Wednesday, December 14, 2011

14 December 1994 - The Hardman Cometh (To Wales)

On 14 December 1994, 30-year old English midfielder Vinnie Jones received his first international call-up--for Wales.

Jones, who was born the English town in Watford, had made his reputation as the leader of the Wimbledon FC "Crazy Gang" that won the 1988 FA Cup over Liverpool. Self-proclaimed as one of football's hardest men, he lived up to the billing by playing with a reckless abandon and earning a slew of red cards along the way. While at Wimbledon, he committed two of his most infamous acts--inflicting a 1986 knee injury on Spurs defender Gary Stevens that eventually ended his career and grabbing Newcastle midfielder Paul Gascoigne by the testicles in 1987.

By 1994, he had rejoined Wimbledon after spells with Leeds United (1989-90), Sheffield United (1990-91), and Chelsea (1991-92) and was hoping to make the move into international football. With England looking elsewhere, he qualified to play for Wales through his maternal grandmother and duly received his first call-up by manager Mike Smith.

To his credit, Jones quickly embraced his new team, learning the Welsh national anthem in short order and reportedly getting a tattoo of a dragon over his heart. But Wales were a side in decline and lost on his debut to Bulgaria, 0-3, in a European Championship qualifier.

Jones went on to make a total of nine appearances for Wales, and even captained the team, but never got to taste international victory. And his "Crazy Gang" behavior followed him as, in just his fourth game, he was ejected in the 27th minute for stepping on an opposing player's groin in a 1-0 loss to Georgia.

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