“It’s not the country I grew up in. It’s a European country now. If someone blindfolded you and put you on a plane in LA, and you landed at Heathrow and they took it off, you wouldn’t have a clue where you were.”Now then, I don’t’ assume to be able to lecture on history and geography, but Britain has been in Europe for a while now. I mean, it’s not as though it’s just been towed into place after a couple of decades in the South Pacific. And I don’t know when Jones was last in the UK, but the high streets are hardly overrun with examples of Parisian-style café-culture. Would that they were. Instead we’re left with usual assortment of Weatherspoons and Greggs. When he was a resident of these here shores you can bet Vinnie’s bottom dollar that he went on his own fair share of ‘typically English’ nights out: pop to an Irish pub, down a few pints of Stella or Fosters, then indulge in some karaoke before going home after a curry or kebab.
Perhaps Vinnie, the immigrant in America, would be happier with some mythical England where we Morris dance and eat turnips all the livelong day. But it’s not just the cultural question that has vexed Watford’s finest. Never one to settle for subtlety when an over-the-top, two footed tackle would do, Jones continues, “I just think we should get our own house in order before we open our doors. It’s mind-boggling to me.” It’s the kind thing you would expect in a UKIP press-release, full of nostalgia, mock concern and pandering to racism. So, not to put too fine a point on it; Vinnie Jones can just fuck right off.
Warming to his task, Jones turns his attention to the plight of modern football. You might expect a man who has played the game at international level to at least produce some valid insight in this department. Alas not. Rather than tackle the question of ticket prices, wages, and the rise of the billionaire owner he continues his theme of immigration:
"I said it all 15 years ago, that diving would creep in, and also that the England team would suffer, because none of these foreign managers would buy English players. It's all happening, just like I said it would."Bloody foreigners, coming over here and making us shit at football. Yawn. Two recently retired English footballers – Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher – have both been peddling this line of late, so we can hardly accuse Jones of original thought. It is, however, an idea that would hold more sway if there had been a golden era of English football prior to the influx of foreign players in the mid to late 1990s. Aside from the side sent to Italia ’90, and the limited success on home soil at the Euros six years later, the England team has spent forty years alternating between the descriptions ‘underachievers’ and ‘laughing-stock’.
Some of us will remember a time when the England midfield was being bossed by such world-class talent as David Batty and Carlton Palmer. I remember one club manager, post-match, saying of Palmer, “He covered every blade of grass out there today. He had to, his first touch was shite.” Such was the quality of player on offer to England in the early 1990s. Still Jones could not break his way into England reckoning, and the proud Englishman promptly opted to play for Wales instead. As far as club football is concerned, I would rather watch Gianfranco Zola than Jason Lee, Cristiano Ronaldo than Andy Sinton, or for that matter, Patrick Viera than Vinnie Jones. Oh, and last season, Gareth Bale dived just as often as Luis Suarez.
British sport is the product of a vast array of different trends, styles and people from across the world - just like the rest of British society. Only the small-minded, the stupid and the racist fail to see it. Players of one hundred different nationalities have played in the Premier League, the greatest British athlete of all time is a refugee from Somalia, the most exciting batsman in the English cricket team is from South Africa. All of this seems lost on Jones, whose own life history exposes the most blatant hypocrisy. This is the Brit who lives in the States; the Englishman who played for Wales. Unfortunately Vinnie Jones is living his life as he once played his football – he still needs to learn how to engage his brain before he dives in.