The men who took Leeds United back into the top-flight the last time it happened in 1990 are, of course, legends now. They rank alongside some of the Revie boys because they rescued the club from eight years in the wilderness and restored us to the big time. We had our own diminutive red-haired midfielder as a sort of latter-day homage to Billy Bremner – mighty atom Gordon Strachan, who played a crucial role in the renaissance of Leeds with his leadership and goals. It was a team effort though, and it was as a team that they succeeded – Strachan apart there was no major star, but the guts and drive of the collective effort eclipsed all rivals by the end of that fantastic season, when we were crowned Second Division Champions in sun-drenched and strife-torn Bournemouth. And nobody in the whole club at that time epitomised guts and drive, as well as sheer fist-clenched, vein-throbbing commitment and fight, better than Mr Vincent Peter “Vinnie” Jones.
I’d been aware of Vinnie, of course – who hadn’t? His Crazy Gang antics were legendary and he’d lifted the FA Cup, but he was regarded as a bit of a maverick – still more hod-carrier than footballer, famous for a ten-second dismissal and for his promise to Kenny Dalglish before the 1988 Cup Final against Liverpool to “tear off his ear and spit in the hole”. Still, despite these immaculate credentials, marking him out as a potential Gelderd hero, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine him as a signing for Leeds United, where stirrings had been going on ever since Sergeant Wilko marched in and started shaking the place up. The “marquee signing” – you didn’t actually hear that phrase in those days – was Strachan, plucked from under the nose of his old Man U mentor Ron Atkinson at Sheffield Wednesday to provide the quality at the heart of the Leeds engine room. Now that was the sort of signing I’d hoped and prayed for, and with the likes of Chris Fairclough joining Gordon at Elland Road it seemed to bode well for a real challenge as the close season wore on and 1989-90 loomed closer.
I was in a caravan on the east coast when I heard on the radio that Vinnie was signing for Leeds for around £650,000. I frankly didn’t believe it, but when the reality sank in, my initial reaction was to think – bloody hell, Wilko, what are you playing at? The signings of John Hendrie and Mel Sterland reassured me somewhat, but I was still having trouble seeing what the Jones Boy would bring to the United table, although our lunatic-fringe fans seemed well suited. The early signs were not encouraging. Strachan tells of an incident in a pre-season game against Anderlecht, where he saw an opposing player go down with his nose spread halfway across his face and blood greatly in evidence. Vinnie had casually “done” him en passant before sidling off looking innocent, and Strach recalls thinking: my God – what have we signed here?
Vinnie himself remembers his early days at the club, and being moved to violence by the negative attitudes of some of the players being edged out as Wilko’s new broom started to sweep clean. Among this disaffected few was John Sheridan, something of a Leeds legend – but Jones stood for no nonsense, and there were punches thrown and people seized by the scruff of the neck as he explained his views on solidarity and team spirit. Vinnie was obviously going to be a kill or cure measure – there were signs he might have much to contribute to the collective effort, but equally that he might turn out a loose cannon which could blow up in all our faces. Yet Wilko had a magic touch in those early years, and generally it was proved that he knew what he was doing.
In the event, and despite an uncertain beginning, Vinnie played a massive part in our promotion that year. The fans took to him from the start – the sight of him coming on as a sub in the first home game against Middlesbrough will live long in my memory. I can see him now, in the middle of the park with the game poised at 1-1, shouting and screaming as he conveyed encouragement and instruction in equal measure, arms pumping in an ungainly, baboon-like way, team-mates and opponents alike staring at him aghast. And then he frightened a Boro’ defender into scoring a late, fluky own-goal and we had won, setting us on our way after a disastrous opening-day defeat at Newcastle.
Vinnie just carried on making a difference. He worked and worked, encouraged and exhorted, fought for the cause and put the fear of God up the enemy wherever he encountered them. He scored spectacular goals, important goals. He showed flashes of genuine ability and some of his passing was sublime. He avoided disciplinary trouble to an amazing degree, given his lurid past. He sold himself to no less a judge than Strachan as an honest performer who could “play a bit”.
Vinnie also created a rapport with the crowd I’ve rarely seen before or since, chilling and joking with the wheelchair-users at the front of the West Stand before games, and smoking imaginary cigars as he took the plaudits of the adoring masses after finding the net against Ipswich. In the warm-up before the Wolves match at Elland Road, he provided one of the great moments of humour in a tense campaign, bringing down five year-old mascot Robert Kelly in the area with a signature sliding tackle, much to the delight of the Kop – and of young Robert himself.
Vinnie loved Leeds, the players and fans loved Vinnie and the partnership proved fruitful. Up we went, and when Vincent Jones finally took his leave for the humbler surroundings of Bramall Lane and Stamford Bridge, it was with a tattoo: “LUFC Division Two Champions” proudly inked onto his expensive leg, a partner for the “Wimbledon FA Cup Winners” one on the other limb. He was a Leeds United legend in only a little over a year at the club, a larger-than-life personality of massive ebullience and impact – and he is held in the highest of esteem in LS11 even to this day, when he mixes effortlessly in the rarefied, glitzy atmosphere of Hollywood.
So what do we need more right now than another Vinne type, as we hope to secure another long-overdue return to the top table? Those Jonesy ingredients of passion and power, guts and gumption, are just as important in this league today as they were in those far-off times as the eighties became the nineties. Who could possibly fulfil that role now? Joey Barton maybe? Even he could hardly be a greater culture shock than Vinnie was 25 years ago, but Barton is back in the QPR fold and far beyond our purse anyway – also, quite frankly, he lacks Vinnie’s essential honesty and sheer bad-boy charm. It’s difficult to say who if anyone we might now secure to play the Vinnie part – but if it were possible, in time for the next transfer window, to distil essence of Jones, or to clone him right from his bloodstained boots and tattooed ankles up to his fearsomely-shaven head, then I’d do it, and I’d present the result gift-wrapped for Brian McDermott to deploy as he saw fit.
A man in the mould of Vinnie Jones would be just the shot in the arm our club needs right at this point in time, just the incentive for the crowd to roll up its sleeves and get behind the team for the remaining battles in this 46 game-long war of attrition.
Just imagine the fillip that our season, our whole club would receive – if only we could have our Vinnie back now.
one word LEGEND – Rob how very dare you mention Barton in this article …. Vinnie was hard this guy is a nonce fairy …. nah complete knob wallet Joey the boxing kangaroo, at least Vinnie would shake your hand after he had broken your legs….!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Barton is like Taz the tazmanian devil all whirlwind and spitting …. ooops sounds a bit like Diouf but we love him ha ha
I know what you mean, but Barton was the nearest I could think of to emphasise Vinnie’s utter superiority as an icon and the very type we need just now.
How true how true………….but there’s no point in wondering about it.
If ever a cliche was true for once, there really only ever was and will be One Vinnie Jones!
Great article though!
Too true, happy days…. when going to ER was so enjoyable (even when we lost)! early days but i think BM is bringing back some of that feeling.
If only Vinnie would come back for one more season, just the sight of him on the touchline would probably strike fear into some opponents (at least those old enough to remember him lol).
Vinnie would come back aswell he says so in his interview for the ‘Last Champions’ book
What we need is a decent winger and a decent striker. We have a very good midfield enforcer in Rudy. We don’t need another!!
The Vinnie Jones haircuts and t-shirts were all a fashion statement that made Vinnie into an instant hit at Leeds, by bonding the fans and players as one
Even though Vinnie Jones was at Leeds for only 14 months, he is still a true legend and a cult hero that the Leeds fans loved. Having Vinnie in the Leeds team took the pressure off the rest of the team and gave the fantastic Gordan Strachan the chance to dominate games.
Both Vinnie and Gordan were the managers on the pitch during that exciting promotion season and those type of “personality players” are seriously needed at Leeds now.
I’m old enough to remember the ending of the revie era , but this time with vinnie etc was special and I’m glad to have seen it , mot
Great memories great great times, I remember driving up the A1 from Bedfordshire in a clapped out Datsun Cherry, smoking and sputtering all the way. 18 and no driving license just to buy as many Vinnie Jones t-shirts’ as I could afford. Great Times, wonder if Vinnie would make a good number 2 to Bmc, the Lads better put in a shift or else. Thanks for the Mems. Mot
weve seen enough headless chickensneed another giles sheridon currie mcallister people with brains and vision please
You fancy giving me a cost estimate of those guys in today’s market?
Seeing as we can,t afford to buy another Strachan or Vinnie we could do with producing another BATTY out of the academy, another Eddie Gray would be nice too.
I remember Vinnie coming on for leeds for the first time as a sub, we had a throwing at the east stand near the kop and Vinnie sprinted all the way from the dug out like a mad man, the crowd was already geting excited with him taking is tracky top off , but that sprint sent the whole place wild and the leeds salute with fist coming off the chest rapidly became the Vinnie salute as the crowd sang is name, and what a throw mot