More often than not, the soccer—er, football—fanatic is hanging out with Iron Maiden and AC/DC. But on this Wednesday afternoon, he’s stuck with the Scout staff.
“Here’s the beauty of what we do,” explains Paul Mariner, British soccer legend, New England Revolution color commentator and ESPN analyst. “We’d be doing this anyway.”
It’s a weekday afternoon and we’re camped out in Porter Square, beers in hand, watching soccer as Mariner explains the finer points of… well, drinking a beer and watching soccer. He and his cohort/cohost Brad Feldman have just gotten back from a Revs road trip and are about to head out again, and you get the feeling that this is a rare moment of respite—that these two are in a kinetic state from sunup to sundown seven days a week.
Not that they mind. “I’m lucky that this is my livelihood,” continues Mariner. “This is my job—my job with the Revolution, my job with ESPN.” Even when Mariner and Feldman are sitting at the bar—that magical place where work shouldn’t exist—their eyes are darting from TV screen to phone screen and back again, all while they maintain in-depth, analysis-driven, statistics-filled conversations. We’ve had a lot of discussions with a lot of nerds here in Cambridge and listened to a lot of descriptions of things that go way over our head (love you, smaht kehds, don’t evah change!), but rarely have those conversations had such animated elegance and savoir faire.
“It’s not all day, every day… only when games are on,” Mariner laughs. “He has to keep track of MLS and all the English and European leagues,” Feldman says. “I used to and now just do it as a matter of course. He’ll catch me at 10 o’clock watching a re-air of the Paraguayan First Division, and he’ll tell me turn it off, you have a family.”
As the conversation flows and stories of international adoration bubble up through the stats and float through the play-by-play, it dawns on us that this—a low-key afternoon at the bar where nobody recognizes Mariner—is a rare thing indeed.
While he’s been a local since he came to coach at Harvard in 2003 and is the voice of New England soccer, this is still America, and the sport is, well, still soccer. But anywhere else in the world, Mariner’s treated like the rockstar footballer he is, having spent years with Arsenal’s Premier League team and a decade on the English national team.
Heck, anywhere else in the world, he’s probably hanging out with rockstars. “I’ve been lucky, you know, when you play [professional sports] to find a few people in the music world,” Mariner explains. It’s a profoundly humble statement, considering what comes out of his mouth next.
“I’ve been mates with Brian Johnson from AC/DC, Ian Gillian from Deep Purple, Steve Iris from Iron Maiden. I think the best moment I’ve had—and I’ve had some really good moments—was when we were living in Phoenix and Iron Maiden came to town. [Nicko] McBain, the drummer for Maiden, says, ‘Hey where are you watching the concert?’ On the side of the stage, I guess. He says, ‘Come sit with me.’”
“And, you know, he has a massive drum set, so he’s banging and he’s right there,” Mariner laughs, motioning his arms as if he’s behind the kit, “just smashing away.”
Mariner is full of stories like this. Bad Company gave him a drum set when he was in Ipswich (that’s Ipswich, England, not Massachusetts). He once performed—yes, performed—with Deep Purple at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. When Purple played the Hatch Shell a few years back, they dedicated “Smoke on the Water” to him.
“That’s a different level,” he remembers. “When the band says, ‘This is for you, Paul,’ that’s something!” And it’s not all classic rock heavyweights. After a quick discussion of a recent gig by the Cult, Feldman chimes in to relay the story of when, thanks to Paul, he met Adam Franklin, lead singer for shoegaze pioneers and indie cult heroes Swervedriver. (“There was a crowded pub, a bunch of punters chanting Paul’s name, it’s crazy.”) And it’s here we see the essential New England-ness of the Revolution’s announcing team, their balance of encyclopedic knowledge and stoic enthusiasm blurring the lines between art and athletics.
“I ended up backstage at U2 and the Police because of him,” Feldman says, pointing at Mariner. “I was just along for the ride. That’s why I say he’s hiding in plain sight here in Cambridge. In London, it’s a different story.”
As Feldman and Mariner share musical memories, something happens on a TV screen—which screen, we couldn’t tell you—and the bar erupts in equal parts excitement and indignation. Their conversation turns to strategy and to the machinations of far-flung teams and player prospects, then swings back to music, and back again to the action. It all blurs together, another hazy afternoon with a rockstar footballer, all of us just along for the ride.
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