“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!â€
Vincent Jones. The former hod carrier who ended up being one of the poster boys for the Crazy Gang. Even now, decades after he last pulled his boots on, Jones divides opinion.
Many call him a thug who happened to be on a football pitch for 90 minutes (on a well-behaved day). Others feel his reputation overshadowed the fact that he could actually play a bit as well.
On this day in 1992, 30 years ago (yikes), Vinnie Jones managed to get himself booked after a mere three seconds playing for Chelsea against Sheffield United in a First Division match – managing to shave off two seconds on his previous record, playing for Sheffield United against Man City.
We should probably take a look, right?
Well, I’ve searched high and low for video evidence of the three-second record (OK, I scanned YouTube and came up short) and couldn’t find anything.
The five-second effort, have a look for yourselves here!
Vinnie Jones earns himself the fastest yellow card in English league history, 1992. pic.twitter.com/my1Dl0Wj5e
â€” 90s Football (@90sfootball) February 5, 2020
It’s unlike 90s football to get the facts wrong, so we’ll overlook it just this once.
But back to Jones as a footballer – yes, a footballer.
We can all accept, the game was a bit different in his time. You could, to a certain extent, be a midfield enforcer like Vinnie and have a career in the game. You could tackle. You could bully. You could intimidate. Some of them could really, really play – take Graeme Souness for example – and some of them couldn’t play quite as well – sorry, Terry Hurlock.
Jones came to fame as being one of Wimbledon’s infamous Crazy Gang – joining the likes of John Fashanu, Dennis Wise, Lawrie Sanchez and Dave Beasant in playing a very particular style of football at Plough Lane in the 1980s. Not many teams enjoyed a trip there, and the style put into place by Dave Bassett and then continued further down the line even saw the club beat Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final – as Motty said, “the Crazy Gang have beaten the Culture Club”.
Jones was heavily involved that day too – taking out Steve McMahon at the first opportunity, a moment that mythology has led us to believe was the moment Liverpool decided they didn’t fancy it at Wembley, meekly stepping aside to let Wimbledon achieve their dreams. That’s right – a club that made winning trophies their life’s work dialled it in after one late challenge early in the game, if you believe the Crazy Gang publicity drive.
Yet Jones, along with several other players from that FA Cup-winning side, went on to enjoy long and successful careers at some far bigger clubs than Wimbledon. You don’t do that if you can’t play, do you? You get found out eventually, surely?
In 1989, Jones went north and signed for Howard Wilkinson at Leeds. This absolute thug of a player picked up a mere three yellow cards and anyone who remembers Leeds winning the old First Division will recall that they hardly played a precursor to tiki-taka football with an aversion to putting a tackle in.
The emergence of David Batty and Gary McAllister as an eventual top-flight winning pair in the middle meant that Jones was on the move to Sheffield United to rejoin his old boss Bassett, before heading south again after a season, signing for Chelsea. Again, this was pre-Gullit and sexy football, but Chelsea were still a big club with history and Jones was loved at Stamford Bridge.
It was when he returned to Wimbledon for a second spell that Jones started playing up to the caricature that the press had painted – though, admittedly, his two quickest yellows came for Sheffield United and Chelsea.
But, could Jones play – or was he just a thug?
Have a look at these two YouTube videos and form your own opinion.
Vinnie Jones – a bit dirty
Vinnie Jones – a bit of a player
For me, the truth ends up being (as ever) somewhere between the two.
Did Vinnie love a tackle? God, yeah.
Were some of those tackles a bit x-rated? No denying that!
Was that all there was to his game? Did you watch the second video? There were some lovely goals and passes in there – and I repeat, you don’t end up with that kind of career if you can’t play at all.
Did he live up to the panto villain routine and then absolutely cash in on it after he retired? Hell yeah, and fair play to him.
Nice one Vinnie – personally, I preferred football when there were characters like you in it.