- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

D.C. United defender Ivan McKinley (six career red cards) might be the hard-nosed man of Major League Soccer, but he has nothing on Vinnie Jones, the bad boy of English soccer who earned 13 red cards.
Jones, a soccer player turned film star, was on the phone from London this week promoting his new film, "Mean Machine," a remake of the 1974 Burt Reynolds film "The Longest Yard" with a soccer twist. The film opens locally Friday.
Americans may be familiar with Jones for his recent roles in "Snatch" (with Brad Pitt), "Gone in Sixty Seconds" (with Nicolas Cage) and "Swordfish" (with John Travolta). For soccer fans the world over, Jones will always be the tough midfielder with the gangster looks who intimidated players with his brutal tackles and dirty tricks throughout the '80s and '90s.
"I used to get carried away on the field," said Jones, who made his name playing for Wimbledon in the Premier League. "I used to turn into something else. I can't explain it."
Jones' reputation is legendary. He was caught on camera clutching Paul Gascoigne's testicles in a game. He owns the record for the fastest yellow card in English soccer three seconds. He was fined a record $28,000 for his dirty tricks video: "Soccer's Hard Men," and he once sank his teeth into a reporter's nose. You get the picture.
"Ten years ago, you had to look after yourself in the game," Jones said. "You went up for a header and got smashed. Now the game is so technical. You touch a guy now and they book you. The refs are hopeless and should be covering basketball. I got 13 red cards in my career. If I was playing today, I'd get 13 red cards in a season."
In his new film, Jones plays Danny Meehan, the disgraced captain of England's national team now serving time who leads a group of prisoners in a soccer game against the guards. He reckons the film will appeal to Americans even though soccer is weak on the sports radar in this country.
"If you look at the Women's World Cup, that drew nearly 100,000 fans," said Jones, noting the growth of the game in the United States, "I mean, I played in front of 100,000 in the FA Cup. I think [the films release is] good timing."
Jones, who retired from the game three years ago, is not a bad actor, and finally gets to display his soccer skills in his new film. Although the accents in "Mean Machine" might be tough on American ears, the soccer scenes are done well.
In his long career, the Watford native played 377 games in top-flight soccer, mainly with Wimbledon but also with Sheffield United, Leeds and Chelsea. At Wimbledon, he was part of the "the Crazy Gang," so-called because of the team's underdog mentality, never-say-die attitude and low budget roster. Jones helped the London-based club upset mighty Liverpool 1-0 in the 1988 FA Cup. He ended his career with the Queens Park Rangers in 1999.
His movie career took off when he was still a player. Then unknown movie director Guy Ritchie now Madonna's husband picked him for a role in "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels." Since then Jones, who once laid bricks for a living, has not been short of work. In fact, no other player has ever made the transfer from soccer to films as successfully. Other players like Manchester United ace Eric Cantona another soccer bad boy who turned to films and starred in "Elizabeth" haven't done so well.
"Life is not a rehearsal," Jones said. "I've been very lucky. I played 15 years of top-line football. I'm [proud] I got out at the right time. Today the game is desperate. You can be a manager in the Premier League one day and coaching non-league soccer two years later. I would never get back into the game. I hate the authorities."
Jones scorns the state of English soccer today.
"The game is flooded by foreigners now," he said. "The old bulldog spirit has gone."
As for the U.S. team's chances of advancing in the World Cup, "Good luck. They got there, and that itself is an achievement."
You wonder after talking to Jones whether the man really is a soft guy inside a tough exterior?
"Would you like me to come over there and mark you in a game?" he replied pointedly.
I think I'll pass on that one, Vinnie.
As for soccer-themed movies, over the years, they have been rare. The most notable was the 1981 film "Victory," starring Pele, Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone as POWs in World War II.
Don't expect Jones to be doing any more soccer films soon.
"I want to stand up as an actor on my own now," he said.
New date for United D.C. United announced yesterday its match at the Colorado Rapids orginally scheduled for Aug. 14 at Invesco Field at Mile High has been changed to April 3 to accomodate a doubleheader with the U.S. national team. United will face the Rapids at 7:30 p.m. followed by an international friendly between the U.S. and Mexico at 10.
U.S. team The national team will be seeking a little payback when it takes on Honduras today at Safeco Field in Seattle in a World Cup warmup match. Honduras, which narrowly missed qualifying for the World Cup, downed the Americans 3-2 in qualifying at RFK Stadium on Sept. 1 in a stunning upset before 54,282.
WUSA Washington Freedom star Mia Hamm had successful surgery on her left knee Tuesday in Chapel Hill, N.C., and is expected to be sidelined for eight weeks. However, she will appear today at the club's media day at RFK Stadium's auxiliary field from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. Today's practice is open to the public.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide