Legends: Vinnie Jones
This name may well cause a few sniggers and certainly look significantly out of place in comparison with other names in this section.
Yet, legendary status should not be awarded for pure footballing talent alone, a good job really as Vincent Jones didn’t have a huge amount of that.
What he did have though and displayed during a 15 year career at the top gave him hero status and notoriety in equal measures.
He rabble roused his own team mates and supporters whilst enraging the opposition’s; he courted controversy and was rarely away from the back pages and sometimes the front ones.
You either loved him or hated him, Vinnie was box office and ironically still is in a totally different profession.
Born in Hertfordshire in 1965 Jones was making a living as a hod carrier and playing part time for non league Wealdstone in 1986 when he came to the attention of a surprisingly high flying Wimbledon FC who had just completed a meteoric rise all the way to the top tier of the English game.
His tough tackling no nonsense style was soon in evidence and ideal for a little club punching above its weight who soon became the thorn in the side of many an illustrious opponent.
Jones became the spiritual leader of the ‘crazy gang’, a bunch of footballers whose antics on and off field became notorious. The Wimbledon style of play endeared them to no-one other than their own fans, yet they cared little about that, as they plundered the points at the tight and often muddy Plough Lane.
Jones was at the heart of it all, pulling the midfield strings in his own inimitable fashion, nullifying the play makers with crunching tackles and combative snarls.
In February 1988 Newcastle United came to town, at the heart of their midfield strode a fresh faced Paul Gascoigne, the new darling of English football.
Jones relished the task ahead, the bigger they came the harder they fell and Gazza was retreat into his shell once the incident occurred that resulted in one of football’s most infamous images.
Sending both shockwaves and mirth through the worldwide football media Jones had taken the first step towards legendary status, a few months later he was it at again.
The same season Wimbledon reached the FA Cup Final, no-one gave them a prayer against a mighty Liverpool side bidding to secure their second league and cup double in three years.
Not many wanted them to succeed either, the football purists frowned at the thought of it, seeing it as a battle between good and evil, they should have known better. Wimbledon scraped a 1-0 win, thanks to a glancing Sanchez header and a Dave Beasant penalty save.
After the dust had settled on their finest hour it was revealed that a certain V Jones had whispered a few sweet nothings in Kenny Dalglish’s ear in the Wembley tunnel prior to kick off as part of a major Crazy Gang psyching out tactic.
He followed that up with a formidable challenge on fellow hard man Steve McMahon within minutes of the start, figuring that no referee would dare to brandish a red card that early in a FA Cup final. He was right, not even a yellow was produced and subsequently Liverpool were never quite at the races on that famous day.
Gone in three seconds
Vinnie’s exploits brought him to the attention of other clubs, in 1989 Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson took him to Yorkshire to mastermind a promotion push and a more restrained Vinnie duly obliged as they returned to the top division.
Jones, an almost ever present finished the season with a mere four yellow cards to his name. He was idolised by the locals who took him to their hearts, not so his manager who left him out the following year in favour of an emerging David Batty.
Jones moved on to Sheffield United and then back to London for a successful season at Chelsea in 1991-92. It was at Stamford Bridge where he achieved yet more notoriety by recording the fastest ever booking in a football match, upending Sheffield United’s Dane Whitehouse who had barely left the centre circle three seconds after kick off!
Yet he became a fans favourite again at the Bridge before returning to the crazy gang (albeit it with different personnel) still in the newly formed Premiership, now ground sharing Selhurst Park with Crystal Palace.
Dead ball deliveries
Despite retaining the combative physical side that he was renowned for, Vinnie had matured as a footballer as well, and helped keep the club in the top flight for the remainder of his playing career, showing a good eye for a pass and some deadly dead ball deliveries. He even managed some international football too, winning nine caps for Wales.
Vinnie was a regular at FA disciplinary committee hearings, bans were frequent, he received 12 red cards during his career, there could have been many more. A video he presented in 1992 entitled ‘Soccer’s Hard Men’ landed him in hot water and a six month enforced break from the game.
For whatever reason Jones was never away from the headlines for long, he attracted publicity like no other footballer of his day, apart from possibly Eric Cantona, another player who turned to acting at the end of his career.
While many were dismissive of his qualities and critical of his methods, no one could doubt his commitment to the causes he represented. Especially at Wimbledon where he, as the most notable member of the crazy gang did more than anyone to upset the odds and keep the club in the top division for so long. In little doubt either was the acclaim he received from the fans of all the clubs he represented.
The media and the pundits loved to tag him as the bad boy of football who epitomised the ugly side of the game, and he gave them plenty of ammunition.
But to a typical working class fan he was one of them, a 110 per center who never shirked a challenge or failed to chase a lost cause; to them he was a legend.
By Philip Nicholas