Paul Mullin: Wrexham goals, fame in US and perspective – ‘everything is for Albi’

Paul Mullin: Wrexham goals, fame in US and perspective – ‘everything is for Albi’

November is proving quite the month for Paul Mullin.

There have been five goals — including a masterclass in finishing when netting a hat-trick in Saturday’s 6-0 romp against former club Morecambe — in four appearances, plus a missed penalty.

Then there was last Monday’s sold-out speaking gig at Wrexham’s William Aston Hall, where hundreds of fans gave him a standing ovation before and afterwards, followed by a midweek appearance on BBC Breakfast to publicise his new book, My Wrexham Story.

“It’s been pretty mental,” admits the striker, who squeezed in a red-carpet appearance at the recent GQ awards after making the luxury magazine’s Men of the Year list for 2023.

Mullin is rightly proud of his off-field achievements, just as he is of a goal tally that stands at 88 since moving to north Wales in the summer of 2021. But it is his son Albi who has given him the biggest thrill.

“It was my birthday not so long ago and Albi gave me the best present,” says Mullin, whose four-year-old son is autistic. “He’s coming on leaps and bounds, especially now he’s started mainstream school.

“He’s started to put words together. Not to communicate, but he can put them together. On my birthday (November 6), Albi was in school and Karen, his brilliant one-to-one teacher, was asking him what the teddy should do, what book he wants him to read for Albi.

“She mentioned a book about a party. Straight away, Albi starts singing ‘Happy Birthday to you’. He associated a party with ‘happy birthday’. Being my birthday, I was in floods of tears watching the video. An unbelievable kid.”

Mullin makes an ‘A’ for Albi after every goal (Photo: PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

Those who have watched the second series of Welcome to Wrexham will be familiar with Albi’s story. His first year brought all the usual milestones, including walking at nine months and mimicking his parents’ actions when they were playing.

But then, suddenly, everything changed. First, Albi could not get out of bed for three days. The next week was spent with the toddler barely mobile, as eye contact ceased and he stopped communicating.

Frantic with worry, Mullin and partner, Mollie O’Brien, contacted the health visitor. “Don’t worry, these things happen,” the couple was told.

A few months later and with no improvement, they pushed for a second opinion. Again, they were told not to worry. It was only after Albi had passed his third birthday that the correct diagnosis came back.

“Albi is an unbelievable little boy,” says Mullin. “So happy — and that’s what makes me most proud. He’s my life. Everything I do is literally focused around him.

“My mum and dad gave me every single opportunity in life they could and I want to do the same for Albi. If I had a problem, I went to them. They’d solve it. Now, as a father, it is up to me to solve the problems for him. But it just isn’t as easy as that.

“What me and his mum can do is give Albi the best opportunities he can have in life. We work really hard at it.”

A big motivation behind writing the book was a desire to share his experiences with those in similar situations. To help other parents understand they are not alone.

It is clear from the book there is plenty of laughter and love in the family home. Not least how Albi has developed a little trick of walking visitors to the door by the hand when he feels it is time for them to leave.

“I tell people not to take it personally,” says Mullin. “He does the same to me sometimes!”

The phone call that would change Mullin’s life forever came when sitting in his mum’s garden.

Then 26, he was a striker in demand after finishing as League Two’s top scorer with 32 goals for promoted Cambridge United. Wrexham were among a host of clubs chasing the free agent and manager Phil Parkinson had made a good impression during a meeting.



EFL stories you may have missed: Stunning strikes, long runs ended – and Exeter embarrassed

Mullin, though, was not minded to drop down to the fifth tier after a campaign that had gone so well in the division above that a stand at Cambridge’s Abbey Stadium had been renamed in his honour. Cue a phone call from Rob McElhenney, who just a few months earlier had taken over Wrexham with fellow actor Ryan Reynolds.

“The phone flashed up with this number from Beverly Hills so I went inside to take the call,” says Mullin. “At that point, I didn’t know I was going to sign for Wrexham.

“I’d enjoyed the chat with Phil and I thought he was a great manager — the sort of manager I could see myself working for. But the step down was something I wasn’t sure about.

“Rob outlined his plans and explained how he saw Wrexham getting out of the National League, building up the club’s profile and hoping to be in the Championship — or close — within five years.

“They’d had success in their careers but now wanted success in football. Rob said they’d stop at nothing and I was excited. I knew joining Wrexham would mean seeing Albi every day.

“I came off that call and my decision was made. I went straight back outside at my mum’s and told everyone I was signing for Wrexham. All the family were saying, ‘Are you sure?’. I was.”

Reynolds, second left, and McElhenney, with hands in air, have been a great help to the Mullin family (Photo: Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images)

Mullin’s decision has proved an astute one. Not only has his goalscoring prowess continued to flourish — the last 15 months have brought five hat-tricks — but his fame now stretches across the Atlantic.

On the players’ promotion trip to Las Vegas in May, a nightclub security guard even insisted on accompanying Mullin to the toilet in case he was mobbed by fans.

“I didn’t even know there was a documentary being made until I signed,” he says. “There were cameras in my face and I wondered what was happening.

“They told me I was basically signing over my rights for them to record me. I still had no idea what this would mean, I really could never have imagined anything like what has happened.

“The lads never talk about the documentary in the dressing room. We leave it in the background. That’s down to the gaffer — he makes sure we know we’re footballers.

“That maybe is helping change a few minds about us. There is an outside perspective sometimes, where people think, ‘They are big-time Hollywood’.

“But I think people now walk away (from our games) and think, ‘Yeah, they might play for Wrexham and they might have all this adulation or attention but they don’t half work hard’.”

That work ethic and desire to prove people wrong have characterised Mullin’s career. Having been released by Huddersfield Town as a teenager, he joined Morecambe, initially on a £200-per-week contract.

He was in and out of the side and it eventually led to the striker hitting the weights in an attempt to bulk up. For someone whose game is all about skill and speed, it was a mistake.

Parkinson received a glowing reference from Ken McKenna, Jim Bentley’s then assistant at the League Two club, when asking about the striker’s character.

But, after three years on the Lancashire coast, it was time to move on. Things did not work out at Swindon Town or Tranmere Rovers and Mullin credits Cambridge manager Mark Bonner with rekindling his love of football. “Mark gave me the freedom to decide what suited me best,” he says.

The switch to Wrexham brought the same level of trust from his new manager. Now, he cannot imagine being anywhere else.

“Our owners are unbelievable people,” he says. “At first, I was quite sceptical, thinking they were these really nice people because they wanted to get the best out of us as footballers. But I soon realised that wasn’t the case. They are just nice people.”

Mullin cites the FA Trophy semi-final win over Stockport County towards the end of his first season as a prime example. Albi had been brought to the game by mum Mollie, only to be sick on the pitch after the final whistle.

“I’ll always remember Ryan coming over to rub Albi’s back,” says Mullin, a patron for the autism charity YourSpace and who celebrates every goal by using his fingers to create an ‘A’ symbol as a nod to his son.

“Trying to make him better and saying to us both, ‘It’s horrible when things like this happen’. It was the first time he had met Albi but when he messaged later, to ask how he was doing, he’d remembered Albi’s name. That showed how genuine he is.”

Setbacks have been few and far between since Mullin’s return north. Saturday’s victory over Morecambe was his 73rd for Wrexham. A hat-trick, plus an assist, continued his comeback from a horrific injury suffered in pre-season, when a collision with Manchester United’s Nathan Bishop left the striker gasping for breath on the pitch in San Diego.

Mullin is close to manager Parkinson (Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

The diagnosis of a collapsed lung and four broken ribs meant having to remain behind in the USA as his team-mates flew home. He then had to sit out the first nine games of the season.

“I’d say it wasn’t until the Sutton United home game that I felt anywhere near myself,” he says about the October 24 victory over the then-bottom club. “I still get some pain now, after games. But during the games it is always fine. Hopefully, now I can start to get back to where I was.”

Mullin’s scoring instinct has returned, albeit with the odd stutter such as the recent 2-0 loss away to Accrington Stanley when he hit the crossbar with a first-half opportunity and a stoppage-time penalty.

Not so long ago, such a miserable afternoon would have led to an equally miserable weekend. Now, though, he has an added perspective.

“It devastates you at the time,” he says about that penalty miss. “You sit in the changing room and wallow in self-pity but then I go home and Albi is there.

“He couldn’t care less how I got on. But he makes me smile by doing something silly. I’ll join in with him and, next minute, I’ve forgotten about the game.”

Paul Mullin: My Wrexham Story (Century, £20). Out now.

(Photos: Getty Images/Paul Mullin)

Source link