Paul Mariner obituary

Powerful centre-forward for England and for Ipswich Town’s cup-winning side of the 70s and 80s

The footballer Paul Mariner, who has died aged 68 of brain cancer, was a powerful and athletic centre-forward who won the FA Cup and Uefa Cup with Ipswich Town during a memorable era for the club in the late 1970s and early 80s. He also played 35 times for England between 1977 and 1985, scoring 13 goals.

Strong and wholehearted, he was one of the best British forwards of that time, good with both feet and a classical striker in the old vein, able both to dish out and take physical punishment. But his value to his various teams – which also included Plymouth, Arsenal and Portsmouth – lay as much in his enthusiastic presence as his technical skills. A bubbly personality, he was the life and soul of the party and a popular figure in the dressing room.

Mariner particularly loved playing for his country, and was proud of the fact that he scored the goal that secured England’s place at the 1982 World Cup finals, where he was ever present across all five matches. Once his playing days were over he had a decade in football management before moving into work as a TV analyst.

Paul Mariner, right, playing for England against Scotland in 1980
Paul Mariner, right, playing for England against Scotland in 1980. Photograph: PA

Born in Farnworth, Bolton, Mariner went to Horwich county secondary school and played his early football with Chorley as an amateur in the Northern Premier League while training to be a mechanical engineer. At Chorley he was spotted by Third Division Plymouth Argyle, who signed him as a 20-year-old in 1973. He scored 61 goals in 155 appearances at Plymouth, helping them to promotion to the second division in the 1974-75 season and coming to the attention of the Ipswich manager Bobby Robson, who bought him in 1976.

Robson’s close-knit Ipswich side was one of the strongest in the First Division at the time, and in short order Mariner was appearing in the 1978 FA Cup final against Arsenal, hitting the crossbar before his teammate Roger Osborne delivered a 1-0 victory. Three years later his efforts in front of goal went a long way to delivering the Uefa Cup in 1981 as he scored three times over the two legs of the quarter-final against St Étienne and again in the first leg of the final against AZ Alkmaar as Ipswich won 5-4 on aggregate. He was also influential in Ipswich’s sustained challenges for the First Division title in 1980-81 and 1981-82, when they ended up as runners-up to Aston Villa and then Liverpool.

Mariner’s debut for England came six months into his eight-year spell at Ipswich, when Don Revie called him up to play against Luxembourg in 1977 at the age of 23. Under Revie’s successor, Ron Greenwood, he played two of England’s three matches in the 1980 European Championship finals in Italy, coming on as a substitute in both, including a 2-1 win over Spain that could not prevent England being eliminated at the group stage.

The following year he was England’s saviour in a nervy final match of their stumbling World Cup qualification campaign, scoring after 16 minutes to secure a 1-0 victory against Hungary at Wembley that took his side to the finals in Spain. There he played a pivotal role as one of only three England outfield players to feature in every minute of all five matches, scoring in a 3-1 win against France in the opening match but failing to register again as his side were eliminated in the quarter-finals.

Towards the end of his career Paul Mariner coached Toronto FC for a year.
Towards the end of his career Paul Mariner coached Toronto FC for a year. Photograph: Nathan Denette/AP

When Greenwood retired shortly afterwards, it was Robson who got the England manager’s job, and Mariner won nine more England caps under his former club boss, finishing with a final appearance against Romania in 1985 at the age of 31.

By that stage he was playing for Arsenal, having left Ipswich in 1984 with 139 goals in 339 appearances. At Highbury he was less of a force than he had been in Suffolk, partly due to injury, and he was given a free transfer in 1986, moving to second division Portsmouth until 1988, when he spent a brief period as commercial manager at Colchester United before taking on player-coach roles with Wollongong City in Australia and then Albany Capitals and San Francisco Bay Blackhawks in the US.

He stopped playing in 1993, and for a time was a commentator with BBC Radio Lancashire. But he was soon lured into full-time coaching, including, in 2003, at Harvard University in the US. He then became assistant manager to the former Liverpool player Steve Nicol at the US Major League team New England Revolution from 2004 to 2009, before moving back to England to manage his old club Plymouth Argyle (2009-10). When they were relegated from the Championship in his first season, he was relieved of the job and, following a year managing Toronto FC in Canada, he returned to media punditry work, mainly in the US.

Outside football Mariner was a big heavy metal fan, and his forthcoming autobiography, My Rock and Roll Football Story, has a foreword written by his friend Ian Gillan of Deep Purple.

He is survived by his three sons, George, Dan and Joe, from his 1976 marriage to Alison Roscoe, which ended in divorce, by his partner, Val, and his mother, Peggy.

• Paul Mariner, footballer, born 22 May 1953; died 9 July 2021


Peter Mason

The GuardianTramp

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