The Turf pub, he is one of the stars of the show, so a pint in his pub was an absolute must. Especially considering there was no match.
The famous boozer was as fun and atmospheric as we had hoped it would be. Even for 2pm on a non-match day. We could people-watch all day long and The Turf offered us incredible fodder for the hour. Wayne himself was there too, holding court as locals and tourists wanted to chat to him.
As we were driving, the lone pint was enough as we set off back to Manchester for the night. It was always our plan anyway as we had heard so much about the northern hub. But once the game was cancelled, the night away in England’s third biggest city became more important to our mini-break.
Booking the Maldron was also a stroke of luck as it was situated in between a student hub, Chinatown and the gay district, meaning the atmosphere was unbelievable.
The hotel itself was way nicer than we expected and was rammed thanks to various gigs in the city. But we had a stunning 15th-floor room looking over the medieval architecture of the impressive landscape.
The student bar across the road was too tempting to walk past (when in Rome and all that) but we soon realised that we were 20 years older than anyone else in there, and headed off to Chinatown.
Quirky little bars are dotted throughout the warm and welcoming area and despite the best efforts of the fabulously-vibrant door staff at various clubs in the gay district, we opted for dinner in the plush-yet-calm hotel.
It was a delicious and perfect end to a chaotic day and was the opposite end of the food spectrum from the utterly-forgettable greasy spoon lunch we pushed around our plates eight hours earlier in Wrexham.
The next morning we hit the buffet breakfast in a big way, got back in our rental car and we were off to Manchester airport for the end of our very short and slightly bonkers trip away.
I will certainly be back in Wrexham again — and next time I will ensure that there is a game.
Until then, I will have to make do with season two of the hit series and the memories we made in the stunning little city, as well as in the bustling metropolis of Manchester.
WREXHAM & MANCHESTER See wrexhamafc.co.uk ■ Daragh stayed in the Maldron in Manchester city. You can save 10pc, on every room on every night, when you book directly on maldronhotelmanchestercitycentre.com. ■ The nearest airports to Wrexham are Liverpool and Manchester, with regular flights from Dublin on Aer Lingus and Ryanair. ■ See rentalcars.com for car hire.
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