Only once has 53-year-old Tommy Mulroy had a job that wasn’t about soccer. His stint at a New York delicatessen, when he was a sophomore in high school, lasted six weeks. The owner wanted Mulroy to cover an absent stock boy’s shift. But Mulroy was on the way to his soccer game 40 miles away at Farcher’s Grove in Union, N.J.
“There was a sleet and hail storm and the boss didn’t believe we had a soccer game,” says Mulroy. “He said I was lying and fired me. But we played in the sleet!”
Mulroy became an NJCAA all-American at Ulster County Community College in 1974-75 before embarking on a pro career that spanned 13 years and 13 clubs in five different leagues, outdoor and indoor. Despite the nomadic existence, Mulroy relished life as a pro player.
“In preseason, guys would complain about double sessions and all the running,” Mulroy says. “I was saying to myself, I could be carrying a bundle of shingles up to a hot roof. But instead I’m kicking this thing with the spots on it. Let’s go for a run!”
At each new club, Mulroy took on a community relations job, which doubled his player salary (about $25,000 for a player of his caliber in that era). He ran camps, gave clinics, sealed sponsorship deals. After retiring in 1988 he founded Soccer Marketing & Promotions.
“What was I going to do?” he said. “I didn’t finish community college. I didn’t have a degree. But I realized I could do all the things I did -- clinics, camps -- without a team.”
Mulroy, who set a juggling world record on the Empire Stadium platform in 1987, surely owns the world record for giving soccer clinics. Among his current clients is Alianza de Futbol, which last year put on clinics in 18 cities emceed by Mulroy with stars such as Carlos Valderrama and Luis Hernandez at his side.
“Tom's a perfect mix of showman and soccer expert,” says Alianza de Futbol president Brad Rothenberg. “Sponsors love him because he appeals to beginning players because he's entertaining and the serious players because he's a former pro and passionate about the game. I've yet to meet somebody who conducts a clinic better than Tom does."
Mulroy’s showmanship skills emerged when he joined his first pro club, the Miami Toros, in 1976. While older players avoided the community outreach, the 20-year-old Mulroy embraced it.
“Here’s this New York kid who can juggle the ball like a flippin’ clown,” Mulroy says, “They’re sending me to schools, synagogues … all over the place. I was like, wow, ‘these people want my autograph.’ That’s how I got started in the promotional stuff.”
Mulroy aqcuired his juggling skills because he was the only kid in his Rockland County community who played soccer, so he fooled around with the ball endlessly on his own.
While with the MISL’s New York Arrows, he was mentored by GM Tod Leiweke, who now runs MLS’s Seattle Sounders. With the Uniondale-based Arrows, Mulroy says, “I personally saw over 400,000 kids on Long Island. If you told me a town on Long Island, I’d tell you what color their uniforms were.”
While Official Spokesperson for World Cup USA ’94, Mulroy estimates he did 120 appearances. He served on the executive committee for the 1996 Olympic Soccer Games and appeared on Nickelodeon and ESPN children’s TV shows. His company, which branched out into the Hispanic community with Se Habla Futbol, launched the Copa Latina tournament in 1993, and promotes international games in Miami.
“My entire life is soccer,” Mulroy says. “I love it. I love the kids. I love the sport.”
(This article originally appeared in the January 2010 issue of Soccer America magazine.)