Autobiography: The violent life of a Welsh bouncer bottled, stabbed, shot at, sued and run over

Anthony Thomas has been shot at, stabbed and run over during his many years working as a doorman.

In his darkest moment he feared he would lose his life, yet the 49-year-old dad of three has continued working as on the doors of Merthyr’s town’s pubs and clubs for two and a half decades.

Known as Big Shirley, a childhood nickname because of the big mop of curly hair he has long lost, he has now told his life story in a book called Total Respect: My Life On The Doors.

His nickname encapsulates the two sides of a man whose hero is one of Britain’s most feared doormen, Lenny “The Guvnor” McLean but who by day is a family man who dotes on his three children, and an amateur historian, who loves metal detecting.

The two sides of his character, which he describes like “Jekyll and Hyde”, are portrayed vividly in his book. Based upon the diaries he has kept through the decades, fittingly no punches are pulled and no quarter given in the visceral documenting of what has been a brutal working life.

Anthony Thomas has been shot at, stabbed and run over during his many years working as a doorman.

In his darkest moment he feared he would lose his life, yet the 49-year-old dad of three has continued working as on the doors of Merthyr’s town’s pubs and clubs for two and a half decades.

Known as Big Shirley, a childhood nickname because of the big mop of curly hair he has long lost, he has now told his life story in a book called Total Respect: My Life On The Doors.

His nickname encapsulates the two sides of a man whose hero is one of Britain’s most feared doormen, Lenny “The Guvnor” McLean but who by day is a family man who dotes on his three children, and an amateur historian, who loves metal detecting.

The two sides of his character, which he describes like “Jekyll and Hyde”, are portrayed vividly in his book. Based upon the diaries he has kept through the decades, fittingly no punches are pulled and no quarter given in the visceral documenting of what has been a brutal working life.

Anthony with his wife and daughters

His is a Merthyr that has seen him work the doors of pubs and nightclubs such as The Belle Vue, The Castle Hotel, Koolers, The Vulcan, RM’s, Baverstocks, Play and the Celtic Bar. Total Respect is a book that reverberates with riotous echoes of Hing Hong’s, The Zone, Strikers, the Scala, the Merthyr Labour Club and the Gurnos Tavern.

He tells stories of providing security for American pop superstar Pink, acting as a bodyguard for controversial politician George Galloway at the Merthyr Rising Festival when the National Front turned up and looking after countless soap stars on their visits to the nightclubs of south Wales.

His enduring reputation nationally is such that he’s appeared in magazines, books and TV programmes, and counts notorious lifer Charles Bronson as a mate.

He lost friends to suicide and suffered his own personal demons. Buts his resilience and zest for life has kept his steely focus when the going has got tough, as it has on the innumerable occasions he has found himself at the eye of a violent storm.

It started when he was in junior school.

“I was picked on quite a lot,” he says. “Perhaps the bullying was due to the weight I was carrying, In addition to that, I had this big mop of Shirley Temple style curly hair, hence the nickname Big

Shirley. As you can imagine, it set me off on a bit of a bumpy road.”

His difficult childhood was compounded by one of his best friends drowning in a river, thoughts of

which he says plagued his teenage years.

The bullying continued into high school at Pen Y Dre, until one day amidst the constant schoolyard beatings, he snapped.

“The culprit on this occasion was a big stocky boy who was ranked in the top five toughest lads in our form. This boy was waiting for me with about four of his mates, and he shouted over to me, ‘Oi, I’ve been looking for you,’ and I thought to myself, ‘Right, I’ve got nothing to lose’ and walked straight up to him and smashed him clean in the mouth.

“Seconds later, a teacher came running and pulled us apart, the bully was bust up good and bleeding, and I didn’t have a mark on me. The teacher sent the two of us off to see the headmaster, and at this point, I said to him, ‘Right, we’ll finish this off later,’ to which he pleaded, ‘I’m sorry. I’ve had enough. It’s over.’”

However, school was not for him. Leaving education he went off the rails. As he will willingly admit he got into brushes with the law.

He enjoyed rugby and was a regular in the Dowlais RFC first team playing at a decent level, but at one point the WRU warned the team they could be thrown out of the league if the on-field fights continued.

“I was a pain in the a***. I can joke about it now, but I was not a nice person, I was drinking too much and I must have caused so many problems for door staff around Merthyr,” he laughs, while observing the irony of this statement.

body worn camera

It was boxing that was to be his saviour and the route into running the doors of Merthyr.

“I bumped into an old schoolmate named Mark (Jolly), who mentioned that he had started boxing training in a gym they called The Slaughterhouse. It became like my second home for the next few years.”

Showing an aptitude for boxing, it provided him with discipline and a release to keep him off the streets. He boxed as an amateur for Wales and loved it – sparring with former World Champion Enzo Maccarinelli and training with Enzo Calzaghe.

Anthony the flag bearer with the Wales amateur boxing team (Image: Anthony Thomas)
Anthony in the lineout for Dowlais RFC (Image: Anthony Thomas)

It was at the gym where he

was offered his first door gig.

“This well-known and respected karate champion named Nigel Cleaver asked me if I fancied working on the doors with him and of all places The Belle Vue, which I’d been fighting in a few months earlier,” he recalls. “I got to be honest, my stomach dropped, and I came up with all these different excuses that I wasn’t available. I don’t know what it was but I just didn’t feel confident enough.”

After a change of heart he threw himself into the job, with Nigel showing him the ropes. Then, seemingly out of nowhere tragedy struck.

“I came into work one Friday night and noticed Nigel wasn’t himself – he hardly spoke to me all night. We finished the shift, and we walked home together, but all wasn’t well, because unbeknown to me, that was the very last time I’d see him.

“His son found him hanging in his basement. I immediately broke down and cried all day. I didn’t see it coming and racked my brain over every word I could remember from the previous Friday night, but all that was coming back to me was him smiling, and for the sake of my sanity, that is the way I will always remember him – having a laugh – smiling.”

Anthony describes the role of a bouncer as: “A thankless job, with very few personal rewards, and an ever more woeful pay packet. An underrated position of protection that has, on occasion, seen my mortality flash before my very own eyes. Someone had to do it; and unfortunately, destiny chose me as its first line of defence.”

‘Big Shirl’ Anthony Thomas (Image: Anthony Thomas)

One of the worst incidents of his life came when a riot ensued at a club called The Taff Trail in Treharris and he and the door staff were set upon by a baying mob, the bouncer sustaining serious injuries when he was stabbed and smashed over the head with a broken gin bottle.

“It was June 7, 2000. This date I will never forget for the rest of my life,” he says. “I sensed something was going to happen ’cos there had been fighting there for the last couple of weeks, my luck couldn’t be that good with it being my last night and, oh, was I right.”

After a confrontation with a large group of drunken rugby lads, Anthony charged the group to save a man who had been set upon.

“From what I gather from bar staff watching out of the window I was hit over the head by some youngster with those green, thick gin bottles. The rest I have no memory of, as apparently a few were stamping on my head and kicking me.

“I was unconscious throughout the whole incident at the end. People later told me that they saw me getting hit with bottles, drain pipes, chair legs, and even one of them jumping on my head like a balloon.”

He says he owes it to the other door staff for saving his life, getting him back in to the hall through an onslaught of bottles and punches.

The violent incident ended up in court but those who attacked Anthony were found not guilty, chiefly due to the club’s CCTV cameras not working.

During his door career he’s also been hit by a car and shot at, but he’s ploughed on undeterred by it all, although he cautions: “Bouncing is the only job that never gets easier the longer you do it. Don’t get me wrong, you pick things up the more you experience it: you know when that fight’s going to kick off minutes before it happens, a bit like déjà vu.

“You keep running it through your mind what you’re going to do over and over again, and usually, the game plan works: you walk into a bar, and within seconds you know who the dealers, p***heads and troublemakers are. You sense things quicker than the average person, and some of the things you see would scare the life out of most people.”

Anthony with his Welsh wrestling titles

Away from the doors he has many hobbies. For several years he was a successful part-time wrestler known as Thomas Bassey (after his nickname Shirley) – The One Man Riot. He also developed an interest in the paranormal, making popular YouTube comedy videos with his mate Juggy, and is a metal-detecting fan with a huge interest in history, setting up the Merthyr History group on Facebook, which has more than 16,000 members.

“Looking back on the last 25 years I have been bottled, stabbed, knifed, shot at, sued, locked up, and had fireworks shot at me,” he says. “I’ve even been run over by a car and more, but somehow, I’ve lived to tell the tale.”

how much longer can he go on?

“Some say it is a young man’s game and I am certainly not getting any younger,” he reasons. “However, at the moment, I have a family to support and will continue to do the doors until I know it’s my time to finish.”

Total Respect: My Life On The Doors is out now. It can be ordered online HERE

Source – Walesonline

 

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