Wrexham earned promotion back to League Two in a historically fruitful season in the National League. Deservedly so, the club, fans and Hollywood owners celebrated in joyous scenes after defeating Boreham Wood. It ends a 15-year exile outside the Football League.
That jump from the fifth tier to the fourth tier is one of the hardest to accomplish. Only two clubs can get into League Two from the National League. Last season, it was Stockport County and Grimsby Town. Yet, those teams are proving that once clubs reach the league, they can expand on their successes. Stockport County is currently in line for the promotion playoffs to League One. Grimsby Town, the focus of a deep FA Cup run this season with wins against top opposition, is comfortably in the middle of the table.
Wrexham, however, faces its own specific challenges. Despite Wrexham outspending some of its National League opposition, wages from the competition rise in League Two. Plus, other clubs, including potential suitors in League One or the Championship could come calling on Wrexham’s top talent. The club’s rising support internationally could help the club financially, but it will be a tall task to continue this rise.
Wrexham challenges in League Two
Wrexham has players that thrived in the National League. The rising quality of the division is something that clubs across the country know. The Athletic published a story on the gaps in spending and competition in the National League. Wrexham was certainly the highest spender. It boasted the four highest earners in the top non-professional league. Those were Paul Mullin, Ben Tozer, James Jones and Aaron Hayden. The first two pulled in over $5,000 per week. The latter were just over $4,000.
At the fifth-tier level, this was what critics dubbed the “Manchester City of the National League,” with how much players were making. The average weekly wage in the National League is just $1,500. At the League Two level, it doubles to over $3,000 per week.
Granted, wages do not directly lead to results. However, better talent plays for better pay. Just in the same way Wrexham was able to acquire Paul Mullin’s goals or Ben Tozer’s defense with more wages, other clubs have more financial leeway to bring in better players.
While the success of those players propelled Wrexham back into the English Football League, their performances could lead other clubs to come calling. Mullin and Tozer, for example, have experience in higher ranks of the league system. Mullin played in League One with Tranmere Rovers. Tozer made a singular appearance in the Championship with Newcastle. These are League-One-caliber players that were making frequent starts in the National League. Clubs could come calling.
Fortunately, Wrexham did sign these players to long-term deals. Mullin’s recent contract extension keeps him at the Racecourse through the 2024/25 season. Tozer still has one year remaining after this season. Therefore, even if players depart, Wrexham can expect to receive significant transfer fees.
Wrexham has been savvy in its player acquisition, as many of these game-changing players at the club arrived on free transfers, including Mullin. Same applies to Elliot Lee, Aaron Hayden, Jordan Tunnicliffe and, most recently, Ben Foster. Was Wrexham able to best National League clubs with relatively exorbitant wages? Absolutely, minus Foster, who said he is making “peanuts” at the club.
The most Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney spent on a single player’s transfer fee is ‘just’ $460,000 on Ollie Palmer in 2021. This was the fourth-most expensive transfer in National League history. Yet, that is on par with the League Two records, at least those that are known.
As stated, the competition in the National League is improving. However, a gap persists between it and League Two. The five ties between National League and League Two sides in this season’s FA Cup had three League One sides advance and. Both of the National League side wins came from Chesterfield. Chesterfield’s 81 points through 45 games would be good enough to compete for automatic promotion in previous seasons. This year, though, it is only in third.
The FA Cup might not be the best comparison between the National League and League Two. These are individual cup ties, and anything can happen. Few would say Wrexham is as good as Sheffield United, which clinched automatic promotion back to the Premier League. However, the Red Dragons were mere minutes away from sending the Blades out of the competition. Plus, Grimsby Town, a quarterfinalist in the FA Cup this year, competed in the National League a season ago.
However, playing out these games against opposition that is, on average, better is simply a bigger challenge. Wrexham’s squad and ambition are up to the challenge, but finishing toward the top would be another impressive achievement for this club.
PHOTO: IMAGO / PA Images
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