shoots for one more goal
By Jonathan Vankin
This article originally appeared
in somewhat different form in
Metro: Silicon Valley's Weekly, July 9, 1992.
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 annet 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 Anny;" 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
On that dank autumn night in 1981, England faced
Lts 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
"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 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