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Home is where the heart stays for Magpie Mariner
4:20pm Wednesday 2nd July 2014 in Sport
For Paul Mariner, the last 43 years have been quite a journey. It all started in non-league at Chorley, and he has never forgotten it.
As Mariner looks out over Boston, the place he has made home in the United States, he can reflect on an incredible career as a player and coach.
Winning the FA Cup and UEFA Cup with Ipswich, scoring for England at the World Cup, spending two years at Arsenal, starting his own club in Arizona and the time he was hired by Jurgen Klinsmann.
But mention Chorley – the club he joined in 1971 – and the warmth in his voice is immediate and heartfelt.
“People ask me whether I still think about Chorley and I do, nearly every day,” said the 61-year-old.
“The club still really means a lot to me. You always need a chance in life and Chorley gave me my chance.
“I broke my leg in my first season there but they really stuck by me.
“They were the ones who changed me from a midfielder to a striker. I never looked back after that.”
Born in Bolton, Mariner was training as a mechanical engineer when he started his career at Victory Park.
Then Chorley were in the Northern Premier League – the highest level of non-league at that stage, before the advent of the Conference eight years later.
The grounding he received in two years with the Magpies proved essential for everything that came after, with Plymouth Argyle swooping to take him into the Football League when he turned 20 in 1973.
“There was a Northern Premier League and a Southern League below the Football League then, and it was a tough league,” Mariner remembers.
“But we had a good side. I had a great strike partner who would hold it up and I would use my pace to run on to balls.
“I scored quite a few goals and then I was scouted by a guy called Verdi Godwin, who was a lifeguard on Southport beach. He worked as a scout for Plymouth.
“I went down to Plymouth on trial and the manager Tony Waiters (a former Burnley player) wanted to sign me, but he said if Chorley asked for a lot of money they wouldn’t be able to.
“I came back on the train from Plymouth – and in those days it was a long trek – thinking Chorley are going to want a lot of money and it’s not going to happen.
“But I went to see the secretary and the chairman and they were fantastic with me. I think in the end Plymouth signed me for £2,000.
“Chorley made some money out of it, not enough to get rich, but they didn’t want to stand in my way and I’ve been thankful for that.”
Mariner even made a low key return to Victory Park on a brief visit to England last year.
He said: “My mum lives in Adlington, and I came back last year and went to a game. I just snuck in quietly with my son and I really enjoyed it.
“I think the referee had given some bad decisions and the banter in the crowd was fantastic, it was really funny!”
As well as short spells in Australia and Malta, Mariner ended his playing career in America with Albany Capitals and San Francisco Bay. Most of the last quarter of the century has been spent on the other side of the Atlantic.
He currently works as a pundit for ESPN, having previously spent five years as assistant manager for the MLS club under ex-Liverpool defender Steve Nicol.
“I’d visited America for their bicentennial celebrations in 1976 and just loved the place,” he said.
“I’ve lived there on and off now since 1988. After I finished playing, it sounds incredible to people in England but I went to Scottsdale in Arizona and started a new club.
“At first it was one team but by the end of it we had 2,000 kids playing for us, boys and girls.
“I worked at Harvard too before Steve Nicol asked me to be his assistant manager at New England Revolution. We had a good team with people like Clint Dempsey, but we went to four cup finals and managed to find every different way to lose!”
Losing cup finals was something that Mariner was not used to. Two of the highlights of his playing career were victory over Arsenal in the 1978 FA Cup final, then triumph over Dutch side AZ Alkmaar in the UEFA Cup final three years later.
Both came with Ipswich under Sir Bobby Robson, who had taken him to Portman Road after three successful years at Plymouth.
In 2009, Mariner returned to the English game with Plymouth as first-team coach, soon becoming a manager for the first time - almost by accident after Paul Sturrock stepped down as boss. He lasted only six months, though, unable to halt their slide to relegation.
Then came the call from Klinsmann to return to the MLS with Toronto FC.
“Jurgen phoned and asked if I’d like to become technical director,” Mariner said.
“I’ve known Jurgen for a lot of years from when he was in Los Angeles. When he phoned me he was working for a marketing company and he had recommended me.”
Mariner again stepped up to manager at Toronto, although he was replaced as boss by Ryan Nelsen in 2012.
He has not ruled out a return to management, but he is more than happy continuing with his TV work.
“Never say never but I’m 61 and enjoying what I’m doing,” he said.