By Red Casual 7th March 2019
He became one of the first faces on many of the leading club nights in London, a DJ and a promoter. He was the guy on many of the doors where he sometimes had to pick his crowd at clubs including Flying, Boys Own, Full Circle also Ibiza and Rimini. Before all this he was a main face in Arsenal’s football Firm – The Gooners. I first met Ali around 1990 at a few London night clubs he’s another solid chap! He popped into Holywell Street towers for a chat.
Firstly, good to see you again, welcome and thanks for meeting us. How’s things?
All is good mate thanks, working hard and enjoying life right now.
Good to hear, starting with London and the music, where does your musical roots come from and what would be your preferred bands or dance music growing up?
Growing up I had quite an open musical mind and started listening to Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder etc, mainly through my father’s LP records as I got into my teens I found Bob Marley, and then into more R&B, before finding the Ska, rude boy and Skinhead music that I loved being a part of. Later in my late teens and early 20’s I started DJing with my best friend and legendary DJ Brando Block – we started with a mobile disco called Ecstasy, I brought a yellow BT van whilst Brandon brought the decks and speakers from Tandy, that was it we were off and running playing 70’s and 80’s Jazz funk and soul tunes that pulled in a massive following.
What’s your early memories of Arsenal and growing up a supporter?
Early memories of going over the Arsenal were around 1977 bunking over the big green gate at Highbury every time we were at home and just feeling that I belonged to a special place where my heroes would run out and send me into euphoria for the two hours.
I remember that my favourite player at the time was Malcolm Macdonald and he was banging in the goals for fun. The game that really stuck out for that year was my first ever Arsenal v Tottenham game, the atmosphere was crazy, I think there was almost 50,000 in Highbury for that game, It was over the Christmas period and the song ‘Hark now hear’ was sung loud and the words were very true. The game was a 2-2 draw but to see my hero score our two goals was the best thing ever, I was hooked.
Are you still attending games? How did feel about moving from the old Highbury down to the new Emirates?
I hardly get to games now because of work commitments and because I run a grass roots youth football club which takes up most Saturdays and Sundays also, I feel that the current state of the pastime is far from the working man’s game that everyone could relate too, look around the stadiums now and it’s a joke how you have people screaming and shouting in there suits and ties, eating their prawn sandwiches and watching the game on telly in a box at the ground, The Emirates is not Highbury and will never give me that sense of belonging that we all felt at Highbury.
We know Arsenal were the first casual dressed crew in London and always well turned out, were you there from the start?
Yeah, Arsenal have always been known to have the fans that started the casual look in London and saw us move away from the old donkey jackets and boots.
For me personally this changed in 1979 if you remember Bjorn Borg was the man and he started wearing Fila, it was the nuts the different bold colours, Arsenal were in Europe that year and we ironically drew Gothenburg from Sweden which just so happened to be Borgs Country so after assuring my Dad that I was going to France on a day trip with School, four of us left for Sweden on a ferry, my first ever trip abroad with my football family and could not believe how different it was – the shops were particularly good the sports shops that had Bjorn Borgs Fila’s all over them Arsenal ended up drawing the game but was enough to see us through to the next round, oh and we brought back lots of shopping from the shops. It wasn’t long before some of our lot were going abroad during the week on shopping sprees for the latest Fila, Tacchini, Ellesse etc.
It wasn’t long before the London stores started stocking the same and one of our favourite places was Sharp Sports in Kensington at the same time we started wearing the Lois jeans, but you had to slit the side at the bottom seams so they fitted well over your kickers, Trim Trams, Stan Smiths, and Gazelles. Alongside the Burberry, Aquascutum, jackets and trench coats. In the eighties we got into Stone island Cp Company, Armani, etc by having a Gooner who had connections directly with the main importers into England.
I can remember we were in Milan 93 or 94 we were playing Torino away but didn’t want to stay in Torino as it is a very industrial town, so we decided to meet in a boozer before heading off from Milan, we met in a medium sized bar and it was packed obviously, back then we were all wearing Stone Island, Armani, Cp Company etc, there was only around 10 local Italians in the joint and we didn’t terrorise or offend anyone, in fact myself and a couple of others started talking to guys at the bar. I could see that one of them was close to tears, so I asked if he was ok, he asked if we were from England … I looked around the bar and said of course we are mate, he started shaking his head and said: I cannot believe this day, I asked: why? because an Italian team would lose tonight to and English side? he said: no, you guys have made me so happy because you are wearing my clothing, I said do you supply Italian clothing to the UK? no, he said I design it! He took a card from his wallet – he was the main designer for Stone Island. I looked around the bar again and they must have been 45 different people wearing Stone Island clobber, I went and found our UK seller and introduced him to the designer, As we left he shouted God bless the English and God bless Arsenal. Imagine how he felt that night!
Personally I don’t wear the clobber anymore, I mean, walking to my local shops around 10 years ago and seeing moo moos wearing fake Stone Island done me! Even tramps I’ve seen with SI on and then if you go over football now and you’ve got a father and his two boys all wearing it has de-valued it for me. I have good memories at Arsenal coming back from home and away games and all heading for The Lyceum in the strand for the Saturday night out … win, lose or draw. We did change the face of the casual mainly due to going away in Europe and the shopping-sprees.
Can you give us a brief story on the Gooners and The Herd at Arsenal?
No stories of the Gooners or the Herd at this moment lol … But QPR away Latimer Road, PSG away, Ipswich away, Stoke away, Millwall The Blind Beggar Those that know, KNOW!
Arsenal were a very mixed race firm with a lot of Irish lads at the start of the scene? Did any right-wing influence try and highjack the crew?
The right-wing factions have always tried to infiltrate Arsenal, but were always told where to go, they never did get a foothold at Arsenal even though I had seen few of them there, but the original firm who many still go today always let them know they are still NOT welcome!
The Bear? The legend, we’ve only heard good things …. What was he like?
You will only hear good things about the Bear, because he was good.
He was a loving Dad who loved his mates and their families, he would walk in a room and light the whole place up, he would have everyone in stitches in minutes, a total larger than life character who like a shepherd would look after his flock and maybe herd them up at times (lol) My kids loved him, whenever he saw them he would pull money out of his pocket and give it to them.
I was so proud to have been part of the group that put on a benefit for his wife Mandy and two daughters Tiffany and Lyndsay – we held it at the famous Heaven nightclub and Madness, Pet shop boys, Tall Paul, Brandon Block, Terry Farley, Steve Lee, Judge Jules, all played for free, the event sold out and we managed to raise thousands of pounds for the family.
Excellent tribute there mate. Have you ever been up for any Scottish matches?
Unfortunately, never made it up to Scotland for a game but was present at Highbury for games against Celtic Tony Adams testimonial was one of them, we always had a strong repour with Celtic due to the connections etc also players like Charlie Nicholas but a certain Rangers one sticks out as they thought they would take liberties but didn’t!
The club scene? How did you come to be with the Flying crowd, which club nights did you start out at?
In 1988 Brandon Block and Dean Thatcher introduced me to Charlie Chester who asked me to do my first ever door at their new night called Flying at the Queens reservoir in Colnbrook. I would later work the doors at all the best clubs in London, Sheffield, Nottingham, Leicester, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Brighton, Leeds, Middlesbrough to name a few. Also, with Charlie I worked on Cowboy records, Flying records, Ibiza 90, Rimini 91.
One of my favourite joints was Dingwalls Camden, but best venue I’d say I’d went to was Rocky’s Birthday on a boat near Canary Warf. You also did the door that night, did you have a best venue?
My Favourite venue I must say was the Soho Theatre Club where Flying started out not for any thrills or special décor, but the space was just fantastic and with the crowd made it the very best place to be with incredible atmosphere.
Any mad stories of being a tube driver, club promoter, DJ and doorman at the same time?
I can’t reveal any stories I’m saving them all for the book hahaha but there are plenty … I’m a diplomat and will protect all my friends until they upset me of course lol.
You started out DJing with Brandon Block did you come from the same area in London?
Yes, me and Blocko always were in each other’s houses growing up, as we lived only two streets away from each other in Wembley, we still do live very close and see each other often.
How hard was it to do the doors with a bit of clubbing and the odd bit of DJing back in those days?
It was easy DJing and doing doors back in the day, it was hard keeping the day job as a train driver though as I would be getting the first train out in the morning after leaving a club hahaha Some of the people I would pick up would have been in the same club earlier, and got freaked out when I called their name out over the tannoy on the train. I used to pick up Brandon on his way to work he would meet my train at Sudbury town and then he would spend his journey looking through the spy hole and saying things like: ‘ hello my lovely in the red dress welcome on board the love train’ lol.
Full Circle – another great day out on a Sunday, luckily we go to know yourself and got in, but eventually, the crowds that turned up there on a Sunday afternoon became chaotic. How hard was that to deal with?
Full Circle was another ground breaking club that started at Queens and then moved to the Greyhound in Colnbrook it was fantastic, people would turn up from all over London and soon after taking off from all around the UK people wanting to carry their weekend on, came and enjoyed meeting people from around the UK and listening to DJs from around the world, Phil and Fiona had created a very special Sunday clubbing extension which meant I didn’t see a Sunday dinner for some 12 years.
I was aware a few years back about a club you had on the go named Sweet Sensation? This was actually in the old Greyhound – Full Circle original gaff? That must have been strange and nostalgic … How did it go?
Sweet Sensation at the greyhound was emmense people wanted to come out and be a part of the reunion of this iconic venue that has been turned into a strip joint the event was fantastic, and it brought back so many memories of great times at the venue.
Your best three 80s labels?
Fila, Addidas, Lacoste
Best three albums?
Bob Marley – Rastaman vibration
UB40 – Signing off
Michael Jackson – Off the Wall
Can you give us your top five dance tracks?
Ten City – Devotion
Gat Décor – Passion
Bassheads – is there anybody out there
Cherl Lynn – Encore
From the football terrace scene to the clubbing scene did you overlap these and looking back what was your preference?
Terrace and Clubbing always crossed over, some funny stories there but for another time (book)
What’s new for your good-self? Any projects on the go apart from the book? or are you living quiet?
Just working hard a few ideas with Brandon, the childrens football takes up a lot of my time but I enjoy it.
Thanks for dropping in mate, good to speak you again.
No probs mate.