Will Boyle, Wrexham’s solitary new face so far this summer, admits the size of his new club was brought home when cruising through the streets of Los Angeles this week.
“We were driving back from training at LA Galaxy’s stadium,” says the 27-year-old. “And right at the side of the motorway is this massive billboard advertising the next season of the Wrexham documentary. You couldn’t miss it!”
Boyle shakes his head with what seems a mixture of bemusement and disbelief that a League Two club can be such big news in the U.S. But this is the reality across the Atlantic for his new employer, as has become increasingly apparent to the Leeds-born defender since joining from Championship side Huddersfield Town.
His first outing as a Wrexham player was to take part in an open training session in North Carolina last Tuesday that drew a crowd of around 4,000 fans, all paying for the privilege to be there.
Then, the following night, Boyle came off the bench at half-time against Chelsea in a friendly watched by a sell-out 50,496 crowd. Saturday was spent taking on LA Galaxy II in front of another healthy following of Wrexham fans as Phil Parkinson’s side ran out 4-0 winners.
“Mind-blowing,” he says when asked about what life has been like on the road in the States with a club thrust into the spotlight a little under three years ago by Hollywood owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. “I count myself really lucky to be part of this.”
The Athletic is speaking to Boyle shortly before he joins the rest of the squad on a sight-seeing bus tour around LA. Everything from the famous ‘Hollywood’ sign to the Walk of Fame that features co-owner Reynolds is on the agenda, as the coaching staff make sure the players get a chance to experience more than just the usual pre-season camp routine of training-game-training.
It is another example of Wrexham’s propensity to do things a little differently from any of the other clubs on Boyle’s CV. This stretches to one of the world’s biggest movie stars getting in touch to welcome the former Cheltenham Town defender.
“Ryan called me and we chatted for five to 10 minutes,” says Boyle. “I actually missed him a couple of times. He’d texted me to say, ‘Can I call you?’ But I was on my way home from training and had ‘do not disturb’ on my phone, meaning no one is allowed to get through.
“I thought I better pull over to check and it turned out he’d tried another couple of times. I rang him straight away and we had a good chat. Basically, he welcomed me to the club.
Wrexham in Hollywood: ‘We’re shaping up to be America’s football club’
“I could feel his enthusiasm through the phone. It was infectious. I’d seen it for myself in the documentary, of course. How the owners are really living it. But hearing it first-hand like that was class.
“As Brits, we can be a bit more cynical than Americans. That’s probably us as a nation. So, to hear that enthusiasm — and a less pessimistic view on things — was a refreshing change.”
With a business degree from the Open University to his name, Boyle isn’t your usual footballer.
Wrexham’s new signing also doesn’t fit the stereotype of a player who jets off on holiday to Dubai and the like once the season is over. Instead, he and his fiancee Sian prefer to do things a little differently.
“We both love travelling,” he explains when sitting in an air-conditioned meeting room at the team’s hotel in Manhattan Beach, LA. “I’m intrigued by the world and all the different cultures.
“America was the next big trip on my list, long before the move to Wrexham came up. I’d never been before, so getting a bit of a taste here in LA and Chapel Hill has been great. I’d imagine Sian will want to come here, too, so maybe that will be our next big one.”
So, what makes the ideal destination for these intrepid travellers from Leeds?
“We both loved going to Singapore and Bali,” he says. “That was our first trip outside Europe. But, really, we like anywhere a bit different. In the summer of 2017, the year I joined Cheltenham, we went interrailing around Europe together.
“Around two-and-a-half to three weeks, in total. We flew into Amsterdam, then on to Berlin, Prague, Budapest, Zagreb and then we met Sian’s mum and dad on an island just off Split in Croatia. We then flew back from there. That was great.
“Getting on the trains could be a bit of an adventure. We also did one overnight train, which was an experience.”
Boyle’s wanderlust is perhaps understandable, considering the roundabout route he had to become a professional footballer. Plenty of adversity had to be overcome along the way.
He trained at Huddersfield’s development centre from the age of nine but was not taken on by the club’s academy. There was also a spell at Bradford City’s centre of excellence before he joined Sheffield Wednesday’s academy at 12 years old, only to be released a couple of years later.
Not being good enough in the air was cited as a major reason by his coaches, which seems comical all these years on when watching Boyle head the ball for fun in Wrexham’s first two U.S. friendlies.
Despite that rejection, there was one big positive to come out of his time at Hillsborough: a switch from his then-preferred position of striker to centre-half.
His breakthrough finally came at under-15s level, when invited for a trial at his first club Huddersfield. This time, he caught the eye and stayed for the next seven years, making his first team debut in 2015.
Then came the move that helped realise his potential, as Boyle joined Cheltenham Town, struggling at the time near the foot of League Two.
He quickly became an integral part of the side at Whaddon Road, as survival in that first season with a game to spare was followed by a gradual move up the division. Promotion was clinched in 2020-21, as a back three also featuring current Wrexham captain Ben Tozer in the middle helped clinch the title ahead of a Cambridge United side boasting a certain Paul Mullin.
Boyle and Mullin were both named in the PFA League Two team of the year along with Jordan Tunnicliffe, then of Crawley Town — meaning Wrexham currently have three of that XI, something which can surely only help the newly promoted Welsh outfit. Boyle, for his part, is confident.
“On paper, this looks like such a competitive league,” says the defender, who at Cheltenham developed a happy knack of getting on the end of Tozer’s missile-like throw-ins. “There will probably be upwards of a dozen teams who fancy their chances of getting into the top seven. What we have is a real competitive squad.
“I knew that before coming in but now, having been here a week or so, I see the bond that exists between everyone. That can only help us.”
Boyle returned to Huddersfield a little over 12 months ago after rejecting a contract offer from Cheltenham. He made 16 Championship appearances in what proved to be a turbulent campaign at the John Smith’s Stadium and is keen to return to that level one day.
Boyle in action for Huddersfield (Photo: John Early/Getty Images)
“People were talking about me going full circle when I went back,” he says. “Including the interim, we had five managers in total at Huddersfield with Carlos (Coberan) leaving in my first week and Danny Schofield then only getting nine games.
“I still enjoyed the chance to play at that level, even if I probably felt I deserved more opportunities. But that’s football. What I do genuinely believe now I’m here at Wrexham is I can get back to that level with this team.
“Everything around the club is so exciting and I get that. But the big pull to me was the potential as to what this club could do again if it got promoted in the coming season.
“There’s no ceiling for the club. That’s how it feels. I am really excited for the new season.”
Boyle accepts plenty of hard work lays ahead if Wrexham are to make it back-to-back promotions. That, though, doesn’t faze someone who had to fight to earn a career in the game after those early rejections.
“It’s been a tough first week,” he says. “Especially with the heat in North Carolina. The temperatures at the opening training session (in Cary on Tuesday) were so, so hot.
“There’s also been a lot of travelling. But I’ve enjoyed being in and around the lads. Enjoyed playing the games and I consider myself really lucky to get this opportunity.”
One thing Boyle will have to get used to now at the SToK Racecourse Ground is the presence of the TV cameras, as filming continues for a proposed third series of the Welcome to Wrexham documentary.
Boyle (back row, left) lines up ahead of Wrexham’s friendly against LA Galaxy II (Photo: Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)
“I’ve not experienced that much so far,” he says when asked about the cameras that follow the team around, including on that sight-seeing bus trip around LA. “I came out here more or less the day after I signed.
“It meant I only had one day at the training ground back home, and the cameras weren’t there. I’ve obviously seen the crew around since we got here but, really, I’m not sure what is going off with there being so many people milling around.”
Asked if he used series one of the documentary — covering the 2021-22 season that ended in play-offs heartache for Parkinson’s men against Grimsby Town — as a crash course into life at Wrexham, he says: “No, we watched it last year when it came out. Me and my fiancee Sian at home.
“Knowing Toze and being in constant contact with him, I found it really interesting. Sian really enjoyed it, too. She loves the behind-the-scenes element. Like with (Netflix documentary) Sunderland ‘Till I Die and a few others. What we didn’t manage, though, is to finish series one.
“We’ve still a few episodes to finish, which we’ll probably do when I get home from the tour. I’m not sure Sian knows how that season ends so I won’t spoil it for her.”
(Top photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
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