A look of pure aggression on his face, with his hand firmly cupping Gazza’s balls, who in turn has a look of sheer shock and fear on his face. This is the picture that springs to mind when thinking of Vinnie Jones. An aggressive, often violent, player who demanded 100% from himself and all of his team mates.
Since retiring from football, Jones has lead a semi-successful acting career, with star roles in hits such as Lock, Stock and Two Smocking Barrels, Snatch and Mean Machine. In fact, when you search for Vinnie Jones, it states that he is an actor before mentioning that he was a footballer.
In truth, Vinnie Jones was never much of a football; he’d probably admit as much himself. He was, however, a key member of the Crazy Gang – the infamous Wimbledon team of the 1980’s. Jones was a tough tackling midfielder, who had made the jump to professional footballer at the age of 21 when Wimbledon paid £10,000 for him.
That Wimbledon side won the FA Cup in 1988, beating Liverpool, the undoubted dominant side of the era. It was, and still is, one of the biggest shocks in British football – although Leicester’s Premier League win this year may now have trumped it!
After leaving Wimbledon in 1989, Jones enjoyed spells with Leeds United, Sheffield United and Chelsea before heading back to Plough Lane. He had a ‘hard-man’ image throughout his career, gaining 12 red cards in the process. He also held the record for the quickest ever red card, produced after just three seconds of a Chelsea v Sheffield United match in 1992.
“I must have been too high, too wild, too strong or too early, because, after three seconds, I could hardly have been too bloody late!” – Vinnie Jones
In 1994, during a second spell at Wimbledon, Jones was called up for international selection. He qualified through Wales via his grandmother, who was born in Ruthin and made his debut as a substitute in a 3-0 loss to Bulgaria in the Euro 96 qualifiers, just three weeks before his 30th birthday.
“Just when you thought there were truly no surprises left in football, Vinnie Jones turns out to be an international player!” – Jimmy Greaves
Despite many claiming that Jones was not good enough for the Wales team, he was made team captain just five weeks after his first cap. Bobby Gould, then manager, held a vote amongst the players and they chose Jones as the man to lead them.
It was a strange turn of events, but one that Jones did not take lightly. “I have not been so emotional for a long time,” said Jones of his appointment at the time.
Wales lost that game in Holland 7-1, but Jones made an impression on the people of Wales. His passion and commitment was second to none, even showing those who were born-and-bred in Wales a lesson in playing for your country.
Whilst Jones only gained 7 caps for Wales, and never won a game, he is still remembered fondly by Welsh football fans for his commitment to Wales. He even strived to learn the Welsh national anthem, a difficult task for a non-Welsh speaker. Jones explained how his then international team mates Gary Speed and John Hartson, who were both fluent Welsh speakers, taught Jones the lyrics after his international clearance had come through. Rumours have it that Jones even had a tattoo of a Welsh dragon over his heart, to signify his new international allegiance.
Despite his new role as international captain, the controversy didn’t stop following Jones around. In just his fourth game for Wales, Jones was sent off after 27 minutes for stamping on a player’s groin in the 1-0 loss to Georgia.
Vinnie Jones may not have been everyone’s cup of tea, understandably, but his commitment can never be questioned. He matured as a footballer, but was always painted as the bad boy of English football. In truth, yes Jones was the bad-boy of football, but on paper he was just a normal guy trying his best to go as far as possible as a footballer. He made the transition from non-league footballer and part-time hod-carrier to FA cup winning international footballer.
There’ll probably never be another Vinnie Jones, but that’s probably for the best.