"I like it both ways, though. I like the serious game in England, all perfect in the rain and the cold. And then I like to come over here and just go nuts in the sunshine."
When he was first approached to play professionally in Newcastle, Cannell was studying law. "I'll have to finish it," he says with a laugh. "I've a disco in England, the Magpie, an' I'm always being sued for something, paying barristers a bloody fortune."
And Cannell still enjoys the night life. "My apartment is a straight drive from Tramps [a glittery Georgetown disco]," he says, "no curves or turns to confuse me after an evening with Mr. Johnnie Walker." One of the few times the fast-quipping Cannell has been speechless in America occurred when he tried to date a pretty blonde in Tramps. "There were these two great hulking lads in sunglasses with her," he says, "and it was a challenge. I got her address and phone number. It was Susan Ford, the President's daughter. Like the bloody Princess or somethin'."
Cannell meets challenges in a different manner on the pitch. After a recent game against him, Phil Parkes, an English keeper with Vancouver who was dramatically decked by Cannell, nursed a swollen ankle with an ice bag and said, "Paul's not unusual back in England. Forwards are supposed to be rough. And with him, you know he's going to hit you early on. He never fails. You just wait for your chance and get him back."
"I like to say hello to a keeper early in the game," says Cannell. "Then their eyes are moving around, and maybe they'll miss a shot. The English keepers know how to care for themselves, they come up with the knee, or their head in your chin, but the Americans are still shaky. They need toughening."
One reason for Cannell's unflagging aggressiveness is hypnosis. Not watered-down Zen or Positive Thinking, but the real item. "Four years ago I met a Swedish hypnotist in Spain on holiday," he says. "Believe it or not, I was having problems with self-confidence." Cannell does a half-hour routine before games, curling up in a corner of the locker room with his arms over his head. "When I come out on the field, I can run through a brick wall," he says. "Most goalkeepers aren't that tough."
Perhaps hypnosis works too well sometimes. In a game against Fort Lauderdale, in which the Dips were leading 4-1, Cannell took the ball at midfield and began running toward his own goal. Opponents chased him, thinking he was running for room to turn and maneuver. But he kept on going, galloping triumphantly, madly toward his own goal. Dips Keeper Bill Irwin smiled uncertainly. And the fans hushed when Cannell broke in one-on-one against his own goal.
"I don't know what I was thinking," he says. "We were up three and I just did it." Perhaps it was the final fantasy of self-confidence, of pulling off the unthinkable by scoring for one's opponent. Or maybe the ultimate rule to break.
Whatever it was, Cannell finally couldn't do it, and he tapped the ball lightly to his openmouthed keeper. "The training runs too deep," says Cannell. "The ball simply must not go over your line."