Phil Parkinson on the cameras of Welcome to Wrexham and the beating of Mourinho

For Phil Parkinson, one memory stands out above all others of the afternoon when his Bradford City team inflicted one of the best FA Cup all time crashes in Premier league leaders chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

“We were losing 2-1,” says the 55-year-old, who this weekend hopes to write another chapter in FA Cup folklore as manager of Wrexham, the non-league club owned by Hollywood duo Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney.

“But we started the second half on the right foot, really taking the game to Chelsea. José Mourinho was sitting down but then he stopped in the technical area with that look in his eyes, as if to say that he knew the game was slipping away from him.

“As a manager, you can feel it. You see that the opposition starts faster and is more aggressive. And you know exactly how difficult it can be to turn it back on within the middle of football, even in a team as good as Chelsea.

Mourinho’s presentiment was prophetic. Three unanswered second-half goals by a League One side combined for the princely sum of just £7,500 meant the FA Cup had a new band of heroes to celebrate.

Chelsea had won all 10 of their home league games that season, conceding just three goals in those games, and would go on to win the title with three games remaining, adding to the sense of disbelief surrounding City’s 4–2 triumph. .

The eighth anniversary of that colossal overturn was this Tuesday. Parkinson was busy preparing for Wrexham’s trip to Gateshead in the National League that same evening, so he had little time to dwell on the memory of beating a £200m Chelsea XI ($248m according to conversion rates). today) in transfer fees, with another £99m of talent sitting on the sidelines.

But he remains proud of an afternoon that ended with Mourinho shaking hands with all the Bradford players in the visitors’ dressing room before praising the giant slayers for showing “big balls”.

“Everything clicked for us against Chelsea,” adds Parkinson, who returns to fourth-round action on Sunday as top-flight players of the Championship. sheffield united Head to a sold-out Racecourse Ground.

“Even in the first half, when we were two goals behind, we played very well. That helped because no one was thinking, ‘Wow, it’s 2-0, how many could finish this?’

“We got a goal just before half time and the belief just went away from there. It was everything that makes the cup so magical.”

January 2022, Huish Park, Yeovil

Wrexham, who sit third in the National League table after winning seven of their previous 10 league games, are trailing 1-0 at half time. Fans who have made the long journey from North Wales are far from happy with their team’s performance in the first 45 minutes.

Nor, as the Wrexham players soon discover after arriving in the away dressing room, is he their manager.

“That was a fucking shame,” Parkinson yells, standing next to a tactic board that looks in danger of being blown off at any moment, such is its rage. “Absolute fucking shame.”

Over the next 30 seconds, the attitude and desire of the team are questioned with such ferocity that the Wrexham manager uses the word ‘fucking’ as a rebuke another 11 times.

It’s a swear-fest on a par with anything Neil Warnock or Peter Reid, past masters of half-time berating caught on camera, could muster at their most angry.

However, as was often the case with those two big-name managers, the tirade works, with Wrexham coming from behind to win 2-1.

When broadcast nine months later as part of the documentary series Welcome to Wrexham on FX in the US and Disney Plus in the UK, the footage was well received by fans. Here was a manager who passionately cared and wanted to do what was best for the club.

Rarely a camera-wooing manager in previous jobs despite always fully cooperating with the media, Parkinson admits it has taken him a while to get used to seeing himself on the small screen.

But it also realizes how integral the all-access documentary is to the story of a club that has been reborn since its February 2021 takeover by Deadpool star Reynolds and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia co-creator. McElhenney.

“Rob and Ryan in taking over the club have put Wrexham on the map,” says Parkinson. “They have been a total breath of fresh air for the whole area, not just the football club. After everything that has happened here, the fans deserve it a lot.

“This is very different to what I’ve been involved with in the past, with the TV documentary and that side. But that’s what life is all about. New challenges and embrace different situations.

“There was a period of getting to know you with the film crew. We had to build that relationship, build that understanding. There was always going to be an element of trust with the guys having the ultimate responsibility for what happened in each episode.

“But the people involved have been great and I felt like it was a very fair reflection of last season’s story. It has also been great for the profile of the club. Wherever I go, people want to talk about the documentary.

“We also have American tourists at the Racecourse Ground all the time. They are on holiday in the UK and they come down because they have seen the documentary”.

Among the many owners found in the top five divisions of English football, Wrexham is unique in that its manager ultimately answers to two Hollywood stars.

However, in a managerial career stretching back almost 20 years, the Wrexham boss has had to deal with his fair share of unusual situations.

Speaking once about his period in charge of athletic charltonHe, for example, joked about having to deal with “18 directors at a time, and every deal had to go through all of them before it was sanctioned.” In Bradford, he worked with the co-owners of local entrepreneurs Julian Rhodes and Mark Lawn.

“Two top-tier guys who cared about the club,” he says of the Valley Parade couple. “Unlike Mark and Julian in Bradford, Rob and Ryan were not born in the area. But they have that same incredible passion and drive to make their club successful.

“When they come they are great in the way they interact with the players and the staff. Rob and Ryan are totally genuine, 100 percent. People who want to support what they have set out to do.”

Ryan Reynolds watches as King Charles III speaks with Phil Parkinson (Photo: Jacob King/PA Images via Getty Images)

With Reynolds and McElhenney in the lead, the cameras are rolling once more for a second series of Welcome to Wrexham.

King Charles III and the Queen Consort have already visited the racecourse as part of the celebrations for Wrexham’s achievement of town status. Both co-owners flew in from the United States to meet the royals.

Then there’s been football, as Parkinson’s team looks to end the club’s 15-year wait to return to the Football League. No doubt the FA Cup, a competition synonymous with Wrexham after so many famous victories in the past, notably the third round win at Coventry City in front of 4,500 traveling fans, will also feature heavily when the new series comes to the screen.

“This is a great club and a story that deserves to be told,” adds Parkinson. “The pain that the people feel for being out of the League for so long, I felt it reflected in the documentary.

“I certainly feel like it hurts every day. It’s a big responsibility to try to push the line this year.”

Escape from the National League is difficult. There is only one automatic promotion spot up for grabs and one reserved for the play-off winners. As Wrexham demonstrated in an upside-down semi-final defeat, losing 5-4 to eventual winners Grimsby Town in May, little is going to plan in knockout football.

This season is shaping up to be another all-powerful fight, with Wrexham only overtaking Notts County on Tuesday to regain top spot for the first time in almost two months despite winning all 12 home games and losing just twice in 15 away outings.

Keeping his senses amid such a pressured environment isn’t easy, but Parkinson can at least draw on the lessons of a managerial career fast approaching 900 games.

Reynolds (left) and McElhenney (centre) celebrate a goal scored by Harry Lennon for Wrexham (Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)

“People ask me about how to deal with the pressure here at Wrexham,” he says. “There is pressure, but nothing compares to preparing a team to play in the Championship when you haven’t been paid for five months, as we had to do in Bolton. Not even close.

“After everyone stopped getting paid, things went into a free fall. I’m not sure how we got over it, really, looking back. Of course, one always holds out hope that an acquisition will take place, but probably more important is the knowledge that if you, as manager and staff, throw in the towel, that’s it. The aim was simply to carry on until the club was sold. We just had to get to that point.”

Having taken Bolton in 2017, his third career promotion, then keeping them in the Championship Against all odds, Parkinson managed to keep things going long enough for the new owners to come to the rescue.

He then resigned days after Football Ventures completed its acquisition in August 2019, believing all parties needed a fresh start.

“Times like that make you mentally stronger,” he says. “More resistant. And thankful when it’s all about football. That’s why this has been nice since day one.

“Owners have been a big part of that. Everything they promised to do, they have done.”

Wrexham must hope that resilience can bring about the long-awaited return to the Football League. First, however, the focus returns to the FA Cup and the chance to claim another Championship scalp.

Beating Sheffield United doesn’t compare to Chelsea’s victory over Bradford in 2015, even if Wrexham sit 71 places below Paul Heckingbottom’s men on the football pyramid.

It won’t be up to the race either league cup final two years earlier as a fourth division club, when City beat Premier League teams Arsenal, astonville Y wigan athletic by the way.

But Parkinson is still enjoying Sunday’s fourth round tie in front of the BBC’s live cameras, not least because his side will be in the unfamiliar position of being ‘underdogs’.

“The cup has been a plus,” he says. “In the last round in Coventry, the only expectation came from within. We just wanted to play to the best of our ability, which is what we did.

“If we can do the same against Sheffield United, who knows what will happen? After all, this is the FA Cup.”

(Top photo: Barrington Coombs/PA Images via Getty Images))

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