Review: World Soccer Talk’s Robert Hay Jr. details the autobiography of Paul Mariner, My Rock and Roll Football Story.

Universal shock and dismay in the soccer world came in response to the passing of Paul Mariner this summer.

Mariner was the epitome of a ‘jack-of-all-trades’. Mariner won near universal praise for his larger-than-life personality and kindness to different people. It did not matter whether that was as a player, scout, coach, businessman or media personality.

His various career paths spanned decades. Soccer fans of different ages saw the different iterations of the man. Yet, all of them built upon the same fundamental personality.

My Rock and Roll Football Story

Mariner’s posthumous autobiography, My Rock and Roll Football Story, gives fans a glimpse into the thoughts of this man.

ESPN’s Mark Donaldson helped write the book and filled in gaps after Mariner passed away, shepherding it to publication. Quotes from newspapers, interviews, and websites about Mariner and various incidents throughout his life supplement the narrative. Most noteworthy is the introduction done by famous rock musician Ian Gillan of Deep Purple fame, which is not something you expect to see in soccer autobiographies.

Paul Mariner is a throwback to an era where soccer players started transitioning into true professionals. Growing up in a working class neighborhood, he almost went into an apprenticeship. Back then, his early physical advantage over his peers dwindled away as a teen. A diligent local coach convinced him to remain with the game.

Mariner is not shy about talking about his rise to fame. Similarly, he does not back down from describing some of more difficult behavior. The book does not dwell on the more negative aspects of his life. This includes his time away from his family or his youthful hubris. But, conversely, My Rock and Roll Football Story does not boast excessively on his skills. What you get across his life and career is someone who is not a saint. Still, Mariner is someone who lived life for fun. He wanted to take people along with him instead of running over them. Fair representation or not, this is the way of autobiographies.

Breaking down the book

The majority of the book focuses on his time with Ipswich, which makes sense considering his time and achievements there. His time as a coach in MLS gets a very brief mention, with most of the focus being on his relationship with Steve Nicol, who wrote a poignant epilogue. ESPN gets maybe a few sentences, but that may have been more of a reflection of Mariner’s declining condition and his interest in reflecting on “better times”.

It is impossible to not read this book without a tinge of sadness. Mariner’s death so close to publication and the book’s acknowledgement of his passing makes this a different type of autobiography. Rather than an author’s attempt to write history in real time, this book feels more like a series of eulogies for a life well lived. Donaldson’s inclusion of other voices in snippets throughout was a necessary but smart choice, allowing Mariner to react to others’ versions of events as well as fill gaps in stories.

My Rock and Roll Football Story is relatively short, but is not a quick read. As someone who did not live through Mariner’s playing days and knew him mostly as an ESPN voice and MLS coach, I was interested in his stories about his playing days. For a “rock and roll” story, there was little scandal but lots of evidence of his amazing personality.

I recommend this book especially for newer fans because it is a good example of how charismatic stars existed before Instagram, before constant media attention to their every action. It also shows why Mariner was so widely mourned, because his personality was almost fictional in its size. His death robbed the soccer world of one of its more interesting people, but this book is a good testament to his impact.