Vinnie Jones was transferred to Leeds United in 1989 from Wimbledon in what was then a surprise signing. He was part of the team which finished as champions of the old Second Division, winning promotion to Division One. After helping Leeds to the top-flight, Jones proved his discipline under the stewardship of Howard Wilkinson and the captaincy of Gordon Strachan, receiving only three yellow cards during the entire season, scoring some crucial goals along the way. Vinnie left Leeds early in the 1990–91 season after the signing of Gary McAllister as a new midfield took shape along with youngsters David Batty and Gary Speed and of course ‘Captain Marvel’ Strachan. The Trust had the opportunity to chat to one of our esteemed Honorary Member’s Vinnie whilst he was on a visit to West Yorkshire.
What are your happiest memories from your time at Leeds?
The biggest ones that stand out really was going up on the train. I was going to meet Leeds and I was going to stop off at Aston Villa on the way back, but I’d already made my mind up there at Leeds and someone got wind of it. I was walking to the station and it was already on one of the billboards ‘Vinnie signs for Leeds’ and that’s when the lid was off but I was supposed to go and talk to Aston Villa but I decided not to bother and I’d shook [Bill] Fotherby’s hand, you know what he’s like, it was a gentleman’s agreement. That was how it was done on to start with. And I think the other good memory was when we came back from Bournemouth. I had a BMW with a sunroof and there was myself, Batty and Speedy hanging out of the top of it and the windows, driving round and round the Leeds City Square with all the supporters going mental.
What was it like to play under Howard Wilkinson?
I loved it and still to this day I’ve a lot of respect for him. I talk to him now and then. I have a great admiration for him and as soon as the first day I met him and he told me what we were going to do and the pre-season plan, I just knew I’d made the right decision. I didn’t know at the time that the city, Bill Fotherby and everybody else had thrown the kitchen sink at it. We didn’t really know, but it was sh*t or bust as much.
But it gelled, [Lee] Chapman was a massive signing for us at the right time, him coming and banging in a few goals. And we had Ian Baird – I loved playing with Bairdy, he gave everything. Bobby Davison got injured, but Bairdy couldn’t score a goal. I think he managed to score one at the far post – he’d had a great pre-season, but just couldn’t score and that’s how it goes. Bobby was scoring a few and Chapman, I think, was a massive turning point for us.
Why do you think you connected so well with Leeds and the fans in the short time you spent at the club?
I think it was the Boro game. I got injured at Newcastle the game before. It was the fittest I’d been in my life and going into the game, I played a stupid little five-a-side on the Friday night when we travelled up. I went up for a header and I came down on my toe and went over on my ankle – I was absolutely gutted, absolutely gutted.
Anyway, I came on as a sub, I think we were 0-1 down and I put the ball through and it overrun, Bobby Davison knocked it through and it was a nothing ball and bounced off the keeper and I just knocked it in.
I just turned and ran to the Kop – I was going f*****g mental and overcome with joy and the Kop just kind of all stepped back and went Whooooa – it was like they looked at me and said ‘You’ll do for us’.
I think the fans saw it in my eyes what it meant to me and it was only a draw, I think we drew 1-1 and I was still injured in that game (Editors Note: We won 2-1 Vinnie, but it was a long time ago!) I came back too early and my ankle went again in the Hull game. I was gonna come off and you could see me rolling in agony and I got up and ran it off and said to Sutty the physio [Alan Sutton] ‘Let me try and run it off’ and then I scored that great goal and from that moment on my ankle was weak forever more!
Who was your favourite player you played alongside at Leeds and why?
I had a lot of favourites. I had a lot of respect for Strachan. Leading into the season there was a lot of talk who would be captain – me or him but he was the obvious choice and he shone out. Fun-wise Mel Sterland. He was great fun. I enjoyed going in every day and listening to his banter and everything else that went with it. At that point, I’d taken Batts under my wing. He was like my little brother. I even took him to buy his first tie. Can you believe the little gremlin didn’t even have a tie?
I became very close to him and his family. There was a time when I first got to Leeds, and I thought ‘What have I done?’ It had dawned on me and I phoned Fash [John Fashanu] and said, ‘I think I want to come back’. This was before I’d even kicked a ball, but he said, ‘You’ll be alright mate – keep your head down’. Then I became close to Batts and his family and they were very good to me, his mum and dad especially, they gave me a bit of home life that I needed. A bit of home comfort. It was actually like going around to my nan’s. His mum was always baking and cooking. It was good, I had a little brother there and I inherited another family. The crack was brilliant up there.
I was single at the time. I said it the other day that it was probably the best time of my life really, taking everything into account.
That epic game in Bournemouth when we got promoted – what are your memories from that day?
My best memory was there was a lad called (Peter) Shearer playing in midfield. They had to win or get a draw, or Sheffield United had to beat the other team, to stay up. So, it wasn’t just about Leeds winning the league, it was a big, big game for Bournemouth too.
I kept saying to him, ‘Notts County, they are winning 4-0’ and after the game, he came up to me and said, ‘You b*****d Vinnie!’
You celebrated the return to the top flight by getting a tattoo of the Leeds badge on your leg – have you still got it?
Yeah of course! I’ve got the FA Cup with Wimbledon on one side and my Leeds tattoo on the other.
You set a bit of trend across Leeds with thousands of fans getting that famous V haircut, didn’t you?
There were so many young kids who got into trouble at school, it was hilarious. It was on the news, so it added to the whole thing. When it started happening I was driving to a game and I remember all the T-shirts outside the ground saying, ‘This man can seriously damage your health’, it was the big time for me, it finally dawned on me, this isn’t little Wimbledon anymore, I’m in the big league here and it was great. The club looked after me fantastically, helped me get the house and the cars. I used to spend a lot of time around the bars in Chapeltown in the blues clubs and speakeasies. I drove home through Chapeltown one night in my BMW and there was a pedestrian traffic light and it was flashing. I pulled up and the next minute these guys opened the door, knives, this that and the other. It happened so quick and this guy went ‘Hold it, lads – it’s f*****g Vinnie Jones, Vinnie sorry son, Vinnie you’re safe in Chapeltown pal.’
One of them was grabbing my arm trying to get my watch off and he was like ‘HOLD IT!’ It was something like out of ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ it really was. I used to go to the Silver Tree [Club]. I took [Eric] Cantona there. It was a really boozy club. I knew the owner, Ken. He had a picture of me behind the till for years. We used to go in there until late. We were the only white people in there and some of my mates would come up from Watford and I’d tell the lads where we were going. They knew what I was like and said, ‘You’re joking aren’t you?’ They would go in shocked knowing there were gangsters, drug dealers, prostitutes – everything and then there used to be us, four or five white lads just walking in. They used to sell just tins of ‘Red Stripe’. Me and Batts would go in there and one day when we took Eric, I looked around he was just on the dance floor, which was like a living room, he was busting moves and said [French accent] ‘I love this place, Vinnie.’
Your relationship with the Leeds United’s disabled supporters is still spoken about to this day – why did you think that was so important to have that bond with them?
It’s what goes into it. When I was a kid growing up I used to go down to my nan’s with all my uncles, nephews, cousins and we all used to descend on my nan’s house before the Watford home games, same up in Liverpool. Half of them was Everton and the other half was Liverpool. It was the whole day, you didn’t just do whatever and go to the game, we’d have ham and cheese rolls, soup and my nan just loved to get involved. If you think about somebody in a wheelchair or is disabled in some way, the enormous effort that goes into going to that game and the obstacles they’ve got from waking up in the morning to getting to the game is enormous. A lot bigger than us lot running around for an hour and a half trying to win a game. I respected that and it’s the same as when I did my first interview in the programme. I attacked the racial problem, some of the lads went ‘Whoooooa’ and I said ‘F**k it!’
I said one day that the whole Kop will be white, black, Asian, Chinese, whatever and that’s how it should be, not separated, no way, them days have gone – move on. I did a really big article about it and I feel I’ve done my small part in breaking down that barrier and at one point Wilko called me into his office and said, ‘That was ballsy’.
I said ‘It’s gotta be done, mate.’ Being brought up with Fash at Wimbledon and him being my room partner I understood the struggles especially of his brother [Justin] – the black footballer, as well as Fash, he used to talk to me a lot about the troubles of being a black footballer, so it was very important to me.
What do you think about Bielsa and the current squad?
What’s happened as you know over the last few years is everybody jumps on the bandwagon and they do this and say that, so I decided this year just to watch and not comment. I’ve got my own slot now on TalkSport. I do 6.30pm to 7.30pm and I always give Leeds a mention. I don’t like saying ‘Yeah it’s because of this or that’ because every time we do that we fall flat on our faces. The other chairman [Massimo Cellino], I didn’t care for him much. I went to the Watford – Leeds game, a couple of lads got sent off. He never even put his hand out to me to shake my hand or anything like that and I thought that was a bit off. So, I thought ‘B******s to you if you’re not gonna speak to me!’
What are you currently working on? Are there any Hollywood movies we should be looking out for?
I just finished a TV show called ‘Arrow’ that was recorded in Vancouver. I believe it’s on over here on Sky. I’ve just produced my first movie which I starred in as well. It was a £10m movie filmed in Kentucky called ‘London Calling’.
It will be out next year. It’s the first one as a producer and that’s very exciting for me and I’ve just finished filming in Ipswich on a new move called ‘I am Vengeance’ with Stu Bennett, the UFC fighter and I’ve just been so, so busy. I can’t believe it’s November already.
You accompanied Josh Warrington into the ring at Leeds Arena. He’s got a big LUFC following – what was that like?
I became friendly with him and we stayed here (Oulton Hall) on the night of his fight. I’m very proud to be part of his success, well supporting his success, he’s done it in the right way. He’s a Leeds fan and he wants the Leeds fans behind him and he’s certainly got the football fans behind him.
He’s got a massive fight coming up. It’s a massive fight for him. Great kid, great family and his dad is a good lad and he’s got a good team behind him. I was in the dressing room the whole time and the adrenaline was unbelievable. Walking out with that belt, you don’t even get that walking out at a football match and I used to get psyched out but that was something else – good buzz that was.
Now Leeds are practically on Sky every week, do you get to watch many games?
I’ve lived in America for 12 years now, so we just about get everything, so yes some of them. I even watched the Spurs game (in the FA Cup against Leeds) when I was in [Celebrity] Big Brother, ha!
Is there much of a difference between being a famous footballer and famous actor?
There are different generations. Those that knew me as a footballer and the generation that know me as an actor. We stopped off on our way up to Leeds in Cardiff and we went into McDonald’s to get a coffee and there was a group of five or six girls who came up to me they didn’t even know I was a footballer.
They said they only know me from the movies. There are three different generations for me, the football generation – forty years up, the younger generation with the movies, then the generation that knew both the football and the movies.
I’m sure you get bored of this question but that iconic image of you and Gazza, what made you grab him like that on the pitch?
It was my first time honestly. My under-12s manager taught me that and said, ‘If they get too close to you Vinnie just lean back and grab them by the nuts and give them a squeeze’. I’d never done it before and I’ve no idea what brought it on or how it happened.
I was told to do a man to man marking job on him. First thing I said to him was ‘You’re not playing today son and nor am I!’
I’d had a row with the manager beforehand and we’d done some set play practice in training. He wanted one of the young lads to be Gazza and I was told to follow him everywhere but I couldn’t’ get anywhere near this lad, he was a reserve team player. I never trained the way I played because I had never had that same adrenaline rush – I lived on adrenaline it was like my drug and in training, I just didn’t have that.
I was like Gazza. I just used to muck about all the time, just ask any of the Leeds players, ask Batts I was always mucking about. Always being a prankster, always the joker and getting it going. But come 3 o’clock, I saw red mist and I became a psychopath, going down the tunnel – it was everything, nobody is gonna take this away from me, and I think that pretty much came through on the pitch.
I didn’t have a great deal of pre-match rituals, but I used to like lots of music, pumping music, really banging stuff and the lads loved it. It got you going and I’d walk out of the dressing room shouting ‘Let’s Have It!’
It was a fantastic time. I might be the only one in the universe who’s still in contact with David Batty. He never wants to come to anything but he’s happy doing what he’s doing. He’s got two lovely lads, I had them out in Prague a couple of years ago as they are interested in the film business. I spent a week out with them on the film set and bonded with them as well, it’s like it’s the same time of their lives now as when I met their dad.
Final Question – Do you think we will get promoted this season?
Can only hope! I think it’s a really hard league to get out of and I don’t even think winning the Premiership is as hard as winning the Championship. There are too many teams fighting against you. The Premiership, what there’s two or three real contenders and in the Championship, you look down the table and think ‘Wow!’ Look at Sheff United, they lost the other day and I didn’t see that coming. You see results and it’s a real league.
Fifteen teams really competing up to tenth or twelfth place there aren’t that many points between them. Look at the Premiership, the first three teams have probably got more points than the rest of the league put together and that isn’t the case in the Championship.
I would say maybe Sheffield United’s feat that year was better than ours. We were expected to win it more, like this year, and I played with Chrissy Wilder – great lad. When you looked at the team sheet at the start of the season you wouldn’t have put Sheffield United up there and the season we won it, I didn’t fancy them.
All these big teams, West Ham etc. and the hardest thing was I knew them all and I’m still friends with Frenchy the physio. Dave Basset is still like a father figure to me to this day. We trounced them at home 4-0 and Simon Tracey had a howler that game and I felt a bit sorry for them. But we had a battle at their place. Mel Sterland scored something like a 40-yarder free kick – absolutely brilliant.
So, you look at the championship, and do I think we will win it this year? You need a lot of luck. Results to go your way, you need a good squad, you need good harmony in the team and you need to believe in your manager. There’s a lot of different scenarios – we had all of them.
I’m not gonna say there isn’t or hasn’t been this or that as I’ve not been part of it but on the outside looking in there doesn’t seem to have been that real harmony. That squad I was part of went on to do so well for four or five years, winning the Premiership and when that fizzled out we’ve never had that since with the leadership from Fotherby and (Leslie) Silver and Wilko right down through to the tea ladies. I saw Strachan one day a few years after – it was his last year, he said ‘It’s not the same when you were here Vin’. We knew all the girls that made our food. They were like our aunties. They treated us like that too, as their little nephews, it was lovely. Even to the woman who washed our kit, very important, up to Sean (Hardy) who sorted the kit and that kind of success breeds contempt.
But when you hit rock bottom as we have done – it’s a f*****g long way up.
Sh*t travels downhill fast and it takes a lot of time to shake yourself down and get back up and last two/three years we’ve been sitting in this same position, so do you think we will do it this year? Let’s wait and see. When we won it we took every game as it comes, supporters now sit and work out all the fixtures don’t they? They sit looking saying ‘We will beat them, them and them and we might lose to them away’, but that’s out of the window.
Enjoy the rest of the season.