Vinnie Jones is lamenting the loss of football’s ‘good old days’. “It’s all gone too corporate and soft,” sighs the 49-year-old former hod carrier and footballer-turned-Hollywood-hard-man. “In my day, you could dig your team-mates out and give them a bit of a gee-up with no questions asked.”
Suffice to say, you won’t find any of Vinnie’s ‘gee up’ techniques in Arsene Wenger’s coaching manual. Take this example…
“At Wimbledon I had a fight with one of my team-mates at half time,” says Jones, virtually salivating at the memory. “Our manager Joe Kinnear met me in the tunnel and told me to have a fight with ‘that lazy git’ – a team-mate whose name I won’t mention. So I went and caused a punch up with my own player.
“It all kicked off and we tore lumps out of each other. Everyone came out for the second half growling and the player who I smashed at half time scored an unbelievable free kick and we won 1-0. We were all hugging and kissing afterwards and Joe gave me a little wink. It was a brilliant bit of man management. These days, if you did that, you’d be facing a law suit.”
Jones, the ringleader of ‘The Crazy Gang’, as Wimbledon FC’s eclectic bunch of misfits and hard as nails journeymen became known in the 1980s, believes football has distanced itself from reality. “The paying public can’t get near the players these days. I went into the Liverpool dressing room before a pre-season friendly and had a good chat with Stevie G (Steven Gerrard).
“He’s like the last of the dinosaurs because you can have a laugh and a chat with him. But the rest of them all had headphones on and kept their heads down. It really shocked me. I said to Stevie, ‘Where’s the banter, the ghetto blaster and the craic?’ and he just said, ‘This is the way it is now, Vin. They’re all in their own world.’ For me, it’s all a bit boring. The Premier League could do with a bit of that ‘Crazy Gang’ spirit to liven things up.”
Vinnie on… Dennis Wise
“We were due to play Spurs in the FA Cup and went down to Bournemouth for a few days training. So I drove three of the boys down, including Dennis Wise, in my mate’s estate car.
“Now, Wisey would really lose the plot if you got at him for a bit, so all the boys were winding him up in the car. I’m driving about 80mph in the outside lane of the M3 when Wisey, who was sat directly behind me, suddenly snaps. He grabs a metal coat hanger from the back of the car, puts it over my head and around my neck and pulls on it with all his strength to try and cut my head off. The car’s swerving all over the place as the lads fight to get him off before he decapitates me and kills the lot of us.
“We finally get the little f****r off and pull over onto the hard shoulder. After an almighty struggle we carry him out of the car and throw him in the dog cage in the back of the estate, lock it shut and carry on down to Bournemouth. When we got there we decided to leave him to stew in the cage for a few hours. When anyone asked where he was, we just said ‘in the doghouse.’”
Vinnie on… John Hartson
“Any new signing that arrived at the club had to go through the same initiation ritual. At their first training session, they’d be tripped up and suddenly all the lads would pile on top and give them a good beating. The new lad would be stripped of his kit and thrown in the river. Then he’d have to endure the long walk back to the training room in his pants, past the tea ladies who’d all come out to watch because they knew what was coming.
“When they got to the dressing room they’d find their new Gucci shoes nailed to the floor and all their clothes cut to ribbons. Their car would be covered in Vaseline and pebble dashed with gravel from the car park. It’s all about ‘Can you handle it?’ If they cried or whinged, that would tell us what sort of bloke they were. But if they took it well and came back the next day with a smile on their face, they were accepted.
“John Hartson was one who took it on the chin and was immediately accepted. One or two others got the hump and got hammered day after day until they were broken in or left the club.”
Vinnie on… Mick Harford
“On their first away trip, every new signing’s hotel room would get absolutely battered. Everything in the room, and I mean absolutely everything, would be smashed to bits. It was up to the new signing to pay for the damage without grassing. Mick Harford accepted it with a smile.
“Not surprisingly, we were always getting slung out of hotels the night before a game. Luckily one of the lads used to be a coach driver so he’d drive the team bus into town, we’d have a night out and then sleep on the coach. This would be the night before a big game. Imagine that happening now.”
Vinnie on… The Chairman
“Even though Sam Hammam was the club chairman, we were forever taking his car, abandoning it miles away before throwing the keys at him and telling him to go and find it.
“He also used to love playing cards with the players but what he didn’t know was we always cheated so we’d always take all his money off him. One Saturday morning, on the team coach on the way to the game, we’d cleaned him out as usual so he didn’t have any money to pay up. So me and Wisey said ‘Okay we’ll each have a sleeve of your shirt then’.
“So we both ripped a sleeve off and when we arrived at the ground he calmly put his suit jacket on and went into the directors’ box. Half way through the game he made a big deal of taking his jacket off. The other club’s directors couldn’t believe it when he told them he’d lost his shirtsleeves at cards!”
Vinnie on… Vinnie
“We were due to play Arsenal at Highbury on a Wednesday night but I had a slight hamstring strain and didn’t fancy it. So manager Joe Kinnear asked me to pop round to his house that afternoon and we’d travel to the game together. For whatever reason, we spent the afternoon drinking a case of Budweiser and smoking seven big fat cigars.
“We arrived at the ground that evening looking a bit glassy eyed with all the boys laughing that we’d been on the p*ss all afternoon. Suddenly Joe pulls me aside. He said he’d been out on the pitch and seen the Wales manager Mike Smith sitting up in the stands.
“It was common knowledge that Mike was considering calling me up to the Welsh squad and had obviously come to have a look at me. So Joe said, “You better have a run out”. With that, I borrowed one of the lads’ boots, played the entire game and got the international call up afterwards!”