This article originally appeared
in somewhat different form in
Metro: Silicon Valley's Weekly, July 9, 1992.
Paul Mariner shoots for one more goal
By Jonathan Vankin
ON THE EVENING of June 25,1992, Paul Mariner sat on a splintery bench watching the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks play soccer against the Tampa Bay Rowdies in a park built for baseball. Approximately 4,000 spectators sat on a wooden grandstand that curled behind home plate and extended down the left-field line. Grass sown over the infield sand stood noticeably taller than the rest of the grass on the field. On the Blackhawks team bench, 10 yards and a four-foot drop from the grandstand, a fidgety Mariner sat on the second letter "0" of the word, "Broncos." Painted on the bench in fading red letters) "Broncos" referred to Santa Clara University's football team, which also played in this baseball stadium.
A lifetime of playing soccer in sun, frost and fog has weathered a toughened and sandy complexion into Mariner's face. His black hair falls over his forehead, and when he brushes it back with his hand, a lump of scar tissue peeks through, above his right eyebrow. A smaller scar notches the skin above his upper lip. Character-revealing creases define his narrow face: frownlines, smile lines, squint lines, holler-at-the-ref lines. He has angular features, though a thrice-broken nose throws off the geometry. From the grandstand, Mariner could be identified by his rock 'n' roll-length hair, flowing over the collar of a heavy black parka. He wore the coat to defend against a biting, Bay Area summer breeze because he could not keep warm by playing. His hamstring muscle was sore. After working out with the team on the baseball- cum-soccer field that morning, he showed up at a nearby restaurant with an ice bag fastened by an Ace bandage to his right thigh.
"He can't admit he's 39," grumbles the Blackhawks' head coach, Laurie Calloway. "He keeps playing that all-out style that he used to play. But when you do it at our age, your muscles go pop."
Mariner is at a transitional point in his life. A superstar of English and international soccer, he's travelled around the world, played in front of 100,000 fans and on TV viewed by millions, won championships, fraternized with rock musicians, started a sports-marketing firm -- done all the things sports superstars do. Mariner's appearance on an American soccer field begs the question: What is he doing here?
The short answer: he is doing another thing sports superstars do. He's hanging around. Playing, until his body will no longer allow it, while understudying the coach's role. Last winter in New York at the World Cup draw (soccer's equivalent of, say, a political convention), Mariner spoke to Laurie Calloway. Within a few weeks, Calloway created a job for Mariner- assistant coach-and offered it to him.
"He reinforces what I do," says Calloway of Mariner. "Lots of hard work. We're from the same school of thought about soccer."
Calloway-stocky and bearded-appears at first a dour sort of fellow. Really, he's quite friendly, once he sits down to talk, testifying effusively to the superiority of his sport over all other sports. He motivates his team through training drills with outbursts of cursing worthy of Tommy Lasorda, but in a Birmingham, England, accent that adds a touch of elegance to the profanity . His worst frustration, he complains, is adjusting his disciplinary standards to leisure-loving American athletes, just enough so they don't revolt.
Now in his 17th year of playing or coaching soccer on the west coast of the United States, Calloway signed with the late San Jose Earthquakes of the equally deceased North American Soccer League one year after Mariner signed his fIrst English pro contract. When Calloway called, Mariner had just lost his first American soccer job. Nothing to do with him. The team folded. The Blackhawks play in San Jose State University's Spartan Stadium-most of the time. When Spartan hosts a very important event. they move to the baseball field at Santa Clara University . In the case of the Rowdies' game, the very important event was a hiatus between a motocross show and a rock concert by The Cure, to reseed the Spartan field.
Homeless or otherwise, the Blackhawks occupy fIrst place in the five- team American Professional Soccer League-the lone surviving pro soccer circuit in America. The Major Indoor Soccer League which featured a six - man, made-for- TV version of the sport, collapsed July 10, 1992. Like most of the U .S. soccer culture, Mariner waits for the stateside arrival of the 1994 World Cup tournament to effect a Frankensteinian ressurection.
"I look at this as the closest I can get to European soccer without actually having the competition day in and day out," he says, in rolling northern-English inflections (a Beatles accent, more or less). "It's a great apprenticeship for me. Learning from Laurie Calloway, learning from people in the front office, the owner, how to think about the business side as well as the soccer side. And I'm just hoping that in 1994 and 5 the league will grow and grow and become strong, and I'm going to be one of the premier coaches in that league. That's what I hope. Whether it happens or not, I don't know.
"I'd like to stay in America, because England's changed a hell of a lot over the past 10 years. It's gotten more materialistic. It's gotten more violent. It's not as nice a place as it used to be.
"I earned a lot of money in the Thatcher years, so I'm not knocking the Thatcher years. The Thatcher years were great to me. But I was just sort of blinkered in those days-it was soccer and earning lots of money and all that. And because it's so intense and that's all that life is you tend not to pull the blinkers back, to look at the broader perspective. It was hurting a few people-a lot of people. A lot of people were getting trampled upon and the network of our society started pulling away a little bit."
WHEN INCREASINGLY BRITTLE SINEWS (and a two-per-game league limit on foreigners) allow it, Mariner plays defender for the Blackhawks. ("1 know I can't keep up with these young guys, but I can still play at the back.") He stewards practice drills and calisthenics, and does not exempt himself from the more callow (and supple) players' ordeal. The benchwarmers, in particular , are his minions.
"No one has the right to pull on that jersey as a starter," he lectures, as they sweat through endless minutes of abdominal crunches one sunny morning. "If you want to start you've got to be fit. Very, very fit. If the coach says do an hour, you do an hour and half. We're Blackhawks, lads. we're not normal."
His duties also involve such activities as sitting on a bench on a baseball field on a chilly, windy night. The soccer game began to look like hockey. Bodies flew. Tempers blew. A bench-clearing brawl erupted. A Rowdie beaned a Blackhawk with a plastic Gatorade container. The Blackhawks were ahead by two goals. Then one goal. Then two goals. Then the Rowdies tied it up. The teams played 15 minutes of overtime. It was a tense and ragged affair. Derek Van Rheenen sat on the same bench, wearing streetclothes. He would normally be in the starting lineup~-but in the previous game, a loss to these same Rowdies in Florida, he had been "red-carded." That means he was ejected from that game and suspended from this game. Van Rheenen is one of the team's designated tough guys. Mariner played a similar role in his younger days. That's how he got the scars, and he inflicted some scars on opponents; sounds brutal, but soccer is a sport with almost constant physical contact. Mariner's was a passionate style of play. Sometimes passion can overcome a player. Technicalities didn't dissuade Van Rheenen from charging the field with the rest of his teammates, in their bumble-bee yellow game jerseys, to try to get his licks in at the offending Rowdies, who wore teal and sea-blue. Wisely, his fellow 'Hawks pushed him back to the bench. Mariner walked over to him.
"If I were you, son, I'd go sit in the stands," he counseled the young player. "Go sit with me wife, she's right over there."
As he stood in front of Van Rheenen, Mariner placed both hands in back of his excitable protege's head, cradling gently. It was a gesture like that of a father calming a son who still has a lot to learn about life.
WHEN PAUL MARINER first anchored his cleats in the soft soil of Wembley Stadium, he was 23 years old and a bit overawed by the experience. As much of an English monument as Stonehenge (at least as far as soccer fans are concerned) Wembley has the capacity to hold nearly 100,000 human beings and-as the site of England's most memorable and significant football matches -- a history heavy with tradition, patriotic significance and solemnity .
Isn't all English history that way? Mariner felt part of it then. A big man by soccer standards, he was a slender, six-foot kid who laughed a lot and was fond of dressing-room pranks. A bit zany, his teammates thought. They called him by his initials, PM. Shoulder-length hair made him immediately recognizable --sports people pay a lot of attention to any grooming detail at all unorthodox. In October of 1976, he signed a contract with a club in the Football League's First Division, the top level of English professional soccer. In February of 1977, almost instantly it seemed, the national team in England's national sport selected him.
His teammates, suddenly, were legendary players. He scored three goals in a practice game, but short on experience, he was still a substitute. Sitting on the bench for his first national match, against Luxembourg, he heard 80,000 people chanting his name. The crowd, infatuated with his goal-scoring exploits, pled with the manager to bring him on. At half time, while the starting players were in the locker room, Les Cocker, an assistant coach, led Mariner on to the field and let him smash balls into an open net while a brass band played for the crowd.
Mariner never saw Wembley from the inside, until then. He peered at the mass of faces and thought, rather ingenuously, This is fantastic! The band left the field. The teams returned. Mariner trotted toward the bench.
"What're you doing?" he heard Cocker implore.
"I'm going back to watch the second half."
"Get your bloody gear off," Cocker barked. "You 're goin ' on." This is not reality, thought Mariner. This is like a mist and I'm on the edge of it.
By November 18,1981, the mist had turned to a cold London drizzle. Post-imperial England demands that 22 footballers defend the honor of the Land of Hope and Glory. As British football chronicler Hunter Davies once rhapsodized, "it was assumed that it was our game which no foreigners could hope to play better."
But Davies was writing in 1981 about an era almost three decades earlier. The illusion of English soccer supremacy faded faster than the sun setting on the British Empire. In 1953, England lost at Wembley to a then- faceless Hungary side, 6-3. It was England's greatest humiliation and even Billy Wright, the Golden Boy of Football, made a fool of himself. He clumsily missed a tackle on a deft Hungarian player, allowing a decisive goal. England had not been without moments of triumph after that. In 1966, England hosted and won the World Cup, international football's biggest prize, contested once every four years. Since' 66 England won no more World Cups. In its previous two tries, it failed to qualify for the tournament.
Mariner had become one of a corp of international stars who called themselves "Dad's Army,” Dad being longtime, long-suffering manager Ron Greenwood, under whose command they'd fought faithfully since September of 1977. All England managers, and England national players, are battle- bowed. The fusillade from their own press and their own fans is exhausting. Mariner himself was a favored target for Wembley' s boo-happy rabble.
On that dank autumn night in 1981, England faced its final chance to qualify for the 1982 World Cup in Spain. A loss, and England was gone. The opponent-Hungary. And the game was at Wembley. Though England beat Hungary in Hungary the previous June, Wembley had been inhospitable. In the four games there, six hours of soccer, England's side had scored no goals. Nothing. The last English player to put the ball in the Wembley net was Paul Mariner, and that came in a loss to Switzerland a year before.
Half of England's population was watching the Hungary game on TV, and 92,000 filled Wembley, enduring the rain. The fans were behind England that evening. They sang, "If you all hate Scotland, clap your hands!" (Clap, clap.) A curious chorale, considering the opponent was decidedly un-Scottish. But at least, as Davies noted, "it made a welcome change from the Wembley crowd hating England."
The game was tight; a zero-zero tie much of the way. Hungary's goalie was 31-year old Ferenc Meszaros. Known to show flashes of brilliance, Meszaros was playing his 24th international match and had recently signed to play league games in Portugal for powerful Sportjng Ljsbon, after more than 250 appearances for clubs in Hungary . He'd come to Wembley expecting a spirited test from the likes of Kevin Keegan, Brian Robson, Paul Mariner and the rest of the " Army ." They fired on him repeatedly, with no result. England was awarded a free kick. The ball arced in front of the goal.
Meszaros leaped in the air, but a young English player named Alvin Martin rose inches higher. Martin headed the ball to Trevor Brooking. At age 33, Brooking was old for an international footbalier. A bad knee kept him out of England's lineup for several games, and this was his first match back. The ball at his feet, he tried to fix his cleats into the plush Wembley turf, but they wouldn't hold. With Meszaros still scrambling, he had a clear net, but he hesitated. His pivot foot slipped from under him. He couldn't b(llance. The shot slid wide.
Mariner stood to the side of the net and, much to his surprise, he saw the ball bouncing toward him. He shuffled quickly, his steps splashing on the swampy grass, then slid like a baseball player. His outstretched right leg met the black and white ball. When Meszaros turned around he saw the ball. It was resting in the back of the net.
With the 1-0 victory on Mariner's goal, England had at last qualified for the World Cup. The 92,000 chanted "England are back," while the players took their "lap of honor" around the stadium. A television commentator who'd narrated the game for 30 million viewers was consumed with such joy that he lost control of his metaphors. "We're out of the wilderness and have got something to bite on! " he bubbled.
Mariner found himself an instant English hero, his picture adorning newspapers hungry for upbeat copy about the England team. He waved off questions about whether or not his nation-saving goal was lucky.
"If you ask the 22 lads in the dressing room whether it was fortuitous or not I don't think they're too bothered," he remembers telling reporters. "As long as it went in the net, that's all they're interested in."
In the dressing room, Keegan-the national team's captain and England's premier player-told sportswriters, "We have been dead and buried so often, but they keep digging us up. I thought that that was illegal." The next day's edition of the Times, as the kingdom's oldest newspaper feels entitled to do, spoke for England herself.
"This morning it is indeed a land of hope and glory."
PAUL MARINER WAS BORN on May 22, 1953 in Bolton, an industrial city whose roots are in the textile mills and coal mines of Britain's industrial revolution. The city sits halfway between Lancashire County's two better-known population centers, Liverpool, on the coast of the Irish Sea, and Manchester, inland. One English sportswriter, volunteering information on Mariner, kept repeating, "'E's from Lancashire. Lancashire," as if by that fact alone one should gain indelible insight into the man. Perhaps one can. British author J.B. Priestly, in his 1934 travel memoir English Journey, described the area this way: "Between Manchester and Bolton the ugliness is so complete that it is almost exhilarating. It challenges you to live there. That is probably the secret of the Lancashire working folk: they have accepted that challenge; they are on active service and so, like the front-line troops, they make a lot of little jokes and sing comic songs."
Mariner was raised in a traditional English working class family. His father worked shifts and his mother stayed at home to raise him. They rented a house on a council estate, a kind of British housing project, about six miles from Bolton's inner city. The estate provided a pastoral atmosphere, away from the urban grit. The Mariners were not poverty stricken, but they afforded few luxuries, took their holidays on Lancashire ' s beaches and when they did want to buy something special they saved for it, never buying on credit. Paul was an only child, but the council estate attracted young families and a dozen kids his age kept him entertained.
For the boys of Lancashire soccer offered an escape from the factories. Several of the Football League's most powerful clubs played in Lancashire: Manchester City , Manchester United, Everton and the almighty Livelpool- the New York Yankees of English soccer. Paul was the captain of his school squad, and he spent many Saturdays at a local stadium called Bumden Park, where he stood on terraces-seatless sections favored in many English football facilities-watching the Bolton Wanderers play their home games.
Like most of his schoolmates, he considered that his future would lie with one of the Lancashire clubs. Unlike many of them, he had enough soccer skills to interest professional scouts.
At the age of 16, the age pro clubs sign schoolboys to their apprentice squads, Mariner had stopped growing. He was a scrawny little specimen; not cast as a professional footballer. It's going to pass me by, he conceded. Disheartened, he swore off football. He took an engineering apprenticeship at a local factory , the Metal Box Company, manufacturing cans for oil, soft drinks-any substance with lack of viscosity sufficient to require a can. At the time, a job in the factories of Lancashire paid about 35 pounds per week. In his off hours, he developed his cricket game. Playing semi-professionally, he became, as he put it, a "useful" cricketer. He played no soccer for a full year until a local boy's team called St. Gregory , s coaxed him out of premature retirement. Hauling hunks of iron in the factory layered his body with muscle, and he grew a few inches. The team did well and won a local trophy called the Lancashire Shield. A nearby semi- professional team, Chorley, took an interest in Mariner, and he impressed professional scouts who prowled the Chorley grounds.
Opposing players also noticed. One night, they singled him out. Two players closed in on him, from either side. His right leg was in between them and it broke cleanly above the ankle. Temporarily hobbled, Mariner did not sign a pro contract until he was 20. He started with Plymouth Argyle, a third division club, located 350 miles southwest of Bolton, near England' s coastal tip. It was the furthest he had been away from home.
The Football League is divided into four divisions. The first division is best. Quality and, for the most part, economic viability drops after that. After each season, the league promotes the top teams in lower divisions-a lucrative and honorable proposition. The bottom teams are relegated-a disaster. Two years with Plymouth and Mariner had taken his third division game as far as it would go. Three first division clubs were inquiring about him: West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion, both major London clubs; and Ipswich Town.
Ipswich was a lesser-known club from a small country town about 70 miles northeast of London, in a county called Suffolk. Plymouth, as a third division team thirsted for cool cash, but Ipswich manager Bobby Robson was offering a package deal in exchange for Mariner: 100,000 pounds cash, two players worth another 100,000 pounds and a 20,000 pound bonus if Mariner played at least three games for England's national team.
A pound is worth a little less than two dollars.
Tony Waiters, the Plymouth boss who later managed the Canadian national side, went to Plymouth ' s board of directors and fought for the deal. Mariner remains appreciative of that.
"When I was 23 I wasn't the sort of bloke who could go to London and be successful," Mariner says. "I come from a countryside background and going going into the big city of London wouldn't've suited me." The total of 220,000 pounds was the largest sum Ipswich had ever paid for a player. He weathered the obligatory ordeal of handshaking and picture posing, but the attention that came from being a big money player made him uneasy. "I came from a background where I had to work very hard for a living, and I know what it's like for the lads going into the factories earning 60,70 pounds a week in those days," Mariner says. "To be transferred for that amount of money was a little bit embarrassing."
MARINER’S AFFABILITY, his knack for making little jokes and, one imagines, singing comic songs, helped assuage any potential conflicts with teammates engendered by his transfer fee. Mariner had a touch of the class clown in him. He became a locker room cut-up, given to hiding teammates' shoes and similar stunts. Alan Brazil, who played on the front line with Mariner for four years at Ipswich, and whose own goal-scoring profited from Mariner's ability to hold the ball safe from defenders then pass at precisely the right moment, characterizes the naif Mariner as "always full 0' beans." Brazil often accompanied Mariner to Newmarket, a center of English horse racing that was a short 40 mile jaunt from Ipswich. As football stars, they got to know most of the jockeys and trainers at the track. "We' d never come away without backing a winner," assures Brazil.
Mariner, a confirmed metalhead (likes: Iron Maiden, Metallica, The Cult, AC/DC; dislikes: Guns 'N' Roses), also struck up a friendship with Ian Gillan, the former lead singer of Deep purple. Gillan performed in Ipswich with his eponymous post-Purple ensemble. The Ipswich players got in free to most of the local shows, and a not-normally starstruck Mariner took his concert hall connection aside and shyly inquired about the prospects of getting backstage. There he found Gillan, slouching on a couch flanked by border collie and girlfriend, blurting, "Bloody 'ell, I'm so pleased to meet you. I'm a big football fan!" Later that evening, Mariner was on stage with Gillan's band, whacking bongos. A month later, Gillan played at Hammersmith Odeon, a venerable venue in London, and he invited his new football-playing mate on stage again. Mariner stood in the back, singing along with some rousing chorus, and was delighted when he looked into the audience and saw astonishment on metal fans' faces.
"You could see people going, 'What the hell's he doin' on there?" In subsequent years, Gillan has teamed with Mariner in exhibition football matches for charity. "So he's gone on my stage and I've gone on his stage."
With the media, however, Mariner was developing a reputation as, in his own words, "a bloody brat." One writer who covered the team remembers Mariner refusing for a while to be interviewed. Another, Bob Harris, now sports editor of the 3 million circulation tabloid Sunday Mirror, tells of a Mariner who was "a bit arrogant," when graced with the first laurels of celebrity.
"As a young player his attitude was to make a pile of money and get out," says Harris. "Later he'd say he'd do anything to stay in the game, even play goal."
"I got a little bit carried away with myself, early on, because I was going so well it was unbelievable," says Mariner, looking back from a distance of a decade-and-half. "I started to believe me own press which is one of the worst things you can do. They build you up to knock you down in England and I was in the process of being built up and built up. When I was 25 I was at me worst. I didn't like myself back then. You know, you're young and you have an opinion. You think you know everything about the game and you don't. It came down to one or two sensible teammates, senior players, who had a word with me. They just said you've got to give and take a little bit."
Calming down, Mariner transformed into something of a media darling, with ghostwritten columns in the papers. When journalists would travel abroad, they'd often form their own teams to take on the football press corps from other nations. Mariner came in as a ringer for the English press side, says Harris, and "took that game as seriously as a regular game." He was also helpful to younger players, easy with advice, shunning the hazing rituals beloved of veteran athletes when rookies join the team. Mariner settled comfortably into Suffo1k. At home, he lived with his wife, Allison (called Ali) whom he'd met in Bolton and married in 1976. They bought a small farm in Preston St. Mary , a tiny village about 20 miles from Ipswich, where the locals invited Mariner to be president of their local gardening club.
"I thought, 'Aw, sod it, I've got to get into the community,' " Mariner says. "So I learned to grow a few tomatoes. Nothing big. My wife's the one for gardening. I'm good at destroying. I'm good at cutting grass. I'm good at chopping weeds down. I'm good at sawing trees down. But as far as the cultivation side, I'm a little bit iffy ." Nonetheless, he took his presidential responsibilities with some seriousness. Mel Henderson, the Ipswich club's PR man who helped Mariner write a "Paul's Postbag" column in the team's fan newsletter, remembers the star striker once complaining of problems organizing a bus to the Chelsea Flower Show, a horticultural event in London.
"Not many footballers would get involved with that," offers Henderson.
The farm is 10 acres and an old house. "Old," by the English defmition of old. In California, an "old house" was probably built in 1930. Tn~ M(irlll~r abode was constructed in 1390. The house is wood, with a wood-fired stove for central heating. Several years later, when Mariner was no longer with Ipswich and was away from home, the fire got out of control. Firefighters praised Ali Mariner for quick action that may have saved the lives of the couple's two young sons.
On the road, he roomed with another star player, John Wark, a Scotsman four years younger than Mariner. They became close friends. The first day they roomed together, Mariner woke up at 7:30 fretting about his Ipswich debut later that day. Wark slumbered for another three hours. Mariner needn't have worried. Ipswich annihilated West Bromwich Albion 7-0. They were roommates for the eight years Mariner played at Ipswich, and Mariner served as best man at Wark's wedding.
In the town of Ipswich, people still talk about the era of Mariner, Wark, Brazil and the manager Bobby Robson. Their 1980-81 side is remembered as the best ever to wear the club's blue and white jerseys. It won the European championship for club teams-the UEF A (Union of European Football Associations) Cup, cinched with a decisive goal by Wark against a team from the Netherlands-and placed second in the league. The League championship is decided on the basis of won-lost record alone, with no playoffs, and is a prize that Mariner's Ipswich teams never grabbed. They finished three-time runners-up.
"That still sticks in my throat," Mariner says.
The most prestigious trophy in England is the FA (Football Association) Cup. Any team on the isle, amateur or professional, can enter the tournament which runs from August until May. In 1978, Ipswich won the Cup.
Odds-makers gave Ipswich Town no chance in the final at Wembley against Arsenal, one of the richly pedigreed London teams that could be described without undue exaggeration as British institutions. A psyched-up Ipswich dispatched Arsenal 1-0.
"Wembley is like a bowl, an oval," Mariner describes. "We came out at one end. Usually you come out at the halfway line at most stadiums. All our supporters were at that end, maybe 40,000, banked in, blue and white, banked in to that end. And when we came out of that tunnel -- you know the saying, 'the hairs on the back of your neck stood on end?' It's absolutely true, cause this wall o' sound hit us. It reached a crescendo just as we came out and it hit you right in the back of the head. All the Arsenal supporters were at the other end, about 150 yards away. So I think that gave us another little jab to go and take it to 'em. Which we did."
The winning side gains custody of the cup for 11 months. One night an fawning Bobby Robson slept with the sacred silverware under his bed. Robson succeeded Ron Greenwood as manager of the England national team following the 1982 World Cup. Under some obscurantist regulation, England was eliminated from the tournament despite an undefeated (with one draw) record in four games; scoring six goals and allowing only one. Robson' s tenure at the English helm was not a joy ride. The media roasting was relentless, as Robson was ensnared in one of the vicious circulation battles that flare up among England's tabloids like border skirmishes along the West Bank. British tabloids are national, with circulation well into the millions. Stakes are high. The royal family, sex and soccer are their mainstays. Robson was "slaughtered like nobody before or since," says Bob Harris. Robson has since taken his football acumen across the Bay of Biscay. He manages Sporting Lisbon, football giant of Portugal.
Alan Brazil departed Ipswich after complaining that he felt scapegoated for the team's slumps. At first, management refused his request for transfer. Later, Brazil moved to Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. He played on a Scottish national side that lost to England, 1-0, the goal by Mariner. A bad back cut Brazil's career short. He retired in 1987 and made his home in Ipswich where he owns a 400 year-old pub called the Black Adder. Speaking on the phone from his nightspot, the Dire Straits are clearly audible, on stage in the background.
In 1983, Wark and Mariner went to the Ipswich front office seeking raises. Mariner was making 1,000 pounds per week, according to the English press. English athletes have never made megabucks, by the American measure of megabuckdom. In 1992, the highest paid footballer is John Barnes of Liverpool who pulls down the equivalent of about $1 million per year. In Major League Baseball, roughly 30 percent of the players make that much or more.
The English public measured Mariner and Wark's salary demands not against the extravagance of American athletes, but against their own bleak circumstances, and responded with understandable indignance. Unemployment was high throughout England and football clubs were feeling recessionary pressure, as was the rest of the English economy. The Ipswich situation was more severe than many. The team had recently purchased anew grandstand. English football clubs tend to be cash operations run by working folk made good, not tax write-offs to benefit multi-millionaires, the nonn for American pro sports franchises. The new stand left the team short on cash, so the team sold its two stars rather than pay them.
"It was the start of players breaking out into the big money situation," Mariner says." And I caused a bit of a stir because I was playing on the national team and there were players there earning twice as. much as me. So I went in and asked for more money. They said, 'We can't give you any more money.' So I said, 'I'm going to have to go.' I wanted another 10,000 pound a year, which is like piss up the wall, you know. I tried to work a compromise out at Ipswich. I would have liked to finish me days there."
Wark departed for Liverpool; Mariner set off to Arsenal. The Ipswich franchise never fully recovered. Wark and Mariner played part of the 1983-84 season while waiting for the team to receive suitable offers for their services. No one questioned their effort, but, perhaps distracted, the team faltered. After Mariner and Wark left, Ipswich plummeted to 2Oth place. Only a hot streak of five wins and a draw in its last six matches saved the hobbled team from demotion to the second division. Within a couple of seasons, it ended up there anyway.
The contract dispute still irritated certain segments of the public, or at least the press, years later. In May, 1989, a year after Mariner's retirement from English football, the Daily Telegraph ran the following sardonic brief: "Remember when Paul Mariner left Ipswich because he couldn't manage on 1000 pounds a week? Not much changes it seems. ...Mariner recently rejected a tasty offer from a leading Northern Ireland side. Why? He had an even better offer to play for Nasser Lions in Malta. How good? About 1000 pounds a week, according to Irish sources. Sound familiar?"
Wark returned to Ipswich for one season, left again, then returned again. Pushing 35, he is the blue-and-white's elder statesman-past transgressions forgiven. He preserves his body by playing the defender's position, which involves not nearly so much running. Last season he was named player of the year on the team, and a newspaper picked him as the second division's best defender. Ipswich played well enough to earn promotion back the first division. Still, every now and then, John Wark gets a postcard from Paul Mariner asking him to spend a summer in America.
MARINER’S GOAL AGAINST HUNGARY helped to rehabilitate his relationship with England's Wembley fans. They tolerate little short of total English supremacy, and on a team which, in Bob Harris' analysis, "was struggling to find an identity ," the supporters needed an outlet for their frustrations. They enjoyed deriding Mariner, despite--0r perhaps on account of -his status as the nation's best center forward.
"Sure, they got on me back once or twice," he shrugs. "But it's part of the game. If you go through your career with everybody saying, 'Well done, lad!' then I'd probably still be playing. But it doesn't happen in life and that's why you've got to have a strong constitution.
"Of course it hurts. If you say that it doesn't hurt-everybody wants to be loved. But fuck it. It's history now."
Not long after his moment of magnificence against Hungary faded from British tabloids, Mariner noticed a twinge, then a sharp pain, stabbing the backs of his feet. By January of 1982 he had operations on both Achilles tendons. The World Cup was a few months away. It's going to pass me by, he feared.
The England team sent him to Cambridge University to work with trainers who had him sprinting, leaping into long-jump pits and steeling his tender heels for an eventual game day. "Those guys got me supremely fit. It bloody killed me, mind you. But they did it." Mariner responded by matching an English record for goals scored in consecutive international games, six, including two in the World Cup tournament. "I'm proud of that, because it was really hard work. But hard work doesn't bother me," Mariner sniffs. "It's just par for the course as far as I'm concerned."
In his career, Mariner was "capped" 35 times, which means that he played for England in 35 games. Each time a player appears in an international game he receives a cap.
The pain recurred after he transferred to Arsenal. He skipped his first game, against Liverpool, and the injury plagued him for his two years there. "You think, 'I can run it off,' but you can't get rid of it, in training, in matches. So it was a bit of a let down. It was on and off all the time I was at Arsenal. It was a great shame."
While he wrestled with his own injury , Mariner found something amiss on the Arsenal squad. The manager, Don Howe, was a rigid disciplinarian.
Mariner enjoys that trait in a coach. Not all of his teammates were likewise amused. A few of them were arrested for drunk driving, and Mariner felt that Howe was unjustly blamed for their misbehavior. Then, Arsenal advanced to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup and traveled to York City , a third division club which in a true meritocracy wouldn't have been permitted on the same surface as Arsenal.
The pitch at York was icy. Arsenal controlled the game, but couldn't score. There were two minutes left, and Arsenal was content to play out a draw, then meet York again at Arsenal's Highbury Stadium to, Mariner promised, "give 'em a smackin'."
Steve Williams, playing his first game for Arsenal, was fighting a York player for the ball at midfield, and the going got rough. The players continued to scuffle down the field, toward the Arsenal goal. Williams clearly wanted to flatten the guy. Unfortunately, he waited until they'd reaclled the penalty area to do it. York was awarded a penalty kick, popped it into the net and Arsenal, disgraced, was bounced from the FA Cup.
"They had had blazing rows," Mariner said in a newspaper column, after Howe was forced to resign. "Don had filled him time and again and had also given him the biggest rollicking of his life after that Cup game at York. "
Williams, to his credit, was first on the phone with condolences to Howe after the manager quit, according to Mariner's column. But Mariner suspects that certain "big name" players on the squad snuck behind Howe ' s pack to the board of directors and ratted him out.
Something was amiss as well in the stands of England's football grounds. The sport has always been associated with violence, but until the early 1970s the violence was an outgrowth of English fervor for game. Attending a football match in England, and in much of Europe, is not comparable with a day at the ballpark in the United States. Only next season will the English Football League require clubs to play in all-seat stadiums. Huge numbers of supporters stand on the terraces, literally locked into wire pens, jammed shoulder to haunch like calves in a veal farm. The sway and rhythm of the game sends tangible, irresistible, physical waves through the penned-in mass. There are no passive spectators. The crowd chants, sings and often, fights. The football stadium is not a place one goes to be comfortable.
In the '70s the fighting changed in a sinister way. It was no longer spontaneous; numerous "firms" (so called after the Kray twins East London crime "firm") assembled across the country -- little mafias, loyal to their teams, but organized for the purpose of perpetrating mayhem. In 1978, the year Ipswich won the FA Cup, Mariner was on the field for the Cup quarterfinal at Millwall, a stadium appropriately christened "The Lion's Den," which the league had closed three times in years past due to crowd violence. Ipswich won, 6-1, but there had been altercations among opposing supporters before the game. Reportedly, Millwall' s management failed to adequately separate the two teams' fans. The clashes continued. With the score 1-0 near the end of the first half, Millwall supporters stampeded across the field to attack Ipswich fans. Police with their nightsticks joined the riot. The players were sent off for 18 minutes. Thirty people were arrested (22 from Millwall) and 45 were injured.
Afterward, a fuming Bobby Robson spoke to reporters:
"To think we fought the war so that hooligans like these could survive! These people are not human and have no place in society. They will kill the game."
"Unfortunately, you just worry about your own safety ill that situation," says Mariner. "After that game we got back to our bus. We didn't have a window in the bloody thing."
The violence crested in the mid-1980s. On May 29,1985 John Wark was playing for Liverpool in the finals of the UEFA Cup, against Juventus, an Italian side. The game was played at Heysel Stadium in Brussels.
"We knew what was going on," Wark recounts. "Our dressing room was right near the section. We could hear all the screaming. They came in and gave us reports of how many were dead. After that we had to playa game." About 45 minutes before kickoff Liverpool supporters, many with Union Jack kerchiefs covering their faces Jesse James-style, had rushed the Italians' terrace. The melee killed thirty-eight people, mostly Italian, mostly suffocated or crushed. Four hundred and thirty-seven more were injured. Once agam, throughout England, came dire pronouncements that football was soon to die.
Around that time, Paul Mariner and a group of his Arsenal teammates made several visits to a youth detention center where bands of hooligans, tattoos up and down their arms and even on a few foreheads, were locked up.
"We tried to go in and give them our point of view, how they' re destroying our livelihood," he says. "'Cause they love the game. They pay thousands of pounds to go and follow their team. We'd say, 'Do you watch the games?' 'Well, we watch a bit of the games but we go for the fighting.' I said, 'Yeah, but you're going to destroy the thing you love most.' "It opened my eyes. There's some really wild guys. But you talk to them one on one or in a little group session -- even though they didn't support the team I was playing for, they hated me, they appreciated my skills. So there was a common ground. I don't know if they got any better for it. I certainly did."
MARINER BECAME A TEMPORARY LONDONER while with Arsenal. The Lancashire boy who'd grown up to live on a Suffolk farm emerged as a figure on the swinging social scene, hanging out at jet-set clubs in the West End. But as his playing career edged towards its conclusion, Mariner became domesticated. Arsenal transferred him to Portsmouth, a second division club. He was 34, but he still played on the front line. It took him 11 games to score his first goal. At the end of the season, with Portsmouth fighting for promotion to the first division, Mariner went on a tear, seven goals in nine games or something like that, and Portsmouth moved up.
In the meantime, Ali Mariner, a former teacher, was scouting schools in Portsmouth for their two sons (a third was not far behind), and finding little to her liking. The Mariners resolved to school the children at home. Paul handles math. Ali takes on English. When Mariner took his job in San Jose, the whole Mariner clan trailed not far behind The Blackhawks put them up in a townhouse near the Milpitas line. The Mariners still school their three sons (Danny, George and Joe, ages 8,7 and 4) at home.
"There's good backup in England. There's a thing called Education Otherwise. There's a lot of people in our area that do it. It suits us at present. It suits our lifestyle. Because I wouldn't want to be here and they not be with me. It's hard. I like them to be with me," says Mariner.
Home schooling was probably a wise decision, because the Mariners , existence was about to become increasingly peripatetic. When Paul Mariner retired in 1988, he and a partner started a sports agency called First Artists.
"I put my phone book in, he put his check book in."
Using Mariner's contacts, First Artists cut its first deal. They contracted to represent England's national team. That's a big score. At the time, two or three weekends per month, Mariner was flying to Malta. He had agreed to play games, but not practice with, a team there; another lucrative proposition. Paul Mariner was turning into a yuppie. His Lancashire-forged will withstood injuries, booing and contract squabbles, but he couldn't take that. "I found out that I didn't like going to people and asking for sponsorship money. I wasn't cut out for it," he says. "Then the travel was getting me down. I was leaving the house at six o ' clock in the morning and not getting home until nine at night. I was hardly seeing the children, which is a major worry to me. It just culminated in losing weight. I was looking ill. "
Ali asked him if he'd taken a recent peek in a mirror-. "Not really," he said. "I haven't had time."
"Well take a look at yourself. I think you're doing too much."
It was late springtime. At the headquarters of England's Football Association, First Artists held a party to premiere its new instructional soccer video, starring four players from the national team. Soccer notables from the far-flung reaches of the game attended the screening. One was John Bramley, head coach of an American team in Albany, New York.
"He recognized me and he said, 'What are you doing now?' I said, 'Nothing. I'm doing nothing. I'm just working this business and to be honest I'm not really enjoying it.
"'He said, 'How'd you fancy coming to America to play in the summer.' I said, 'I'd love to.' That was it, as simple as that."
"Deep down, soccer's in your blood," Mariner says, patting his midsection as if, by referring to "soccer" he was indicating his own physical being, his guts, his DNA. "I thought, 'I'm really missing the game. I've got to take this opportunity to go and play in the States.' So I went to me partner and said, 'Look, I want to take the summer off and go and play in the States.' I said. 'To be honest I'm not enjoying myself. Don't have any fear of me starting another company because I don't like the business."'
With that, Paul Mariner began his career in American soccer .
ENGLAND’S FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION was founded in 1863. The Football League organized 25 years later. They were formed to promote a game called that came to be called "soccer." That was the formal name, occasionally written, rarely used in conversation. "Football," historically, referred to any number of archetypical goal-scoring games, played in England for centuries. Rules varied from town to town; the only constant that a ball, a bladder, a stone or some other available object was to be advanced by one team as deeply as possible into the opposing team's territory and placed in some broadly delineated goal. Handling the ball was allowed.
To stop this advance such tactics as punching, kicking, throwing rocks and thrashing opposing players with sticks were generally permissible. While this must have made playing defense much easier, it gave the game an unsavory reputation. In the 16th century , football was banned from the court of Queen Elizabeth I because it was simply too violent and thought to attract ruffians.
It was a game played by common folk. When the industrial revolution swept England, these same common folk were imprisoned in factories and coal mines for 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Football went the way of all recreational activities. It moved into the middle and upper classes. By the 1800' s boys at Eton, Harrow, Charterhouse and other tony English boarding schools, played football under the supervision of their schoolmasters. The free-for-all style favored by the game's salt-of-the-earth progenitors was disdained as unseemly. Competitive sports were intended to build character , and character development required strict rules. Those schools formulated the rules of soccer-though everyone still called the game football. Their major innovation was the "no handling" rule, carrying the ball apparently too easy and somehow ungentlemanly.
Other schools continued to allow handling, and from those institutions football took a different direction and gained considerable popularity of its own. One such school was called Rugby, which promulgated a form of football which bears its name and is played professionally in England and several other countries. But the non-handling rule had a greater number of adherents.
By the late 19th century , social reformers in England had gained some political clout. They were able to ease oppressive factory conditions. Working people won a modicum of liberation. The "weekend" was invented. Among other things, it was a time to play football. But upper classes still had the power. The Football Association's purpose, with its national "Challenge Cup," was to impose bourgeois rules on the workingman's game. The Football Association at first adhered to a code of strict amateurism, but public interest in attending the best matches was so great that thousands were willing to pay admission charges. When money began changing hands, the players smelled economic opportunity . Most of them bad no alternative outside of the factories, mills and mines. With formation of the Football League in 1888, football became a full-fledged trade. Professionalism increased quality, matches became more exciting, England fell into football fever .
It took almost a half -century for the football craze to traverse the Atlantic, and by the time it arrived in America it was not quite a craze. The American Soccer League (there was already a popular version of football in the U.S., one that allowed handling of the ball) formed in 1933. The league was more semi-professional than professional for most of its life, though in 1974 it made a bid for legitimacy by naming basketball star Bob Cousy its commissioner. The International League started and sputtered in 1960, followed in 1967 by two competing leagues, the United States Soccer Association and the National Professional Soccer League. Both had big money behind them; many of the same wealthy men who owned teams in more established American sports founded franchises. The NPSL attempted to develop its own identity , importing European and South American players.
The USSA took an easier route. It imported entire teams. The first (and last) USSA champion was the Los Angeles Wolves, owned by then-Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke. They were, in reality, England's Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The following year, the two leagues merged, creating the North American Soccer League. In its inaugural season the Kansas City franchise led the league in attendance, averaging 8,065 per game. L.A. brought up the rear at 2,269. But the NASL picked up with the coming of Pele, the world's greatest and most charismatic player, to the New York Cosmos. Pele, who in 1958 was the youngest player ever to appear in a World Cup, was a bit over the hill by the early 1970s, but he had a winning smile and against American competition (including more than a few other slightly over-the-hill foreigners) he still shined. For a while, ABC had a contract to televise NASL games.
Mismanagement and an inscrutable American indifference to soccer as a spectator sport dissolved the NASL a couple of years ago. Some of its more perseverant franchises joined the ASL, to form the APSL. As late as 1991, the APSL had 12 teams. Mer the 1991 season, the league and the United States Soccer Federation ( overlord to all organized levels of the sport) hoping (perhaps praying) that the 1994 World Cup will focus a spotlight on soccer. ordered significant upgrades in franchise budgets and stadium facilities. Only five teams could survive the burden.
One of the fatalities was the Albany Capitals. Albany, New York is a sooty upstate city of warehouses, shopping malls and very old buildings. By some anomaly Albany is the capital of New York, though visitors have been known to cite its main virtue as its proximity to New York City, a three-hour jaunt down a shoulderless, pockmarked highway called Taconic Parkway (which was probably a super-highway in the 1920s when it was built but for modem cars is just a hazardous, extremely narrow road).
Whatever else can be said about Albany, it is a sports-mad burg, in a minor-league kind of way. A New York Yankees farm team draws good crowds there, as do the Albany Patroons of the Continental Basketball Association. Even arena football (a game which will receive no further explication here) is well supported. Soccer made Albany a four-sport city , of sorts. In their final year , the Capitals had a good season. They advanced to the APSL championship game. There they were defeated by the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks. Armand Quadrini, a soccer enthusiast whose principal income came from his construction firm in one of Albany' s suburbs, owned the Capitals. Quadrini offered the head coach's position to Paul Mariner, who'd played and coached, as an assistant, there for three years since abandoning his attempt at upscale wheeler-dealerdom. Enthused, Mariner optimistically declined an offer to return to Malta and traveled to the World Cup draw in New York at Christmas, to meet with Quadrini and negotiate a contract. But the negotiations, as Mariner put it, "stumbled." Mariner ran into Laurie Calloway, who intimated darkly that the Albany frahchise was soon to go the way of all flesh.
While the Blackhawks employ a full squad of full-time players, Albany kept only six. The rest of the team flew in for games only. The Capitals' made their home in a creaky, minor-league baseball park called Bleecker Stadium. Even the minor league baseball team in Albany abandoned Bleecker a decade ago. Quadrini could not afford to comply with the league mandate to improve the amenities and expand the budget. Early in 1992, he politely informed Mariner that the head coaching job was no longer available. In fact, the team was no longer available. Welcome to American professional soccer.
AMERICAN SOCCER PEOPLE chafe when they hear their sport ridiculed like a kid wearing sneakers to the senior formal. The American sports media are a conservative and cranky lot, not quick to surrender airtime or column inches that could be spent on coverage of baseball, basketball or any of the sports already proven to be circulation and ratings builders. But their ignorance of soccer goes beyond profiteering. There's a subtext of antipathy, perhaps xenophobia.
"Sometimes you let your feelings get carried away with you," muses Blackhawks coach Laurie Calloway, "and you think it's just jealousy. When a sportswriter hears that this is the number one sport in the world and his favorite sport is baseball I think there's a certain envy. 'How can it be the most popular sport if I don't understand it?'"
It is tempting to deliver a passionate defense of soccer, but unnecessary . Here is how the Blackhawks' game against the Tampa Bay Rowdies concluded:
Two overtime periods failed to break the tie. The game went to a "shootout" tie-breaker. Five players from each team took turns dribbling the ball from 35 yards out and shooting against the opposing goalie. The best three of five would determine the winner. Goalies in soccer, unlike in hockey, are infrequently tested. The shootout puts the goalie on the spot.
After five rounds, the game was still tied. There was no three-out-of- five winner. On the seventh round, a Blackhawks midfielder named Paul Holocher dribbled in against Rowdies goalie Bill Andracki. Holocher is a second-year player who was one of Mariner's benchwarmers. He had never started a game for the Blackhawks until that night, when the team was missing five of its regular starters to the national and Olympic teams, and in Derek Van Rheenen's case, to suspension. Holocher is also a graduate of Santa Clara University. He played his college soccer on that very same baseball field and a klatch of his schoolmates was in the stands.
Holocher, who'd scored one goal already in the game (his first of the season) feinted left, dribbled far right of the goalie's six-foot crease and sliced a sharply angled kick that narrowly evaded Andracki's backwards dive. But was the shot in under time limit? The Rowdies besieged the referee, protesting that Holocher took too long to get the ball off his foot, that the linesman had already raised his flag. The Blackhawks hustled off the field, where the only light by this point in the evening came from semi-adequate floodlights, dim and yellowish.
The whole atmosphere had a musty glow, a futuristic dystopian aura with the fleeing Blackhawks, swarming Rowdies in flourescent blue-green jerseys, and hapless, black-clad ref as science-fiction scavengers on a comic book wasteland.
Holocher, however, took his time exiting the field, strolling in front of the grandstand his arms raised triumphantly toward the starry sky; sort of a mini lap of honor. As long as it goes in the net, that's all they're interested in.
At the locker room gate a group of fans, mostly young girls, nudged their way toward the players. Paul Mariner shed his black parka, signed his name in pen on a few programs, then turned away. The expressive lines on his face formed something like a sneer.
"To blow a 3-1 lead," he huffed. "That's bullshit."
The shot was ruled admissible. The 'Hawks next game would be on Independence Day, prompting an uncharacteristically witty public address announcer to quip, "Come back on July Fourth for more fireworks." Humor. Suspense. Controversy. Human interest. Happy endings. Cinematic visuals. It is hard to imagine what more a sport could offer.
Having presented the favorable evidence, American soccer, by comparison with the rest of the world, is a minor league sport. "What's the best baseball-not the top level, the next best level?" asks Mariner.
"Right. You could possibly look upon this as Triple A." As he reaches this conclusion, he sits poolside at the sumptuous San Jose Athletic Club. The establishment with its faux Southern manse facade and imposing wooden doorway, a bar with sofa seating and a spacious dining room, is frequented by luminaries and celebrities, to the extent that San Jose, California can manufacture any, and then as much for lunch as for workouts. State Assemblyman John Vasconcellos, he of the nationally noted "self-esteem task force," and San Jose Mercury News three-dot columnist Leigh Weimers (the best San Jose can do to compare with San Francisco's Herb Caen) are, on occasion, glimpsed there. Mariner's membership is a perk of his new employment. After Albany's demise, Mariner returned to England, with no coaching job and no playing career.
"The phone went dead for about two weeks," says Mariner. "Then one particular morning, the phone went. And it was Laurie offering me a job." He would not be head coach, but he would get an opportunity to continue his coaching education, and to call himself a pro soccer player for at least another year.
THE CALIFORNIA SUN is drifting past high noon over the Athletic Club. Mariner sits under an opened parasol pondering the future. He is wearing a bright pink polo shirt, jogging shorts and rubber sandals. He talks about the futures of his Blackhawks' players. He leaves the impression that he is considering his own future as well.
"We've got a bunch of players who are really very talented. It's just the work ethic. You've really got to drive it in to them that if they work hard there is a possibility at the end of the rainbow. You can go to South America. You can go to Europe and earn a lot of money. Unfortunately the money's not here yet. But with the World Cup corning it will be. Hopefully we'll get a strong league and they can stay here and earn a lot of money. "Which is my idea."