Ali recalls his time at Filbert Street and subsequent spells at Leeds United, Heart of Midlothian, Glenavon and Ballymena United. He also describes his experiences in local football, winning the Sky Masters tournament and his current role as a Club Ambassador.
In part one of this interview, Ali described how his career started in Scotland when he played for Irvine Meadow, Kilmarnock and Motherwell prior to his move to Gordon Milne’s Leicester with his Motherwell team-mate Gary McAllister in August 1985.
The previous season, Ali, as Motherwell’s captain, had led his team to the Scottish Division One (now Championship) title and to a replay in the Scottish FA Cup Semi-Final against Celtic.
At one stage though it looked as if Ali might move to Glasgow Rangers, managed by his old Motherwell manager Jock Wallace, rather than to Leicester.
The versatile midfielder in action against Newcastle United in 1989.
“I had a good relationship with Jock,” Ali explained. “For about six weeks, I was in conversation with the Rangers chairman John Paton and with Jock about a move to Rangers but they needed to move some players off the books first to reduce the wage bill. Also, Motherwell didn’t want to sell me to another Scottish club, so that made the deal even harder.
“During the summer (of 1985) Jock was trying to phone me from his holiday home in Fuengirola and he also got John Paton to phone me but it was hard to get the deal over the line. As a Rangers supporter from the Ayrshire coast, playing for Rangers was my dream. My dad and family would have been so made up.
“At this time, I’d also been made aware of Leicester’s interest. In Scotland I was falling foul of the referees because of my aggressive style of play. I’d been sent off a few times.
“I was friendly with a Glasgow tabloid journalist and he’d phoned me up to recommend that it would be in my best interest to go to Leicester because referees in Scotland wanted to make an example of me and that the next time I got sent off or get into trouble, I might be banned for a considerable amount of time.
“Then (Leicester City manager) Gordon Milne played his ace card. He flew up from East Midlands airport with (club secretary) Alan Bennett. He wanted to sign Gary [McAllister] and myself. He met us at a hotel. He gave us a piece of paper detailing the offer. He told us to mull this over and said ‘I've got a flight leaving Glasgow back to East Midlands at five to five.
Mauchlen and Gary MacAllister both signed for the Foxes in 1985.
“If a deal's not done by five to five, then there'll be no deal'. He left Gary and I out in reception. We both looked at each other, said 'let's go to Leicester' and we both signed. I was 25 and Gary was 19. Going to Leicester was a bit of a culture shock, but it was a homely place. Leicester were in the old First Division and it was a massive step up in standard.
“I’d always stuck up for Scottish football, but I found out very quickly about the amount of work you had to do off the ball. When I played against Liverpool for the first time with players like Grobbelaar, Hansen, Lawrenson, Dalglish, Rush and Mölby and against Manchester United with players like McGrath, Robson and Whiteside, I came of age.
“The physical attributes of having to deal with that quality of player, with and without the ball, was a big hurdle for me to cross. Initially, Gordon Milne would ask (coach) Gerry Summers to work with me for an extra hour or so after training to concentrate on my first touch and my movement and stuff like that. I had to work hard to maintain my first team place.”
Including his full debut against Arsenal at Highbury in August 1985, Ali played as a midfielder in all but two of the remaining 38 league games that season.
“That first season was tough, but it was a great experience. I’ve kept a lot of my programmes in sealed boxes from my playing days and occasionally I look at them and have to pinch myself because I’d sometimes forgotten what great players I’d played against and what great grounds I’d played at.
Alongside team-mate Russell Osman during a match against Oxford United in November 1987.
“At the end of my first season we had to win the last game of the season at home to Newcastle to avoid relegation. We won 2-0. Myself and Ian Banks scored and we stayed up.
“The following season, Gordon Milne went upstairs to become Director of Football and Bryan Hamilton became the team manager. He’d been manager at Wigan and was making his way in football management. I’ve never had this conversation with Gordon, but he was vastly more experienced that Bryan and I don’t think he found the arrangement comfortable.
“At the end of that season (1986/87) Leicester City were relegated (with Manchester City and Aston Villa) even though we had some good players in that side. John O’Neill and Paul Ramsey were Northern Ireland internationals, Ian Wilson was about to become a Scotland international, Russell Osman was an England international, goalkeeper Ian Andrews was an outstanding prospect, and then we had Gary McAllister, Alan Smith, Steve Lynex and Steve Walsh.”
Leicester City were favourites for promotion the following season (1987/88) but were in 22nd position at the end of December. David Pleat replaced Bryan Hamilton as manager and under Pleat the team’s form improved dramatically for the second half of the season.
“David Pleat was an interesting individual and I don’t mean that in a bad way,” Ali reflected. “I don’t think I’ve ever come across a more knowledgeable guy. He was unbelievable. His memory and retention of information just beggared belief. Some of his training sessions were strange though.
I was from a small fishing village of 3,000 people in West Kilbride and to put me in the big smoke would have scared the life out of me.Ali Mauchlen
“He brought in some gurus and taught us how to stand up properly and walk properly. At one stage we were encouraged how to stand up, walk towards the television to turn it on, and then he started this Brazilian warm-up where you were clapping with your hands behind your back.
“When he first came, the style of play was excellent. He made me into a full-back. I was still a relatively aggressive centre midfield player. If there was a skirmish in the middle of the field, I was always involved. He believed that he could get more out of me because he thought I was a better player than I gave myself credit for.
“When he told me to play at right-back I thought he was mad in the head. I’d never played that position in my life. He played me there for two years and they were probably the best two years of my career. Manchester City came in for me three times. Chelsea also came in for me and Andy Roxburgh came to look at me for Scotland.
“I might have been interested in Manchester City but not Chelsea. I was from a small fishing village of 3,000 people in West Kilbride and to put me in the big smoke would have scared the life out of me.”
Ali, as captain, hardly missed a game for the next two seasons (1988/89 and 1989/90) but despite the arrivals of, amongst others, Mike Newell, Jimmy Quinn, Tony Spearing, Alan Paris, Martin Hodge, Gary Mills, Kevin Russell, Tommy Wright, Tony James, David Oldfield and David Kelly together with successful loan spells from Kevin Campbell and Paul Moran, the team underperformed and then suffered from the departure to Leeds United of Gary McAllister in June 1990.
He went on to captain the Foxes in the early 1990s.
The following season, with the team near the bottom of the table in January 1991, David Pleat left Filbert Street. Pleat’s assistant Gordon Lee became caretaker manager.
“Gordon was such a wonderful, likeable individual,” Ali remembered. “He invited me to join himself and Bobby Roberts on the coaching staff. For me to have that respect and to be given that responsibility was just fantastic. Alan Bennett drew up short term contract reflecting my new role.
“We avoided relegation on the last day of the season with Tony James scoring the winning goal against Oxford United. I thought that as coaches, we’d done enough to be able to carry on the next season, but when we were in Portugal during the close season we heard that Leicester were advertising the manager’s job.
“Gordon, Bobby and myself were a bit taken aback by this. Sitting in the hotel we heard that Cambridge manager John Beck was being linked to the job. Gordon came back to Leicester to speak to the Chairman but then Brian Little, Darlington’s manager was appointed. He came in with his own coaching team, Allan Evans, John Gregory and Stevie Hunt.
“That was pretty much the end of my Leicester City days. I expected to lose my coaching role, but I also lost the captaincy and my first team jersey. All three were taken away from me in one fell swoop.”
The Scotsman played under four different managers at Filbert Street.
“I knew that the writing was on the wall. They wanted to sign Simon Grayson from Leeds. I went to Leeds on loan for two months, but I ruptured my stomach and had to come back to Leicester for surgery. Brian Little didn’t want me in the dressing room so (in July 1992) I transferred to Hearts, managed by Joe Jordan.
“I should have stayed in England. I was at Hearts for 16 months but I didn’t take to them, they didn’t take to me and I didn’t play well. When Hearts released me, Stirling Albion wanted me to take on a coaching role, but I went to Glenavon in Northern Ireland (in October 1993). I enjoyed it there. We were runners-up in the league at the end of the season.
“They offered me the manager’s job but I turned it down as it was a rolling one year contract. I wasn’t prepared to uproot my family for that. I was very friendly with Glenavon’s manager Alan Frazer and when he went to Ballymena, he asked me to go with him (in the 1995 close season) but I didn’t enjoy it there. It was out in the sticks, the community wasn’t like Glenavon’s and the results never happened.”
Ali then returned to Leicestershire.
Mauchlen, pictured giving a tour of LCFC Training Ground, continues to be involved with the Club.
“I went to VS Rugby, then to Hinckley Town as player-coach and manager. Then I went to Leicester United as player-coach and I scored their last ever goal before the club folded. I was also player- manager at Oadby Town (where we won the league every year and got to the quarter final of the FA Vase) and player-coach at Barrow Town.”
Ali then skippered Leicester City’s Sky Masters side in the televised series of indoor six-a-side tournaments for veteran players. He played in this until he was 50. His side won the regional heats five years on the trot in Nottingham and won the National Grand Final twice against Chelsea and Wolves (in 2005 and 2007).
Ali also became Chairman of the Leicester City Ex-Players Association in 2003 which raised money for all sorts of charities. Today, Ali is a Club Ambassador. He also hosts the Champions Club on matchdays.
He concluded by saying: “I’ve been associated with Leicester City for 38 years now and over the years, the Club has been very good to me.”
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