It takes a certain kind of character to survive for more than a decade as a professional doorman in the gang-haunted clubs of central Manchester. Greg Hall draws his spirit from an unhappy childhood and from the martial arts that gave his life direction and meaning. No-one is more knowledgeable about realistic combat techniques.
YOU SHOW ME a tough guy and I’ll show you someone who was bullied as a child. When you have had that awful feeling as a child, you never want it to come back again. I was born in Crumpsall, north Manchester, in 1970, and had a rough childhood. My mam and dad had a lot of trouble with each other. It gave me an inferiority complex and I was bullied a lot at school. It affected my self-worth and the bullies could see that weakness.
I had a circle of friends in this park where we used to go and they weren’t so rough, but you could go outside the area and there were rivalries. Crumpsall would fight Blackley or Cheetham Hill. Wherever you went, you got, “Where are you from?” It was like asking what football team you supported and you had to fight your way out. I wasn’t a sportsman at all: I used to forget my PE kit on purpose and stand on the line watching the others play football. But from being a young boy I used to ask my dad to take me boxing. I wanted to go when I was seven but my dad wouldn’t let me.
Brian Robinson and Dave Massey used to teach at Boniface’s gym. I finally went when I was fourteen. It was the wrong night and they were doing morris dancing! The lady said, “Come back tomorrow night.” So I returned the next night. I felt a bit intimidated on the way there. I didn’t know what to expect. Brian Robinson was the pro trainer and Dave Massey was the amateur trainer. Dave said he had beaten Dave “Boy” Green [former double world title challenger] as a boxer. In my mind, I took to it straight away, because I knew I was forging a good, strong will, but physically I was just a skinny, gangly kid. They were all from Salford and when I sparred they tried to punch me up. The gloves were really old and blue and came up to your elbow.
I have always had an addictive personality and I just got into it. I kept seeing Pat Barrett [Manchester-born former British and European Light-welterweight Champion] in the local Express, so I went to the Collyhurst and Moston gym, where he trained, and enjoyed it. They were a bit better trainers there. When you see somebody who is the business, you suddenly realise what is a bad teacher. They were showing us the proper body mechanics. I had quite a few fights there, then went to the gym in Moss Side run by Phil Martin. When I first went in it was all Moss Side guys, mostly black, and from the minute I went in it was intimidating. Phil Martin used to have the heating turned up to 100 degrees and the fitness was really intense. It was really good for your mind: your brain wanted to blow up but you had to keep going. There were some champions at Martin’s: Frank Grant, Ensley Bingham, Maurice Core, Carl Thompson, Stevie Walker, Ossie Maddix. I started doing Thai boxing for a couple of years as well, when I was about fifteen, with Master Toddy. He had been over in England a while and was “the man” at the time: him, Master Sken, Master Toddy and Master Woody. They were all the top men. I would train every day and still do. I had loads of energy: I was hyperactive. My son has got the same thing and he is nine.
Outside the gyms, I was part of this crowd of young kids who weren’t tough, but I met a couple of guys and went down the wrong track. I minded this guy who was drug-dealing, and he used to rob cars. I would make sure that if anyone came while he was taking a car, I would do them. The drugs were lucrative. We used to go to this nightclub and he sometimes paid me up to £200 a night and sometimes he was so off his face, he didn’t even deal anything. It was Es and acid and all that stuff.
There was a lot of big rival teams [of young gangsters] at the time. We never got caught by them but you were always worried that various teams might find out. It was only me and him, and so we usually avoided the clubs. I didn’t know too much, I was just a young boy thinking I was a tough guy. There were some people, the top Manchester hard men, who I never saw but I heard the names. There were stories about them: some probably true, some blown out of proportion. A lot of my pals have gone to jail or got shot or got caught up with dickheads.
I started dealing myself. One day I was sat in my flat in Blackley with my dealing partner and my girlfriend at the time. In the daytime this guy had come to the door and asked, “Have you got any draw?” I said, “No, we have finished.” He started looking around the house. The door of the flat was wired up and strengthened but had a cut-out switch so it wouldn’t kill anyone. A lot of the dealers did the same: you would get wrought iron and fix it into the floor with scaffolding and put a plug into the wall and put the positive to one strip and the negative to another and the minute you can see there is trouble you can activate it. In the flat door was also a spyhole. There was a blind spot and I had a mirror to cover that. It was to protect against “taxers”.
At night this guy came back. My pal opened the door and the guy had a pump-action shotgun. My pal went to hit him but was knocked over by another guy. I heard the door go boom and all the hairs on my neck stood up. I had this big sword but before I got close enough this black guy had the gun in my face and said, “Fucking get down on the floor.” I kept trying to go for it again but he had the gun on my girlfriend. It was January 2 and he said, “Get down there and kiss that Christmas tree.”
He got away with nothing because me and my mate blagged it. We didn’t live at the flat and made sure we kept the place bare. We opened all the cupboards and showed them there was nothing there. We knew who they were and went looking for them straight away. After they left the house, there was a carload outside and I ran towards it and they drove off. The anger overcame the fear: I was just thinking, what shall I do? Martial arts training helped me control the fear.
I stayed at Master Toddy’s about six years and became fully qualified in Thai boxing and tae kwon do and got my belts. But I was just doing martial arts, not really taking any thinking about. Then I met a man called Steve Powell. He had been a doorman himself and he opened me up to karate and then jeet kune do and then my martial arts just exploded. It had all come home to me when I was in a pub one day with a pal, wearing my imaginary black belt, when it went berserk. These guys were hitting each other with chairs and bottles and I thought, how can I deal with that? Powell dealt with reality stuff.
I started working on the doors when I was twenty-one, in Manchester city centre. I was at a gym in Salford and they needed spare doormen and asked if I could cover and I stayed there for six years. Most of my fights were there. It was a hotel, the Britannia, near Piccadilly bus station, with a club called Saturdays, a bar and another club. It was for hotel patrons and there was a dress code. When I got there, I thought we had a good team and they blocked most of the undesirables.
You could get into the club from different areas, so you would block them on one door and they would get in the other. It was rammed out every time. I think it was 2,000 capacity, mainly soul music. Because of the trouble it around it, some clubs have it in their licence now that they can’t have soul music. When I first got on the door I was green about how it worked. I thought we were one team and they were another and it was us against them. I soon found out it wasn’t like that. There would be fifteen doormen on at the weekend but only three during the week and if they came back during the week, you had had it. The manager was weak as well.
The two worst types of doormen I have worked with are the guy who talks a good fight and couldn’t fight sleep, and the guy who stands there with his chest out looking at himself, with his head up his own arse, not aware of anything going on. We started getting quite a few of the first type and when it kicked they were shaking like jelly.
I was on the door once with this guy and these two known faces came to the door. I said, “No trainers or tracksuits.” One tried to grab my larynx and I knocked his arm away. So the guy said, “Are we fighting now, or what?” The 19-stone doorman next to me was visibly shaking. I said to the lad, “How can I fight you? Look at the state of this cunt.” Meaning my supposed back-up. And I let them in.
Another night, I was stood on the door and had had a run-in with this guy from a certain team the night before. I didn’t know he was from this team and he had mouthed off and was about to hit me so I said, “What’s up with you?” and while he was thinking about it, I knocked him out with a right hook to the jaw. The one he doesn’t see is the one that gets him. The next night, it was near Christmas, and they came with tickets for Christmas. I was taking these tickets on the front door, which they had paid £35 for. This guy came and pushed my arm and said, “I have fucking got something for you round the corner.” I pulled my arm away and said, “You have got fuck all round the corner for me, dickhead.” The next minute, they all came out of the woodwork, seven of them, and started going for it. I had to fight my bollocks off to get back to the door. The reason I got there was because the sleeve of my suit came off with three of them holding onto it. When I got back to the door, the other doorman, who was from the same part of the city as this firm, said, “That’s what happens when you fuck with guys from our ’hood.” I thought, thanks very much, you bastard.
Steve Powell was a doorman in the town for ten or twelve years so I knew that what he was telling me, he had done. It wasn’t theory. He was the most frightening guy I had seen up to that point. He had this delivery system, the double-hip. Basically, you use the rotation of your hip to create a whiplash effect in your upper body and can generate enormous power for punches, elbows, whatever, without having to wind up your shot. And they were doing it from no guard, just however they were stood, and still generating massive power. The pioneer of it was a Japanese guy called Shigeru Kimura. He had a physics degree and put diodes on people to work out the most effective body mechanics. There are thirteen different pointers to the double-hip delivery system. One story told about Kimura was that he was in America and a guy pulled a gun on him and he has done the double-hip and the guy just moved his head a fraction and Kimura’s punch ripped his ear clean off.
I was doing tae kwon do, thinking I can do a high spinning kick like Jean Claude Van Damme and knock people out, but then found that I was standing in a four-foot doorway with not enough room to spin a cat. Whereas Steve Powell was doing massive punches from a stationary start. And he was blending everything himself, all different styles of martial arts. The system that he taught me is still my basis in martial arts but I have added lots to it, from grappling, jeet kune do, Filipino arts, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, vale tudo and so on.
I remember when Ultimate Fighting first became big in the United States, where they match different martial artists against each other in competition. Me and some of my pals had already been doing something similar and called it “hard core”. We used to pad up and fight: boxer versus kicker karate versus wrestler, do scenario work simulating knife attacks. We tried to make it as realistic and possible and put surprises in, so one guy would hide a knife in his trousers, then go to ground with a grappler and be in the worse position but then suddenly pull out the knife. The grappler wouldn’t know about it and would have to try to deal with it straight away. There is no best martial art. It is what is best at the time. Usually it is not the best art that wins anyway but the guy behind it.
If you go one-on-one, size does make a difference. A big guy can absorb the blows, put pressure on you because of their bulk and also put more mental pressure on you because they are bigger and more intimidating. Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of shit. But fights don’t usually happen on a simple one-to-one basis. Usually nobody knows when it is going to go off, and then it is down to who is quickest to the gun, with the most power. My style on the door is, I always try to talk to the guy. But usually you can tell if it is no use. In the film The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, there is a scene where the bad guy, Taco, is in the bath and a man comes in with a gun to shoot him. The guy goes into a big spiel about how he is going to kill him, then Taco calmly pulls the trigger of the gun he is hiding beneath the bathwater and blows the guy away. Then he says out loud, “My friend, when it is time to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.” It’s who is quicker to the gun.
Then there are the big groups you have to deal with, rugby players, stag nights, whatever. When things turn nasty, what you want to avoid is them all kicking off and smashing the place up. You always get a ringleader, so the idea is to isolate him without causing all the others to kick off. What I learned to do was to go up to him and just say some gibberish into his ear. With the thumping music, the club packed full of people, he would think he had misheard you and would go, “What?”
I’d say exactly the same nonsense and, again, he’d say, “What?”
Then I would shout into his ear, “Come out into the hallway mate, and then I can tell you. It’s too loud in here.”
Then I would walk out and he would follow, curious to know what I had to say. His mates might see us but because I wasn’t dragging him out or looking confrontational, they would think nothing of it. Once in the hallway, we would jump him and sling him out. Then we would go up to his mates one by one and say, “There’s someone outside wants to have a word with you.” When they came out to the door, we’d just push them out into the street and slam it shut behind them.
My worst opponent was this guy who always used to pop up. He was just a big fat beer fighter but he couldn’t half give it and take it. He had tried to bite my ear off, my nose off, he pulled my eye out of its socket once, he has glassed me. I have knocked him out every time but each time, for the first thirty seconds it has been like fighting Tyson.
The first time I came across him, I was on the door and there was this absolute babe who used to come in the club called Angela. Well, her sister came to the door and said, “If you can meet Angela at about quarter to two, she will take you home tonight.” I wasn’t supposed to finish on the door until 2am but I swerved off early, as any man would. I met Angela and we were sitting on a wall: me, Angela, her sister and her sister’s boyfriend. Anyway, this guy started flashing his arse in the street. Her sister said something to him and he came over and hit her.
I used to run a pub called the Cheshire Cheese in Manchester, by the old Daily Express building, and I knew this guy from in there. I intervened and he grabbed hold of me and wouldn’t let go of my coat. BANG, I front-kicked him. Then his mates came out of the woodwork. Two of them were easy. I had bought a bottle of champagne for my big night with Angela and gave it to her sister’s boyfriend to hold. As it was kicking off, he held the bottle like a baby, then threw it and one of our attackers grabbed it and smashed it to use as a weapon.
I end up on the floor with the guy who had started it all, rolling around. It was a bad situation. It was dark, late at night, I was knackered from fighting, I was tense anyway because of looking for ward to going out with this girl, and I was down on the deck. Anyway, I got this guy in what is called a closed guard: me lying on my back but with my legs wrapped around his waist to control him. I was going for a choke and his finger came into my eye. He was also trying to bite me and his mate with the broken bottle was trying to hit me. Well, you can train in grappling for as long as you like but nothing is going to prepare you for a situation like that.
Just as his mate went to stick the bottle in my head, I moved the guy on top of me into the way and he got bottled. Then I bridged and threw him off. I got hold of the guy with the bottle and we were both locked on to each other, panting. Things had got out of hand now so I said to him, “Look, you and I both know a certain guy.” I mentioned this guy’s name. Let’s just say he is a very well-respected person in Manchester. “Drop the bottle now and we’ll have it one-to-one, otherwise I will come through your door at four o’clock one morning and kill you.” He knew I wasn’t bluffing because he knew that I was a friend of the guy I had just mentioned. So he dropped the bottle. That’s real weapons defence for you, not the moves you see in books. Anyway, then I finished it.
The funniest thing that happened to me on the doors was a bit rude, but I’ll tell you. I was at the entrance to this nightclub, talking to the doormen, and this bird came up and said, “Listen, if I give you a blowjob, will you let me in for free?” I said, “Okay.” So we walked down the road to a dark spot and she gave me a blowjob. I zipped up my pants and, as I walked away, I looked back over my shoulder and said, “Missus, I don’t work there, it’s free to get in anyway, and it shuts in half an hour.” She chased me up the road, hitting me with her handbag!
I was the landlord and tenant of the Cheshire Cheese when the Manchester Bomb went off in the summer of 1996. It was my best day ever for trade because mine was the closest pub to the town centre that was still open. All the other pubs were either damaged or evacuated. It was a rough pub when I first took over. We used to get a lot of lads from Ancoats and also a lot of gypsies from nearby campsites. The gypsies used to love smashing things up: when it kicked off they would smash the optics, the windows, the tables and chairs, everything. They just liked wrecking things. We used to be running around trying to put things away before they smashed them. Occasionally uou’d get some heavie sin. One guy came once trying to demand protection money. I collared him and said, “I’m the protection in here mate.” He didn’t come back.
Manchester has a particular problem with people being “connected”. It has got a lot better because most of the “heads” have moved out of town. Now it is the CCTV and the police you have to watch out for. There were clubs closing down because of one or other rival door teams, managers being terrified, landlords being leaned on. I have never been connected to any of the teams. I’m a firm believer in karma: what goes around, comes around. If you punch someone on the nose, sooner or later you will get that back. If you are nice to someone, same thing. But righteous anger, when you or those close to you are threatened for no reason, is justified. I have done “house visits” but I never did it unless it was personal. I have had a few run-ins with the law but you wipe the camera, get your story straight and get rent-a-witness and you are straight. But you can’t have a piss in Manchester town centre these days without a camera being on you.
The first time I saw a guy knocked out on the door it was a shock and the first time I got the threat of getting shot I nearly pissed myself. But one of the other doorman said, “Don’t worry mate, we get ‘shot’ every night here. You hear it all the time.” I just got used to it. You get desensitised. I used to wear a vest sometimes, when I thought it would be rocking: usually stab-proof. If it is a gun you are usually fucked anyway because they will stick it right in your face.
I have had guns pulled on me a few times. One time this guy came up. I had had a really bad fallout with my girlfriend. I was really upset and I didn’t give a fuck about anything. This black guy came up with his team and stuck a gun in my face. I said, “I’ve fallen out with my girlfriend and the pain I have got in my heart, if you pull the trigger you will be giving me a release. And if you don’t pull the trigger, you’re going to look bad in front of all your mates. So it’s up to you.”
And this guy looks at his mates and said, “This crazy white man, he doesn’t give a fuck. He’s got bad woman trouble.”
And all his mates start saying, “Man, I can relate to that,” and, “Oh, don’t tell me about that, I know where he’s coming from.” And they ended up sympathising with me. But I got a bad rep for a while with the other doormen around that period because I was a loose cannon.
I have done the door ten years. I am a professional doorman. I have been shot at, slashed, hit with bats, had someone tried to kidnap me, had house visits, pub visits. Most doormen are show. Only a couple have impressed me. You won’t get many who will go one on one who aren’t connected with teams or aren’t violence men. But there was one guy: he used to wear steel toe-capped boots and he would kick them in the shin and when they bent over with the pain be would just boot them full in the face. End of story. I must have seen him do it fifty times and it never failed. I still do the doors nearly every night but my goal would be to get a full-time martial arts academy, teaching reality-based techniques.
Martial arts have changed my life. If you know you can handle yourself it makes such a difference. If you go to the pictures and the guy behind is kicking the back of your chair, you know you can tell him to stop. It gives you that personal confidence. Even just going in a restaurant and sending back your meal if it is not right. You read of all these road rages, anger displacement, people getting ulcers and having heart attacks from stress and tension. Well, if you train martial arts you just go to the gym, punch the bag and get it all out. Simple. I would recommend it to anyone: there would be a lot less violence. I think all girls should learn some self-defence and I think it should be mandatory in schools to combat bullying.
Rick Young is the best martial artist I have trained with. He is a full jeet kune do instructor under Dan Inosanto, who trained with Bruce Lee. He is the most frightening I have seen. He is also the nicest guy you will meet, but with a lot of these guys, when they tell you a story they start to relive it and you can see in their eyes that they are the business. They have what war veterans call the “1,000-yard stare”. I have trained with top guys like Erik Paulsen [former shootfighting champion from America] and Royce Gracie [legendary Brazilian jiu-jitsu exponent and winner of three Ultimate Fighting Championships]. Royce was a gentleman. When we trained, he was talking to some other guy while at the same time tapping me out for fun. He gave me my blue belt, at a gym in Manchester. I have trained with Dan Inosanto in America and I have instructorships under Ricky Faye and Larry Hartsell. I have also been to America in summer camps, training. Some people do martial arts. I am a martial artist.
Greg Hall teaches his own reality-based martial arts system, called G-Tek, at gyms in north Manchester. He is also working on a book about his experiences as a doorman.