He recently spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his career in football. Born in Ayrshire, Ali grew up supporting Glasgow Rangers.
“I went to Morton on trial but just didn’t fancy it," Ali began. “Then, when I was 15, Sheffield United’s manager, Jimmy Sirrel, took me to Bramall Lane for a trial. It was strange because I’d got this wonderful picture of being a professional footballer. Dad drove me to the station. I went to Glasgow. With another lad, I got to Sheffield on the Friday night. We were put up in digs with some other lads. We were woken up at silly hour on Saturday to play York at their training ground. We kicked off at 10.30am. We then went back to the digs for a sandwich and were then taken to Bramall Lane to watch Sheffield United. Jimmy picked me up on the Sunday morning, drove me back to the train station and told me I wasn’t good enough. I was a bit down when I got home sitting in our house with folks asking how I’d got on.
“It was a bad experience but you put this behind you and go again. The chance came to go to Kilmarnock so I signed for them. They farmed me out to junior football at Irvine Meadow to toughen me up and get streetwise. I had a great year there. They were a great club with a good tradition in junior football. Then Kilmarnock called me up and I made my debut in 1979 against Raith Rovers. We won 3-1.”
In 1982 Jock Wallace, who had left Leicester City three months earlier, signed Ali for Motherwell for a fee of £35,000.
“I got lost when I first went to Motherwell,” Ali remembered. “I was a country lad living in Ayrshire. Trying to get to Motherwell was a day out for me and I missed my turning. I stopped at a phone box, phoned Motherwell and told the receptionist that I was lost. When I turned up there, Jim Clunie, Kilmarnock’s manager, and Jock were sitting in the manager’s office. They were two big men and I was a little 5ft 8in Scotsman. After I signed in the office, Jim suggested we went to lunch to get to know each other, but Jock said: ‘No. Mauchlen is going to get changed and train with the rest of the lads at Hamilton Racecourse.’ So instead of having a beer and a sandwich with the two managers, I was on a minibus going to Hamilton Racecourse for my first day’s training.
I’d got myself a bit of a reputation up in Scotland with referees and the SFA. I’d been sent off numerous times. A friend in the press tipped me off that if I got sent off again I would have a lengthy suspension. I felt that by coming to Leicester I’d have a clean slate.Ali Mauchlen
“Jock was great for me. He made me believe in myself. He definitely got the best out of me. He encouraged his players to have a nip of brandy or whiskey as they were running out onto the pitch. I don’t like either, but I had no choice! He had nothing to do with tactics. He just motivated his sides through good man management. He organised no holds barred five-a-side games on Friday mornings. These were full-blooded affairs with no holding back, the day before a game. There were a few fallings out, but he encouraged this.
“After Jock left Motherwell to go to manage Rangers again in 1983, I skippered Motherwell to the Scottish Cup Semi-Final against Celtic and we should have beaten a very good Celtic side.”
Ali then explained how he came to sign for Leicester, along with his Motherwell team-mate Gary McAllister, in August 1985: “Jock, now at Rangers, wanted to sign me. He made his interest very well known. Motherwell’s manager, Tommy McLean, was not keen to sell me to another Scottish club, but I was hell bent on trying to get there. They were my boyhood team. However, Jock had to sell two or three players before his chairman would sanction the deal. For weeks he kept phoning me from his holiday home in Fuengirola, keeping in touch with me through a phone box near my house. But Leicester manager, Gordon Milne, came up to talk to me and to Gary. We met in Glasgow’s Excelsior Hotel. Gordon put his offer on the table and said that it was his final offer. He said that if we hadn’t signed before his flight at 5pm, the deal was off. We signed.
“I was very disappointed not to go to Rangers but I was happy to sign for Leicester,” Ali continued. “I’d got myself a bit of a reputation up in Scotland with referees and the SFA. I’d been sent off numerous times. A friend in the press tipped me off that if I got sent off again I would have a lengthy suspension. I felt that by coming to Leicester I’d have a clean slate.
“The standard of football in England was better. I had to work really hard with first touch and stuff like that. When I first came down here, I was a bit rough at the edges. Gordon and Gerry Summers worked hard with me doing extra sessions after training. They worked on things that they could see needed to be fine-tuned to get me in the first team. I’d watch Gordon in five-a-sides. You could see his brain working and his first touch and I’d think: ‘I need to sharpen up here!’
Ali Mauchlen, Gordon Milne & Gary McAllister
Milne unveils new signings Mauchlen and McAllister.
“After we’d signed, Gary and I watched Leicester beat league champions Everton 3-1. Gary Lineker had just signed for Everton. The money Leicester had got for selling Lineker had bought me and Gary to Filbert Street. I looked at Gary after that game and said: ‘How the hell are we going to get in this side?’ It was quite daunting!
“It was a big move for Gary who was 19. I was 25, married and had two children. I bought a house in Ibstock and Gary moved into the spare room. He was no trouble and our friendship grew on the basis of that.”
Ali quickly established himself in City’s top division side. In 1986, Milne moved upstairs to become general manager for one year in Ali’s second season at Filbert Street.
Bryan Hamilton took over as first team manager but sadly the Club was relegated in 1987. After a bad start to the Second Division campaign, Hamilton was replaced by David Pleat as manager in December 1987. Results improved dramatically for the remainder of that campaign.
Thinking back to the Pleat era, Ali recalled: “I know David wasn’t a favourite here. I’ve got nothing but admiration for Gordon. He made me a better player and brought me into a nice environment. The one guy who changed my career, though, was David. He made me believe in myself and dilute the aggressive side of my game. He told me that I could play. I played the best football of my career under David to be honest. He moved me to right back which I thought was bizarre. I thought the guy had taken leave of his senses. He said he’d seem something. I played there for two years. Manchester City came calling and so did Chelsea.”
I played 273 games for Leicester, had been captain, had a great rapport with the Leicester public and have some great memories.Ali Mauchlen
The 1990/91 season started badly for Leicester and, with the Foxes near the bottom of the Second Division, Pleat departed in January 1991 to be replaced as caretaker manager by the ex-Everton manager Gordon Lee, with Ali taking on a player-coach role,
“After Pleat went and Gordon was in charge, Graham Souness wanted to sign me for Glasgow Rangers,” Ali continued. “I‘d missed out on going to Rangers a few years earlier and I was very keen to go. Gordon didn’t want me to go. I was captain and on the coaching staff. He said: ‘We’re struggling in the league, your motivation is great around the dressing room, you are a big personality about the place, you’re well thought of and I would hate to lose you, but I’ll talk to the chairman’. He did, but the chairman wouldn’t let me go. I’d been at the Club for eight years and I thought I’d got a two-year extension so I would qualify for a testimonial but it didn’t work out. When Brian Little came, I wasn’t in his plans. Simon Grayson came and I went to Leeds. I was doing well there but I ruptured my stomach, so that killed the Leeds deal.
“I played against some great players when I was at Leicester. These included [Kenny] Dalglish, [Ian] Rush, [Alan] Hansen, [Mark] Lawrenson and [Bruce] Grobbelaar at Liverpool, [Glenn] Hoddle and [Chris] Waddle at Spurs, the great Everton side and [Peter] Beardsley at Newcastle. These were fantastic, really talented individuals. Great memories. We had some good players too. In one of our sides we had McAllister, [Russell] Osman and Robbie James, who was a great player, a good pro and a likeable guy.
“I played 273 games for Leicester, had been captain, had a great rapport with the Leicester public and have some great memories.”
After leaving Leicester, Ali had spells playing and coaching in Scotland and Ireland, where he had a successful spell at Glenavon as caretaker manager. He also became a well known figure in local football with Leicester United, Hinckley Town and Oadby Town. He skippered the Leicester City ex-players team which won the National Masters Tournament title in 2005.
Ali still has strong connections with Leicester. He is an ambassador for the Club, hosts the Legends’ Lounge at King Power Stadium on matchdays and is involved in a range of activities, including the recent LCFC Legends Quiz on social media.
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