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Monday, 18 July 2011

The Empty Room #2 - Vinnie Jones

Genius is not a word often used to describe Vinnie Jones. But what else can you call a man who has made a very fruitful career out of football and acting, despite have no appreciable talent for either? He’s got to have something up there, hasn’t he?

Jones built his game on intimidation, fear of violence, and actual violence. By his own admission he was not the most skilful or tactically minded of footballers, but he had physical and mental strength by the bucket-load. Every game he played, he walked the line between good physical contact sport and rule breaking. His 12 red cards proving that he didn’t always get the balance right. In fact, he’s probably very lucky not to have collected more.

Kevin Ratcliffe got himself headbutted, Anders Limpar clearly asked for a punch in the back of the head, and Peter Reid must have said something to Vinnie just before kick-off, as he was clattered to the floor straight after the whistle, earning Vinnie a yellow card in a record 4 seconds. It wasn’t all fun and games though, Gary Stevens was on the receiving end of a horror tackle that seriously injured him, and contributed to his retirement from the game.

Jones is most famous for his two stints at Wimbledon, his first earned him his only medal in the game – the 1988 FA Cup Winners medal. The match was only seven minutes old when Vinnie Jones cut through fellow hard-man Steve McMahon, in a tackle that he later admitted was pre-meditated. Vinnie thought that by taking out Liverpool’s midfield bite, he’d take the wind out of their sails and give his own team-mates a morale boost. The gamble paid off, Jones wasn’t even booked and the Dons went on to a famous victory.

He also famously stated in and interview before the final that he was going to rip off Kenny Dalglish's ear, and spit in the hole. If you have a look at the footage of the players lining up i nthe tunnel, Jones amongst other Wimbledon players can be heard yelling "In the hole" as reference to this, and almost all of the Liverpool players look absolutely terrified. He was most definitely the leader of the Crazy Gang.
Jones caused controversy wherever he went. Leeds, Sheffield United, Chelsea and Wimbledon all remember Jones fondly. His last move to QPR can’t really be considered a success, as he only made nine appearances for the club. A footballing anti-hero from days gone by. It’s fair to say that Jones probably wouldn’t be playing in the top flight if he were to be playing in his prime today. He’d probably have received a life time ban. Even in his own time, Jones was a frequent visitor to the FA’s offices. He was charged with bringing the game into disrepute after starring in a video entitled “Soccer’s Hard Men” which included delightful tips on how to injure opponents and get away with it.

Violence and infamy wasn’t just restricted to his professional life. In 1997 he bit a neighbour’s nose during a dispute, and has been involved in two public brawls in the USA in recent years. One with former amateur boxer turned actor Tamer Hussain which he apparently came off worse from (Note to Vinnie: ex-boxers are not to be fucked with) and one with two men in a bar, where he was glassed in the face by one man before launching another attack on his 26 stone friend.

Vinnie’s unlikely acting career was launched by his appearance in Guy Ritchie film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. To be fair, the character that Vinnie portrays, Big Chris, is a psychotically violent thug who goes completely over the top, so it wasn’t really a stretch for Vinnie and it’s a good performance.

Further film roles have followed, and Vinnie Jones is now a well-known celebrity. He also came third in Celebrity Bog Brother, but an appearance in that sort of show indicated that perhaps his moon is on the wane.

Nevertheless, Vinnie Jones is one of the few footballer hard-men who is genuinely frightening on and off the pitch, and so earns his place in The Empty Room.

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