As with all the best sports documentaries, it’s the experience of being brought into the inner circle that keeps viewers coming back.
“Welcome to Wrexham” has successfully stuck to that script and has been a ratings winner for FX. In an episode titled “Family Business” released this week, viewers meet LGBTQ parents whose children are central figures in the series.
Owner Rob McElhenney’s mother Helena appears with her wife, Mary Taylor. Their story is relatively well-known, but less familiar is the father-son story of Andy and Ollie Palmer; the latter is Wrexham’s club-record signing and number 9, who hit 17 goals in the promotion-winning season of 2022/3.
Andy was a police officer who spent most of his career working in royal protection — for several years, he was the personal officer to the Prince of Wales, now King Charles III.
In the early 2000s, Palmer divorced from his wife Sue, with whom he had three children. Both parents appear in the episode with Ollie to talk about the breakdown of the marriage, the arguments that took place, and the impact it had on the family.
“It was months and months of deciding what route do I take,” says Andy in the documentary. “How do I go about telling my children their dad is also gay?”
At the time, Ollie was not yet a teenager. It was 18 months after the split that he learned, along with his siblings, about his dad’s sexuality.
Later in the episode, sitting side by side, father and son reflect on the events of 20 years ago, when LGBTQ rights were not as advanced in the U.K. as they are today.
The country was still under Section 28, a piece of legislation that meant homosexuality was rarely if ever discussed in schools. There were very few out gay role models in society and equal marriage would not be enacted in England for at least another decade.
Andy tells Ollie: “Do you know what my dad said to me, when I told him? He said, can you go to the doctor and get any tablets for it? That’s what people of his era would think.”
It’s a reminder of the generational knowledge gaps that were often encountered, something referred to in the episode by McElhenney, whose mother Helena separated from his father when he was 9 years old.
“One of the beautiful things about our culture right now is that anybody under the age of 35 might not know what I’m talking about,” he says.
The McElhenney family clips are taken from a short film made by GLAAD to mark Mother’s Day in May 2021.
The documentary’s sensitive framing of the topic and the open conversation between an athlete and his LGBTQ family member follows on from another recent example in British football.
In a personal essay for The Players’ Tribune back in August, Arsenal and England goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale wrote of his pride in his brother — who also happens to be called Ollie — describing him as “a regular bloke” who has been out as gay since his schooldays.
With very few gay or bi players in men’s professional football having come out publicly anywhere in the world (Jake Daniels and Zander Murray are the only active players in England and Scotland to have done so), the importance of having vocal allies remains significant.
In the coming weeks, the annual Rainbow Laces campaign will receive its annual activation across U.K. sport. The ongoing aim is to encourage conversations that will lead towards more visibility and representation.
The “Welcome to Wrexham” chats involving the Palmer family will certainly contribute towards that.