Video Nasty! The Vinnie Jones Moral Panic of 1992

Posted: April 19, 2023 in English Football, Premier League, Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , ,

The rise of the clips compilation video was, on balance, one of the gentler by-products of English football’s post-Italia ’90 boom. The proliferation of VHS stocking fillers started with the likes of Goals Galore! and Saves Galore!, hoovering up the best action from the death throes of the old First Division, before the first tentative yet inevitable steps in the direction of the banter bus were taken via the Danny Baker Cinematic Universe (Own Goals and Gaffs, Freak Football, Right Hammerings etc.) Even in these early days of the genre, long before everyone from Nick Hancock to Olly Murs made an honest day’s living narrating that clip of Peter Devine’s 1991 HFS Northern Premier League Division One Cup Final penalty miss, niches were being sought in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

By the standards of the era, Soccer’s Hard Men still felt like a barrel being scraped. Essentially a cobbled-together collection of goals and meaty tackles from assorted midfield hatchet men of the previous 30 years, interspersed with inane interviews from ex-professionals just about clinging on to the last vestiges of relevance, it was a tough sell. To a nine-year-old in 1992, men like Dave Mackay and Peter Storey may as well have been the handlebar mustachioed figures haunting Victorian cigarette cards. Nor did the sleepy narration from Central TV stalwart Tony ‘Heart of the Country‘ Francis scream ‘edgy’.

The filmmakers, however, had an ace up their sleeve – English football’s resident bogeyman. The video opens with Vinnie Jones in his pants. His involvement with Soccer’s Hard Men would leave him even more brutally exposed…

Womblin’ home

The autumn of 1992 should’ve been a happy time for Jones, having recently returned to Wimbledon, the club where he’d made his name. There was something of the gothic fairytale about the creature returning to the black lagoon, wearing once more the shirt in which he’d had his most iconic moments, between cleaning out Steve McMahon at Wembley, and the ‘Wealdstone handshake’ with which he’d greeted Paul Gascoigne. Yet it wasn’t quite the dream return many had envisaged, at least not at first.

For starters, he hadn’t enormously wanted to come back – having bounced around from club to club since leaving Plough Lane in 1989 (taking in successful but solitary seasons at Leeds then Sheffield United), he’d found himself enjoying life at Chelsea, popular with supporters and teammates alike. Just over a year after arriving at Stamford Bridge, however, he was summoned one day from the golf course to hear down a crackling telephone line that The Blues, too, were keen to move him on, having received a bid of £640,000 from Wimbledon.

Jones was insulted to learn from Colin Hutchinson, Chelsea’s Managing Director, that they wanted to sell him to fund the signing of fading force Nigel Spackman from Rangers (“he couldn’t lace my boots at that time,” Jones grumbles in his autobiography). He put the phone down on Hutchinson, only to be called back moments later with the offer of a golden farewell. The dance between green and receiver went back and forth for a while – “every time I went back to the phone, the offer went up,” Jones recalled – before he finally received a pay-off to his liking. At least he’d be going home.

‘Home’ had changed though. Wimbledon had consciously tried to distance themselves from the ‘Crazy Gang’ tag, chairman Sam Hamann keen to stress the honest-to-goodness footballers they had in their side, such as Robbie Earle and Warren Barton. The Dons had lost something in the process, and Jones’ return represented a hedging of bets as manager Joe Kinnear sought to restore a little of the old edge. “We’d lost a lost of characters,” he said. “I like characters to come and create a buzz”.

The homecoming came with new responsibilities; Jones was made captain, and also took on some coaching duties. Plastered all over the programme for his first home game back, he promised supporters a new Vinnie, “one who can pass the ball, not just hook it on aimlessly. It won’t just be crash, bang wallop.” Naturally, he was sent off within the first half-hour.

Crash, bang, wallop (what a video)

He was probably unlucky to walk in that game against Blackburn, the victim of the perennially unpopular Martin Bodenham’s reign of fussiness. If the first booking was warranted, following a trademark clattering of Kevin Moran, the second, for some choice invective aimed the Irishman’s way in the aftermath, seemed OTT. Moran himself felt that “Vinnie was using nothing more than the language that is commonplace in football.”

Likewise opposing manager Kenny Dalglish, whose ear Jones had once casually threatened to rip off “and spit in the hole”, was raging about Bodenham, rather than the Wimbledon captain, as he came off the pitch. For Kinnear and Hamann, it was yet more evidence that Jones’ and Wimbledon’s reputations preceded them. “There is abusive language from nearly every player nearly every week,” harrumphed Kinnear (and he should know). “Vinnie has become a marked man. Referees have pre-conceived ideas about him.” The release of Soccer’s Hard Men just over two weeks later did little to dispel them…

It looked like easy money. According to Jones, the offer came via a business partner of his agent, Jerome Anderson, and he allowed himself to be talked into narrating a few clips. The fee agreed was £2,000, less of course the agent’s 20%. His delivery isn’t exactly Richard Burton-standard, as our man stumbles through platitudes about the leadership qualities of Graeme Souness, Bryan Robson, Norman Hunter and others.

Then, the hook is baited – he’s asked about the hard man’s ‘tricks of the trade’ and proceeds to catalogue the sly misdemeanours that often escape referees’ attentions (shortly before the two-minute mark on the video below): “Going up for a header with the elbow up and giving [your opponent] a nice lump behind the ear…a poke in the eye when they’re not looking…studs on the back of the Achilles, down the calf, that’s always a nice one.” Other charming pursuits included treading on toes while waiting for a corner, pulling up a downed opponent by his armpit hair, and, in the most intricate act of cunning, “when the referee’s up the other end of the field, the centre half lays out the centre forward with a right hander.”

The interview had been recorded over a year earlier, when Jones was still at Sheffield United. The intervening period had reportedly seen the tape passed from distributor to distributor, until it came into the possession of Vision Video Ltd. It’s always been Jones’ belief that someone tasked with marketing the film tipped off the tabloids about his little how-to-guide of low-level villainy (which in reality offered no revelations to anyone who’d watched a football match at any level), knowing full well that pearls would be clutched.

Ban this sick filth

Clutched they were. On 29th September, headlines of ‘Video Nasty’ and ‘Soccer’s Shame’ abounded. Harry Harris, never knowingly understated, led the caterwauling in the Daily Mirror: ‘Jones’ carelessly let the game slip into the sewer with his foul-mouthed, vile observations. The beautiful game has been denigrated by an ugly exponent of deliberately crippling opponents.’

Some of the ex-players Jones had praised in the video rounded on him. Tommy Smith in the Liverpool Echo demanded a two-year ban and called the project ‘a sick publicity stunt…I wouldn’t mind if it was someone I respected as a player but in my book he can’t play.” Ron ‘Chopper Harris’ warmed to the theme, branding Jones a coward. ‘To my mind he’s slow, and lacks one big asset that every professional footballer needs – ability,” said the former Chelsea defender. ‘I might have kicked a few people in my time…but I never grabbed anyone by the goolies.’

The PFA were appalled, unsuccessfully seeking an injunction to get the tape banned. VVL, delighted with the publicity, moved forward the release date by a week. Within 24 hours of the story hitting the papers, Jones was charged by the FA for bringing the game into disrepute. ‘We can’t condone damage inflicted on the game’s image’, said spokesman Mike Wilmore.

Image had become incredibly important; this was the inaugural season of the glitzy new Premier League. English football was bright lights and box office, half time entertainment and hot young things like Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe. It was Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, published literally that same weekend.The appeal to the chattering classes couldn’t be allowed to be jeopardised by the bad old days of muck and violence.

Wimbledon too, recognised the way the wind was blowing. Jones had been Hamann’s golden boy during his original stint at the club, the owner revelling in the midfielder’s personification of the Crazy Gang spirit. He’d supported Jones every step of the way against his myriad critics and attempted censures. Now, his defence was altogether more muted. While he criticised the filmmakers’ exploitation of his player, Hamann’s harshest words were reserved for Jones himself: “Vinnie is like an adopted son to me and I’m very disappointed. He has let himself down badly…he must be a mosquito brain to say that and I don’t know why he has done it…on that video he is talking with diarrhoea in his mouth.”

Hamann then said the quiet part loud: “Any FA action should be directed at Vinnie. If he was suspended then Wimbledon would suffer for something that is nothing to do with them. We have cleaned up our image. The old Wimbledon died years ago…I hope that Vinnie’s video doesn’t give us adverse publicity.” Perhaps Wimbledon, for so long the proud anarchists among football’s aristocrats, were starting to worry that their own ornery, agricultural image, all long balls and sharp elbows, had no place in the Premier League’s ‘whole new ball game’.

Not that one.

Mea culpa

Jones insisted he had been misled. He sacked his agent, handed his £1,600 fee to a children’s charity and made a public apology: “I wish to apologise to my fellow footballers at all levels and to everyone associated with Association Football for my involvement in the video…I am totally gutted with myself for having said all the things I did and the embarrassment caused to both my family and Wimbledon Football Club and must stress to all young players not to be guided by it in any way.”

It was too late for sorry though. An example had to be made. He finally appeared before the FA’s disciplinary panel on 16th November. ‘There were about six FA officials confronting me at Lancaster Gate. I’m tempted to say not one of them looked under eighty,’ he noted sourly in his book. ‘They didn’t seem particularly interested in my explanation of how it came about.’ Again he apologised and pleaded naivety, but to no avail – he received the largest fine to that point in FA history – £20,000 and a six-month suspended playing ban. It was more than double the previous record fine of £8,500, doled out to Paul McGrath in 1989 for the mortal sin of critical comments made about Alex Ferguson.

It was a bruising time for Jones. Not only had he been hit hard in the pocket, his attempted rebrand as a midfielder who sprayed passes around the park and led by example off it had withered on the vine. He’d been desperate to play international football, qualifying through various grandparents of celtic origin, and even flew to Dublin to try and charm Jack Charlton and the FAI, but any chance of wearing the green shirt was incinerated by the scandal. ‘Any country that honours this footballer has its own shame to bear,’ thundered Eamon Dunphy in the Irish Independent on Sunday. It would be another two years before Wales would answer the call, Jones qualifying via a Ruthin-born grandmother.

Jones would spend the rest of the decade leaning into his reputation and playing the panto villain. He made a point of engineering box office dust-ups with Eric Cantona and Roy Keane when Man Utd came to town in 1994, and engaged in another 90s fad suddenly back en vogue today – a public spat with Gary Lineker, after the then-Match of the Day pundit criticised Wimbledon’s style of play. As his playing career wound down, his ambitions moved away from coaching towards an improbable Hollywood career – he saw out the decade sharing the screen with Jason Statham and Brad Pitt, and a wrestling ring and a beer with ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin.

The real winners were VVL. The controversy predictably led to a huge spike in sales with Christmas approaching. At one point Soccer’s Hard Men was poised to become the UK’s fastest-selling sports video ever, despite being about as incendiary as an episode of Songs of Praise. “The project is worth hundreds of thousands of pounds,” beamed Head of Marketing David Livingstone. “You just can’t buy the kind of publicity we’ve had. The last video we had like this was Lover’s Guide, with sales of £350,000. I don’t know if we will outsell that, but we could be close.”

Unlike Lover’s Guide, the only one f**ked thanks to this video was Vinnie Jones.


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