FROM the brick-toting days in Watford to the Hollywood battleground of celebrity football teams, Vinnie Jones has rarely been out of the headlines.
An ambassador for Liverpool kit makers, Warrior, the one-time midfield enforcer has built his football and post-playing career on a tough guy image.
Captain and capped nine times for Wales, he picked up a title win with lower-league Swedish outfit IFK Holmsund and along the way linked with Leeds, Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers.
But it was his role in Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang – known for their uber-macho antics and outlandish pranks – that catapulted him to notoriety as one of the game’s true hard men. A position cemented when the unfancied Dons staged one of biggest upsets in footballing history, defeating hot favourites Liverpool 1-0 in the 1988 FA Cup.
Jones’s debut in the classic East London gangster flick Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels launched a new onscreen career and these days the Los Angeles-based Englishman is more at home learning lines than crossing them.
The 48-year-old made his third trek Down Under ahead of the glamour friendly between English football giants Liverpool FC and A-League powerhouse Melbourne Victory.
au.fourfourtwo.com caught up with everybody’s favourite villain at the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne.
Welcome back to Australia. Do you regard yourself as a former footballer or an actor these days?
I’m an actor. Funny enough I’ve been an actor nearly as long as I was a footballer. I’ve been an actor 13 years and I was a pro footballer for 15 years. I haven’t got the legs for football these days. I’ve got my own team in LA called the Hollywood Allstars. I run along the touchline shouting orders and pointing the finger but I leave the kit in the bag now. The boots are still hanging up.
But you like to keep your hand in the game?
I enjoy coaching the boys. We’ve got English lads and American lads so it’s good fun for me. If anything, in football I think I accomplished everything I could. I really did want to go into management but obviously acting and playing golf in LA has a lot more bells and whistles than watching Scunthorpe and Walsall on a Wednesday night.
Was it difficult to make the transition from on-field hard man to an onscreen tough guy?
No, it wasn’t planned at all; it sort of just came along. I filmed Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels while I was still playing at Wimbledon and it sort of progressed from there really. It’s just strange how it happened really – just bundled along in the dark, found a door and went through it and there it was.
You’ve been living permanently in LA for eight years now, is there still something of the Watford hod-carrier in Vinnie Jones?
Yeah I love going back and seeing my mates. I was back there a couple of months ago. I’m still friends with most lads I grew up with and went to school with but now that we’re a bit older it’s golf instead of nightclubs. I go and watch my team, Watford, from time to time when I’m home but I haven’t been to a Premier League game for a long time – a couple of years.
There’s a famous photo capturing the moment you put the squeeze on Paul Gascoigne. Have you kept in contact with him?
Not for a while. I saw some stuff on him the other day. It breaks my heart to see it. It’s all very sad.
He’s had a long and public battle with alcoholism. Do you ever reflect on why some players are able to carve out a post-football career while others struggle?
When Gazza signed for Tottenham he got shown the bright lights of London and everything else – the entourage and all the hangers on. It’s not a healthy way to be. It’s good to keep in contact with your old friends. Like I say, I go back and my friends come out to Hollywood. You have to be focused on other things, you know? Gazza wants to be laughing and joking all the time and one day the jokes and the laughter turn into tears. It’s what we’re seeing now.
I mean Gazza’s 45 now – at some time we’ve all got to try and grow up. He’s just a fantastic lad and it’s just a shame to see. It comes along every now and then. We saw it with Georgie Best. It’s so tragic. Obviously we’ve all tried to help in our ways, trying to get him into rehab and stuff. It’s just that some people’s demons are bigger than others. Can we reduce that demon in him? Well it’s got to start with him. It’s just sad, I feel very very sorry for him.
Does your new book (It’s Been Emotional) give much advice about life after playing?
There’s a lot of that in there and obviously getting through it. Seeing that with Gazza … I mean I’m sitting here now and I think I’m five or six months and I haven’t had any alcohol. I think you see straighter and things are easier. I think the alcohol just gives people a lot of problems they don’t need. It’s just adds problem.
So you made a conscious decision to give up alcohol?
I’ve just got too much on. When you get the other side of 40 the hangovers last longer and you can’t be as focused. I think it just drags you down. I mean I’d be drinking on the weekends, be hung over for two or three days and then I was drinking again at the weekend. Week after week after month – and I got sick of it.
And it interferes with your golf swing...
Well, actually the lads now are saying can I go back to the champagne because they liked me better then ‘cause they were taking me money off me.
Not everyone shared your love of tough-tackling football. Back in 1992 you were the presenter of a video, Soccer’s Hard Men, and fined £20,000 for bringing the game into disrepute.
That was the biggest fine ever in football at the time and I was banned for six months, suspended for three years, which was quite harsh at the time. But it’s still one of the best videos around (Laughs). I was young and got sucked into it – as simple as that. What was I then – 25, 26? Got talked into it and bang.
You played against Australia’s Craig Johnston in Wimbledon’s upset FA Cup victory over Liverpool. What do you remember most about that match?
I remember Monday morning going down the bookies and cashing my bet in. There was a few of us – we had a bet in the early rounds – 66-1 we got. I won’t tell you how much I lost on all my other bets on Wimbledon.
You were involved in a crucial moment in the game.
It’s always talked about that I put a great tackle in on Steve McMahon early on in the game (7 minutes) which sort of set the precedent for the game. A lot of people say that’s the tackle that won the FA Cup for us.
That was Craig Johnston’s last game after announcing his retirement to help care for his sister. Are you expecting to catch up with him during this trip?
I don’t know. I’ve met him a few times before. Great fellow. I really commend what he done because his sister was ill and everything. That was a massive massive thing what he did there and I’ve got nothing but high regard for him. I don’t think that would happen now days. I mean that to me is top drawer.
You put a lot of stock on family?
Where are you going to be without family? At the bottom of some beer glass in some pub somewhere, probably sitting next to Gazza. My family’s kept me on the straight and narrow as much as humanly possible.
Could a team like Wimbledon win a cup now?
I don’t know – they’d be hammered. I think the media would crucify them, they’d crush them.
The club was slammed by the media back then.
Yeah but it wasn’t what it is now. The lads now are scrutinised. I think footballers now are rock stars. We were 20 feet from stardom in them days. We were the backing group – 20 feet behind the main act, your Liverpools and Chelseas. We were in the shadows of the stage. It’s very hard now, very hard. The rules have changed and not so much tackling and intimidation goes on. For us it was David and Goliath every game. We played as if other teams and other players were going to take our livelihood away. It was that passionate. It was that important to us.
Are there any hard men left in the game?
I don’t really follow it that much. If you look at some of the tackles I did, Graham Souness and players like that did, you’d be banned for a long time now. But what disappoints me more than anything is all this rolling around. You know I’ve had an elbow in the back of the head, come off, got it stitched up and come back on five minutes later. Now they’d been in intensive care. [Laughs] It’s ridiculous. Put some Vaseline on it and away you go. Get on with it.
Wednesday’s game – anything in particular you’re looking forward to?
I’m interested in the ground – I mean it holds a lot of people doesn’t it? How many people does it hold? 100,000? The last time I was with 100,000 people I was in the middle of it at Wembley in 1988. So this will be a nice landmark for me. I just want to be part of the crowd and watch a good game. It will be nice to see how Toure fits into the team and it’s always nice to watch Steven Gerrard. I’ve always admired him and love his style of play. Wears his heart on his sleeve – a very very good player.