Happy 49th Birthday to Leeds Legend Vinnie Jones – by Rob Atkinson


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‘Aaaaaaave it!!!!!

Happy Birthday today to former Leeds United star Vinnie Jones, who revealed recently that he has had several small tumours removed since being diagnosed with melanoma – the most potentially serious form of skin cancer.  Jones, an integral part of Leeds’ 1990 promotion squad, initially discovered a small lump underneath his eye back in February, but had thought it was simply “a blackhead or a wart”.  However, a check-up revealed the seriousness of the situation. Jones at first feared for his life, but swiftly resolved to fight “with everything I’ve got”.  Melanoma kills some 1,300 men and 900 women every year, but is treatable if caught early enough.

If anyone is equipped for battle against such an insidious disease, it’s our Vinnie.  Nobody in the whole club at the time of that Leeds United promotion campaign epitomised guts and drive, as well as sheer fist-clenched, vein-throbbing commitment and fight, better than Mr Vincent Peter Jones.  His influence on the club, his rapport with the fans and his driving, compelling example on the field must make him one of the best transfer bargains in United’s history.  And yet at the time he was signed it was, if not a shock, then at least a major surprise – and not in a particularly good way.

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 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 End 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 this amazing rapport with the crowd, the kind 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.

Young Robert getting scythed down by Vinnie, and loving it

Young Robert getting scythed down by Vinnie, and loving it

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.

At a time of intense transfer speculation, the question could be asked: 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.

It’s really difficult to say who if anyone could now play the Vinnie part – but if it were possible, in this 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 after the major disappointment of the Rochdale non-performance.  It would provide the incentive for the crowd to roll up its sleeves, having vented some spleen at the players and manager, and get behind the team again 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 him or his like in our ranks now.  Happy Birthday to the one and only Vinnie Jones, honorary Yorkshireman and Leeds Hero First Class.  Good health to you – and many happy returns.

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23 responses to “Happy 49th Birthday to Leeds Legend Vinnie Jones – by Rob Atkinson

  1. a really nice read and distraction………only vinnie-like player I can think of is the guy at QPR, Barton….. but they would never sell to us or should i say we could never afford him or dare i say it anyone that would cost more than 500k
    Its really weird when you consider we spend less on players now than we did back then !

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  2. gents we do have to think to the future, we do so need a general some one like the late one himself Billy the king or in deed Vinnie 100% the shirt to lead the team and the club .. even the so called big clubs dont have them so MD HAS A REAL TOUGH JOB lets give him some time please as i think after the FA cup showing all will have seen that our fans know what they want and demand 100% effort we have been defeated before and will be again but graft we demand and will support nothing less will do for our hard earned in put MOT

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  3. This fathers day my better half treated me and the kids to lunch at elland road followed by a stadium tour , one of the tour guides was john mcClelland , he summed up vinnie and his influences on the team , he said that back in the day the players used to go for cross country runs , starting and finishing at elland road , on one particular occassion they all got back from one of these runs ( which they hated ) to find that imre varadi , who he described has having a lot of skill but hated training with a passion , – anyway, to find varadI late as usual , vinnie then ran back about 3miles to ‘encourage’ him back , thus meaning that vinnie had an extra 6miles or so to run , this he did time after time until varadi eventually got the message and put the effort in , as , said john , the team too got the message of how things were to be too , vinnie brought more than a mere reputation to elland road , he brought a work ethic and forged a team spirt that was the platform to what happened next , happy birthday vinnie , we owe you more than is ever given credit

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    • Very approachable and down-to-earth guy, McClelland, gave Leeds 3 excellent years service. He took us on a ground your once and he was a mine of information. His views on what went wrong in the title defence season were very illuminating!

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      • Pray,do tell and spill the beans about the title defence Rob? Was it more than the “problem at right back”?

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      • As I remember, John put a lot of blame on the difficulty Whyte (in particular) & Fairclough, together with Lukic, had with the then new back pass rule. The loss and non-replacement of Sterland too – that was seen by the club at the time as a massive blow both defensively and in attack, with a quality supply from out wide suddenly cut off.

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  4. Happy Birhday Vinnie , we could do with you now.

    Barry

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  5. He epitomised everything about Leeds United in the 1989/90 season. From the entrance music (Rocky theme), to the fans and players like Gordon Strachan and Ian Baird (although he left us in January).
    He was brought in to do a job for one season and he did it. Adding Chris Kamara and Lee Chapman just after Christmas was a masterstroke.

    There was much more to Vinnie though. He loved the rapport with the crowd, he spent time with the disabled fans before every home game and anyone who says Vinnie was just a Sunday morning clogger didn’t see him during his season with us. A fantastic footballer. His goals against Brighton and Hull at home proved this and I remember one effort against Portsmouth at home where he was on the side near the lowfields and he nearly beat Alan Knight with an audacious lob. My personal favourite was his goal at West Ham in the early months of the season. I left Upton Park that day believing that we really had something going at Elland Road.
    He even teased us all after the final home win of the season at Elland Road when he came out and said Newcastle had been beaten by West Ham. I was up to my elbow in a plaster-cast having smashed my hand up in the February but nothing was stopping me climbing the fence in front of the South Stand to join thousands of other Leeds fans celebrating what we thought was promotion. Never mind, I now have the memory of a baking hot weekend in Bournemouth to be content with for the rest of my life.
    Happy Birthday Vinnie – You must cringe at what we having playing for us nowadays.

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    • Excellent memories, cheers Daz.

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    • Talking of baking hot weekends in bournemouth daz ,,, I was there when the team bus pulled up outside , as vinnie got off the bus I was patting him on the back singing MOT with the rest of us outside and he had a smile broader than Broadway giving the Leeds Leeds Leeds salute

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      • Daz King

        brilliant, I set off on the Saturday morning (I lived in Doncaster at the time). We were all over the news and I wasn’t sure what to expect when I got down there. I had a fantastic weekend, I eventually left on the Sunday evening, burnt to a crisp and brimming from ear to ear.
        I actually still hadn’t made it back up north by the time we paraded the trophy at Elland Road on the Tuesday night ( I think it was against Genoa). It is funny how a football supporters memory works. Ask me something involving Leeds in 1983 and I will recollect it, time place and what happened. The mrs asks me something we did last week and I have forgot already. I am just in the middle of writing an article for my site, inspired by Rob’s article from yesterday watching the game on Sky Sports. Should be up in a bit.

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  6. I remember Vinnie bringing down the little mascot,the whole crowd booed. I also remember a screamer he scored at west ham when we won 1-0 there. They’d been giving Vinnie and Strach a right mouthful,slag this and slag that. That goal shut them up though. The lad could play a bit too and he would be the first in to meet local kids in hospitals and various community events. Not an angel,but also not as bad as some might have you believe. Normally i’d be gloating at one or two results today were it not for the passing of one of THE GREATEST FOOTBALLERS that ever drew breath EUSEBIO. That he was a remarkable man and player was goes without saying. Can you imagine a player in the Champions League now,congratulating a goalkeeper for saving a goal bound shot or consoling a goalkeeper after scoring a penalty against him? What made him even greater was his humility and dignity. It makes you think how lucky Portugal were to be able to draw on Africa for such a player. They had Mozambique,Holland have Surinam,all we’ve got are the Pitcairn islands.

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  7. I remember the goal at West Ham as a tap in from 3-yards.

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  8. john palmer

    brown and Austin are supposed to be our Vinnie jones! we need aclass player who can think not another moron .look at teams that go up they have quality, with the new laws the days of derry and jones have gone

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    • Don’t fall into the tabloid trap of portraying Jones as a fool. Look where he is now, look where he’s come from and what he’s achieved. The sleazy rags said he couldn’t play, but a pro like Strachan thought differently. Respect is due to one of the major figures in our recent history.

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  9. I remember reading or hearing somewhere about how shocked Gordon Strachan was when he first heard that Wilko had signed Vinnie.
    Strachan apparently said “oh no, what have we signed him for” and also said “all I knew about Jones was that he was a thug with a long throw”.
    However, Gordon Strachan’s outstanding leadership and sensible influence rubbed off on Vinnie, who became a decent footballer overnight and only ended up with one or two bookings during that brilliant, exciting promotion season.
    From the day that Vinnie signed for Leeds, the fans really started to believe that something special was happening at Leeds, even though it might have been a shock to some of the football purists amongst the Leeds fans.
    The famous Vinnie T-Shirts and the Vinnie hair cuts, really bonded the Leeds fans even more with Vinnie and showed what an icon he was back then and still is, 24 years later.

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    • I believe he was only booked once for Leeds as well, and never sent off? I know Strachan ended up respecting him. It was an oasis in Vinnie’s career, being at Leeds.

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    • Exactly. We should thank Strachan more than Jones. Some people seem to think Jones was captain rather than a second division quality ballwinner. And wasn’t he actually kicked out, a year later, for being more trouble than he was worth after troube in the dressing room?

      As for Sheridan, daring to ask questions in an attempt to be treated like an adult shouldn’t get you kicked out. Revie wouldn’t have done it. And Revie would have looked for hard men who could play.

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  10. john palmer

    I don.t fall into tabloid trap ,ihave my own opinion it.s just different to yours he was useful for what he was but he could’.nt playand,theres plenty more who have been lucky to make a living in the game.All credit for reaching Hollywood from being a hod carrier though., from former hod carrier that didn’t!if we went up this year people would be saying Austin is a legend And team mates would say he could play abit Get my point

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