Opinion: Vinnie Jones - the hard man of football
'Hard man' is a very common term used in football. Roy Keane, Graeme Souness, Claudio Gentile, and Jaap Stam are all very good examples of what a ‘hard man' is.
From turning up with a gun at a referee’s house, to head butting players behind the referee’s back, the hard men of football are known to let anger and passion get the better of them. With such a reputation though, what works well is that every opposition player will dread facing such a player, and shy away from potential bone crunching tackles.
My personal favourite hard man of football is Vinnie Jones. Not for the fact that he was perhaps harder than other such men, but because of the personality he had, and because of the fact that the man simply did not give a duck about anything.
Jones came up playing English schoolboy football as a kid before turning professional with Wimbledon. Jones would also work as a hod carrier when he was not playing a match. But by the age of 19, Jones was playing in midfield for Wimbledon, and creating a reputation for himself.
This was back in the day, when the rules and regulations against what could be considered a foul were rather lax, and defensive players could get away with a lot. This was around the period when the now infamous ‘Crazy Gang’ seems to have come into existence.
A bunch of Wimbledon players who had a reputation for playing in the hardest possible way, and surprisingly also had a penchant for playing practical jokes on each other, the rest of the team, and even the manager!
Despite this reputation though, Jones was undoubtedly an extremely talented footballer. In his playing days he featured for some very major clubs, including Wimbledon, Sheffield United, and Chelsea.
Jones’ moment of glory came in Wimbledon’s incredible run during the 80’s and 90’s, wherein they managed to progress from the fourth tier of English football to an unprecedented FA Cup trophy, beating the mighty Liverpool of the late 80’s.
The game itself has attained a somewhat legendary status. Minnows Wimbledon against the mighty Liverpool, Wimbledon sticking it to Liverpool, taking the game head on, and going on to lift the trophy.
In fact, Jones has mentioned that the Wimbledon side was so nervous the night before that the manager sent the team to the local pub to get a drink and calm themselves down! Imagine something like that today.
Another remarkable incident in Jones’ career was when he grabbed Paul Gascoigne by the balls, literally. No particular reason, just intimidation tactics. For the longest time, Jones also held the record for the fastest red card in the English game, this he received in the first 3 seconds.
“I must have been too high, too wild, too strong or too early,” Jones later mused on his booking in his 1998 autobiography, “because, after three seconds, I could hardly have been too bloody late!”
Jones was a man who honestly believed in his idea of how to play the game. Playing with a strong physical and athletic presence. Through his life, football has remained extremely close to Jones who credited the sport with saving him from living a particular kind of life as a youngster.
“I signed schoolboy forms for Watford when I was 12, but then my parents got divorced and I never kicked a ball for three years. I rebelled, I left home,” he once recalled, “but getting back into football sorted me out. It was the second chance I needed.”
Perhaps the best part of Jones’ career was his appearance on the video; Soccer’s Hardest Men, which showcased some of the hardest men in football, as well as tips to youngsters on how to become a hard man.
He did not stop smiling throughout this video. Needless to say, this appearance resulted in a fine of £20,000 and a 6 month ban for bringing the game into disrepute.
Though retired by the age of 35, Jones made sure the personality he had created, and the aura around him would be something which he carried even post his footballing career. It is this same kind of character he plays in his post-football Hollywood life.
He can be seen playing mobsters and thugs in most movies he has starred in, including Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, Gone in 60 seconds, among many other roles. He also famously played the role of a football hooligan in the movie Eurotrip.
Vinnie Jones didn't leave his persona on the football field. He remains the person he is, just in a different Hollywood costume.