Hats off to Ryan Reynolds. Not content with merely buying Wrexham football club with his mate, Rob McElhenney, taking it back to the football league, reviving a town and daring a community to dream once again, he has decided to take the Welsh language to the US. “As many have noted, there is an alarming lack of Welsh content available for American viewing pleasure,” Reynolds told PA. “That stops today. Well, actually Wednesdays.”
For a six-week period, Reynolds is curating six hours of Welsh-language content from S4C for his Maximum Effort channel, shown via Fubo, a US-based streamer with customers in the US, Canada and Spain.
Among the shows to be broadcast are the bilingual crime drama Bang, a documentary series about young people in north Wales and their cars, Pen Petrol (Petrol Head), and Y Wal Goch (The Red Wall), a football-themed chatshow presented by musician Yws Gwynedd and Mari Lovgreen.
Viewers will also be able to keep up with Ystwyth Vets in Aberystwyth by watching Y Fets (Vets), Gareth Bale: Bwy’r Freuddwyd (Gareth Bale: Living the Dream), which, as you might have guessed, is a short film about the charmed life of the greatest ever Welsh footballer and, understandably given that Reynolds co-owns the club, episodes of Wrecsam Clwb Ni (Wrexham Our Club). I wish he had chosen Y Gwyll (Hinterland) and the mystery miniseries Craith (Hidden) to show, but you can’t have it all. (And if you are in the UK, you can watch these on S4C’s catchup service Clic.)
“We’re so grateful to S4C for helping to bring Welsh programming to a broader audience,” said Reynolds, of the six-week run, which began on 28 June. “And to that broader audience: don’t worry, I am told there will be subtitles.”
I’m from a town not too far from Wrexham and have watched Reynolds’ moves with interest. While I was initially suspicious about his motives, I have since U-turned, not least because of the wonderful Disney+ series Welcome to Wrexham, but also because the buzz around Wrexham is actually translating to change and regeneration in the town.
Last summer, Wrexham council, the Welsh government, Wrexham AFC and Wrexham Glyndŵr University announced plans for the Wrexham Gateway Project – a large-scale redevelopment of the area. Another £3.3m scheme – that will see the refurbishment of Victorian buildings to create the “perfect market quarter” – has been greenlit.
I have been unable to find a negative side to what Reynolds and McElhenney have done. The spirit, excitement and opportunity created by the newfound successes of the football club are palpable across north Wales. As Wrexham chased promotion to League Two last season, tickets for games became rarer than dragon’s teeth where once you would have been able to walk up to the Racecourse five minutes before kick-off and get a ticket.
I know I should feel positively about this move to take Welsh-language TV to the US, too, but it brings up some complicated feelings. You see, despite being Welsh, I’m among the three-quarters of the Welsh population who don’t speak Welsh fluently. I did it to GCSE (where I got a C grade), but when I was young, Welsh wasn’t cool as it is now – it was all eisteddfods and, to quote non-fluent Welsh standup Kiri Pritchard-McLean, “chapel-goers in pleated skirts”. Plus, I’ve lived in London for the best part of 20 years so have little need for it. Nevertheless, I’ve always felt there is something missing.
I’ve been reflecting on my Welsh identity for some time and managed to articulate my main points on the subject in a chapter of an anthology, Welsh (Plural), which was published last year. While promoting the book at festivals up and down the country, I examined my Welshness in a way I never had before, and listened to so many other people dissecting their feelings about patriotism, nationality and identity. Finally, after 40-odd years, I felt more comfortable than ever about the fact that I’m not a fluent Welsh speaker and reasoned that it doesn’t make much of a difference to how Welsh you are.
Then along comes Reynolds with his latest stunt and blows that out of the water, my inferiority complex raging. I’ve once again been out-Welshed, this time by a bloody Canadian.
I should probably take it all a bit less seriously, of course; showing S4C programmes in the US is essentially an advert for Wrexham’s forthcoming pre-season US tour, during which they will play Chelsea, Manchester United and LA Galaxy II. (Compare that to pre-season games for the 2019-20 season, which saw Wrexham play teams including Fleetwood, Curzon Ashton and Cefn Druids, and there’s another example of how Reynolds and McElhenney have changed the club’s fortunes.) Who cares if it’s a bit of a gimmick?
And, maybe more positively, what if some Americans enjoy what they see and decide to learn a bit more about Wales? Just as long as they don’t learn the language and put me to further shame, I’m OK with it.