As someone who lives in Leicester and works as a match-day hospitality host for the champions of England, it comes as no surprise to learn that Ally Mauchlen’s footballing week will not revolve around tomorrow’s Fir Park encounter between two of his former clubs, Motherwell and Hearts. The main focus for the 56-year-old Ayrshireman, of course, was Tuesday night’s Champions League match between Leicester City and Porto.
Mauchlen, however, makes no bones about the fact that he would far sooner go back and watch Motherwell than Hearts. This is understandable when considering his contrasting spells at the two clubs. One of Scottish football’s most notorious bad boys over the last 40 years, Mauchlen is fondly thought of at Fir Park, where he captained Well to the First Division title in 1984/85 before he and midfield sidekick Gary McAllister were bought by Leicester. Seven fruitful years in the East Midlands, in which he established himself as a hero, were followed by a season at Hearts (1992/93) under Joe Jordan in which the moustachioed redhead is remembered only for his rabid indiscipline.
“I’d describe my time at Hearts as difficult,” said Mauchlen, speaking to the Evening News from the Legends Lounge at Leicester’s King Power Stadium. “Leaving Leicester was a big wrench but Brian Little had come in as manager and I wasn’t getting a game so I had to take a new journey in life. I plumped for Hearts, but going back to Scotland was difficult because I’d changed my style of play in England. David Pleat had made me a more thoughtful player who wasn’t getting involved in as many confrontations as I had previously.
“Before I went to England, I was always confrontational. Trouble followed me everywhere. Looking back on my career, I was over aggressive. When I went back to Scotland with Hearts, I promised myself I wouldn’t go back to old ways but within a matter of weeks I was back in confrontation and scrapping with people, and everything else that went with the old Ally Mauchlen. The aggression definitely held me back at Hearts. In hindsight, I should probably have stayed in the lower leagues in England because the game suited me more down south.”
Mauchlen knows he isn’t particularly well remembered by Hearts supporters, outwith those who enjoyed seeing him ruffle opposition feathers. “I was 32 at that time but I still felt I had plenty to offer when I went to Hearts,” he said. “I’d looked after myself as well as I could in that era. I was never the most gifted player – I had Gary McAllister beside me for most of my career at Motherwell and Leicester so I broke things up and he did the nice things – but I learned to be better at Leicester.
“When I went to Hearts I got into the team quite quickly but then I picked up a few injuries and it was difficult. There was a group up there who I called the Hearts Mafia – the likes of [chairman] Wallace Mercer, John Robertson, Gary Mackay, Craig Levein, John Colquhoun and Alan McLaren.”
He offers this assertion with a mischievous smile. “They were like a family because they had been there so long. I got along with them but I never really felt part of it at Hearts. It wasn’t like at Motherwell where we had 15 or 16 guys who always looked after each other and went out together. I never really felt that at Hearts, but that doesn’t excuse the way things went for me.”
It says much about Mauchlen’s 13 months in Edinburgh that his most memorable act was a stamp on the chest of then Hibs player Darren Jackson, during a 1-0 win for Hearts at Tynecastle in November 1992, for which he somehow escaped with only a booking. “With the Darren Jackson thing, we both went for a challenge,” he recalls. “He went to ground first and I tried to step over him. Unfortunately I stepped on his chest by accident. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! I met him in Tenerife and we were actually on the same team for a charity match. He reminded me of the incident and we had a laugh about it.”
Mauchlen makes no effort to disguise or excuse the notion that he was a loose cannon during much of his time on a football pitch. “I was loathed everywhere I went because of the way I played,” he said. “It was just the way I was made. At every club I was at, even my colleagues told me in training I had to settle down. It’s just the way I was. I was a different person on the pitch to what I was off it, although I admit the red mist still comes down sometimes, like road rage. As a person, I’ve mellowed massively though.
“As a player, I was a time bomb just waiting to go off. I don’t mind the way I was perceived although looking back I would rather have curbed some of the things I did in order to progress my career. I’d like to think I was a better player than I was given credit for. I proved that at Leicester and that’s why the likes of Man City, Chelsea and Rangers were in for me. Andy Roxburgh also had a look at me for Scotland, so I know I was a decent player. Leicester fans loved me, Motherwell and Kilmarnock fans loved me and even the Glenavon fans loved me. Of all the teams I played for, it was only the Hearts fans that didn’t like me.
“I’ve seen online that I’m in some Hearts supporters’ worst XI, which doesn’t surprise me. I smile at it but I’m quite sure there have been 11 worse than me. The Hearts fans never held me in very high esteem.
“In the end I left by mutual agreement. Sandy Clark came in as manager and I knew he didn’t rate me. We’d played a pre-season game in Germany and we were on the bus back to the hotel. He sat beside me and said ‘Ally, you’re too aggressive.’ At that point, I knew I was finished at Hearts.”