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 Mariner’s 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 followed, 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 and add-ons.
“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 always 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 is currently working as a pundit for ESPN and for New England Revolution’s matchday coverage, having previously spent five years as assistant manager for the MLS club under former 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.
“When I signed Bobby sat me down and asked me what sort of player I wanted to be,” he remembers.
“I said I wanted to be the best. He said if you want to be the best in every six games you have to have four good games, one really good game and one stand-out game. I said I could sort that.
“He had given me my chance and helped me to play for England, so I always wanted to do well for him.
“There were little things he did, too. He always used to call me ‘Nipper’ and when we played at Anfield, Goodison Park, Old Trafford or Maine Road he would say, ‘Nipper, are your mum and dad coming to the game?’.
“He would sort out two tickets for them in the directors’ box. As a Lancashire lad coming back to Lancashire, running out at Old Trafford and seeing my mum and dad in the directors’ box, I wanted to do everything to play well and show my mum and dad what I could do. It was just really good man management.
“Two days before the FA Cup final we changed our system to one we’d never played before, but we absolutely murdered Arsenal. I hit the crossbar, Johnny Wark hit both posts and Roger Osborne scored the goal.”
In the UEFA Cup final, Mariner scored as Ipswich beat Alkmaar 3-0 in the first leg at Portman Road. It was far from over, though.
“We won the first leg 3-0 and then in the second leg at the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam we scored first to go 4-0 up on aggregate,” he said. “But they scored one, then another, then another. We were hanging on, but we managed to do it.”
In 2009, Mariner returned to the English game with Plymouth as 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 Championship 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 ex-Rovers skipper Ryan Nelsen in 2012.
He has not ruled out a return to management, but he is happy continuing with his TV work.
“Never say never but I’m 61 and I’m enjoying what I’m doing,” he said. “I’ve got a good life. Boston is a lovely city.
“It’s been quite an unusual route from Chorley, but I always say to kids that all you need is a chance.”