A centre forward during his playing days, Mariner began his career with Chorley. He became a professional player in 1973 with Plymouth Argyle, where he scored 61 goals in 155 appearances and is considered to be one of the club's best players. He joined Ipswich Town in 1976, where he achieved domestic and European success under the guidance of Bobby Robson. He was called up to play for the England national team during his time at Portman Road, and went on to represent his country at the 1980 European Championships and the 1982 World Cup. He spent two years with Arsenal and then Portsmouth before finishing his career abroad. He played for clubs in Australia, the USA, and Malta.
He took up coaching during his time with the Albany Capitals and focused on it fully when he retired from playing. After spending time working in Japan, he returned to America to coach, firstly in Arizona and then at Harvard University. He joined Major League Soccer club New England Revolution in 2004 as a member of Steve Nicol's coaching staff. After five years in Massachusetts, Mariner returned to Plymouth Argyle in 2009 as their head coach. He succeeded Paul Sturrock as the club's manager two months later before returning to his role as head coach upon the arrival of Peter Reid. In January 2011, he returned to Major League Soccer as director of player development at Toronto FC.
Mariner is currently the color commentator for the New England Revolution of MLS and frequently appears as a pundit on ESPN FC.
Mariner started his career as an amateur player at non-league club Chorley, close to his Lancashire roots and his style at the helm of their attack caught the attention of Plymouth Argyle, for whom he signed in 1973.
So began an impressive scoring record with the Devon club, with 56 goals in 135 appearances coming before Bobby Robson, who had been personally monitoring Mariner's progress, took him to Ipswich for £220,000 with John Peddelty and Terry Austin moving in the opposite direction as part of the deal. Mariner chose Ipswich ahead of similar offers from West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United.
Mariner made his debut in September 1976 and quickly settled into the Ipswich side as an old-fashioned number 9 – i.e., a forward capable of taking hard tackles and rough treatment from defenders but willing to give it back, while also scoring a fair share of goals. Received wisdom suggests that Mariner was only a 'target-man'-type centre forward but he scored plenty of goals with his feet and had the skill to create his own chances on the deck, rather than relying entirely on service through the centre and via the flanks.
Such was Mariner's impact that six months after joining Ipswich, he made his England debut as a substitute in a 5–0 win over Luxembourg at Wembley and played from the beginning in the following game against Northern Ireland in the British Home Championship at Windsor Park, Belfast. He impressed in both games, though didn't score and was not selected for the next six matches. During this period, Ipswich finished third in the First Division, with Mariner contributing ten goals from 28 games.
Mariner's third England cap came in the return World Cup qualifier in Luxembourg, scoring a last-minute goal in a 2–0 win which England really needed to win by much more in order to give themselves half a chance of qualifying for the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. By now, Mariner had become one of a number of 'target man'-type centre forwards for England coach Ron Greenwood to select from, with the likes of Stuart Pearson and Bob Latchford also on the scene. It was Mariner, however, who would get the nod for the majority of the time.
Meanwhile, at club level, Mariner was having a mixed time. He scored eleven goals in 37 appearances for Ipswich, which maintained his England aspirations but the team underperformed in the First Division and finished a lowly 18th. However, they reached the FA Cup final at Wembley where they memorably beat Arsenal 1–0. Mariner hit the woodwork with one chance and generally caused havoc to the Arsenal defence, earning him the Man Of The Match award afterwards.
Greenwood decided not to select Mariner for England throughout 1979, although he enjoyed his most productive spell for Ipswich in front of goal that season, hitting 13 in 33 matches. It wasn't until 1980 that Mariner won a sixth England cap – almost exactly two years after his fifth – and he scored England's goal in a surprising 4–1 defeat against Wales at Wrexham. He stayed in the reckoning thereafter, scoring in a 2–1 win over Australia in Sydney in the final game before England took to the field for the 1980 European Championships. Mariner was named in Greenwood's squad for the tournament, despite not kicking a ball during the whole qualifying campaign.
He didn't play in the opening 1–1 draw versus Belgium in Turin but came on as a sub in the remaining two group matches – a defeat against Italy and a victory over Spain, which ensured England's elimination from the competition.
Mariner maintained his England place as his Ipswich goalscoring record continued to improve – 17 from 41 games had come in 1980 and Ipswich made the early running as the next season got underway. England began their qualifying campaign for the 1982 World Cup with a conclusive 4–0 win over Norway, with Mariner scoring a superb goal with a deft turn and shot from 25 yards. He was, however, left out of the next game, which turned into a gruesome 2–1 defeat against Romania in Bucharest. Greenwood put him back in the side a month later for a now vital match against Switzerland, and Mariner scored the opener in a 2–1 win.
Ipswich were challenging for three trophies as the 1981 season approached its climax, with Mariner again to the fore, scoring 13 times in 36 matches. However, they were to miss out on two domestic fronts, with Aston Villa winning the First Division (after Ipswich failed to beat Middlesbrough) and Manchester City defeating Ipswich in the semi-finals of the FA Cup. But in the UEFA Cup, Mariner was proving to be a real hero as glory beckoned.
He scored twice in the early rounds as Ipswich progressed to a tasty quarter final against St Étienne. In the first leg in France Mariner put two away as Ipswich went 4–1 up, and added another as Ipswich completed the task in the second leg. After winning the semi-final, Mariner scored again in the first leg of the final against AZ Alkmaar as Ipswich coasted to a 3–0 lead, ultimately winning the competition 5–4 on aggregate. Weeks later, Greenwood put him back in the England side as the World Cup qualification campaign resumed with a defeat in Switzerland, a vital victory in Hungary and a shock defeat in Norway. It appeared that they may miss out on the World Cup finals for an unthinkable third tournament in a row.
But results elsewhere miraculously went their way, meaning England only needed to beat Hungary at Wembley in the final game to guarantee qualification. It was Mariner who scored the only goal in a 1–0 win, though he got it via a stumble which saw him score via a deflection rather than an actual shot on goal. But it was enough.
Injuries to both Achilles tendons restricted Mariner's football over the next few months, and he only scored eight times in 25 games for Ipswich. But in the five final England warm-up matches prior to the World Cup in Spain, he scored four times, including a stunning solo run and strike against the Netherlands at Wembley. He was named in Greenwood's squad and started the first match of the tournament, against France.
England went into a 2–1 lead thanks to a brace from Bryan Robson – the first of which was one of the World Cup Finals' quickest-ever goals – before Mariner slammed home a close-range volley to complete an impressive 3–1 win. It was his eleventh international goal in his 22nd match – an admirable ratio of one goal every other game. It was his also his sixth consecutive scoring game for England – a feat previously achieved only by Jimmy Greaves.
Greenwood selected Mariner for the rest of the tournament but he didn't score again and England went out in the second phase after two disappointing goalless draws. Mariner is best remembered for dragging a devastated Kevin Keegan to his feet in support after the England captain, on as a substitute after a tournament ruined by injury problems, sank to his knees, head in hands, missed an open goal with a header which would have sent England into the semi-finals.
Mariner's club boss Robson subsequently became England coach and he continued to select him as the qualification campaign for the 1984 European Championships got underway. Mariner continued to score frequently for Ipswich, whose young and vibrant side had started to age and break-up.
England's qualification campaign faltered, though Mariner scored in consecutive pool matches against Hungary and Luxembourg – the latter of which would prove to be his 13th and final England goal. By the time he next played for England, he was an Arsenal player, with the Gunners taking him from Ipswich in February 1984 for £150,000. By now Mariner was in his thirties but he still initially performed well for Arsenal, scoring seven times in the final fifteen games of the season. But age was starting to get the better of him; and he only scored nine goals in 41 games in 1984–85.
Mariner won two more England caps but a sign of things to come had arrived in the shape of Mark Hateley, a tall but skillful young striker exactly in the Mariner mould, while Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley also establishing themselves as international strikers.
Hateley came on as a substitute for Mariner in a friendly victory over East Germany in September 1984, before Mariner picked up his 35th and final cap in a goalless draw against Romania in May 1985, a qualifier for the 1986 World Cup. He had scored 13 times for England - the first goal coming on 12 October 1977 in a 2-0 win over Luxembourg in a World Cup qualifier. His last goal for England came on 16 November 1983, also against Luxembourg, but this time in a European Championship qualifier.
However, with Hateley in the ascendancy and Mariner regularly sidelined at Highbury during the 1985–1986 season, Robson opted not to select him for the England squad which qualified for Mexico '86.
Meanwhile, at his club Mariner could barely get a game, only playing nine times in 1985–86, including one match as an emergency centre half. In the summer of 1986 Arsenal's new manager George Graham gave Mariner a free transfer; in all he played 80 times for Arsenal, scoring 17 goals. He signed for Portsmouth, where he spent two seasons. In May 1989, he signed with the Albany Capitals of the American Soccer League. He returned to the Capitals in 1990 as the team now played in the American Professional Soccer League, formed by the merger of the American Soccer League and Western Soccer League. He played three seasons with the Capitals, where he was named to the leagues Best XI in 1990. During his three seasons in Albany, Mariner also served as an assistant coach. In the spring of 1992, the Capitals' owner offered him the position of head coach but when he heard a rumour that the team was about to collapse, he accepted a position as a player-assistant coach with the San Francisco Bay Blackhawks. He accepted that position and soon after the Capitals announced they were ceasing operations.
He saw out his career at Maltese side Naxxar Lions (15 appearances, 3 goals) and then back home with Chorley and Bury Town.
After retiring, Mariner worked as a football pundit for BBC Radio Lancashire for their Friday-night Non-League Hour before setting up a management company for footballers. After a spell back in England coaching at Bolton School, he returned to the States to coach youth football at S.C. Del Sol in Phoenix, Arizona. In the fall of 2003 he became an assistant coach at Harvard University. In 2004, he was hired by the New England Revolution of Major League Soccer as assistant coach to former Liverpool and Scotland defender Steve Nicol.
Speculation about his future was rife in October 2009 when he was linked with a coaching position at one of his former clubs, Plymouth Argyle, abetted by his visit to Devon to promote the city's 2018 World Cup bid and his subsequent resignation on 17 October. It was announced the following day, 18 October 2009, that he was to become the new Head Coach of Plymouth Argyle, with Paul Sturrock staying on as Team Manager.
On 10 December 2009, Mariner replaced Sturrock as manager of Plymouth Argyle, following a run of poor form which left the Pilgrims second bottom in the Championship. He was unable to keep Plymouth up, however, and they were relegated from the Football league Championship after a six-year stay, on 19 April 2010.
On 6 May 2010, it was announced that Plymouth were to look for a new manager, however Mariner would remain as a member of the coaching staff. Mariner's tenure as manager ended when Peter Reid was hired on 24 June 2010. Mariner stepped down from his role at Home Park on 30 December 2010 to pursue another opportunity. "I have known Paul for a long time and working with him has been fantastic," said Argyle manager Peter Reid. "I'm sure he will be successful in everything he does in the future. He's a great personality and someone who is a legend with the fans at this football club."
Mariner was named Director of Player Development for Toronto FC on 6 January 2011, joining new head coach Aron Winter at the club.
After starting the season with 9 straight losses, former Toronto Coach Aron Winter stepped down and Toronto named Mariner head coach on 7 June 2012. Mariner recorded his first victory as Toronto manager on 27 June against Montreal Impact, the game ended in a 3-0 away win. Mariner was dismissed on 7 January 2013.
Other includes the UEFA Cup, UEFA Cup Winner's Cup, and FA Charity Shield.As of 7 January 2013
Third Division runner up: 1974–75
FA Cup winner: 1977–78
UEFA Cup winner: 1980–81
Plymouth Argyle Player of the Year: 1974–75, 1975–76
Plymouth Argyle Team of the Century
Ipswich Town Player of the Year: 1982–83