Cold Call: Jack O'Sullivan Rings Vinnie Jones

PHONING RATHER than meeting Vinnie Jones seems smart. After all, he once bit a reporter's nose when the conversation got too hot. And he could be the next Clint Eastwood, after his lifelike performance as a gangland debt-collector in the new film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. So Vinnie's agent agrees a time when football's hard man will ring.

I wait and wait. Nothing. I stare at the menacing photo on the cover of his new autobiography, that face like a clenched fist, ready to smack me if I get out of order. I now know how Paul Gascoigne felt when Vinnie famously grabbed him by the balls during a match and squeezed.

"We'll try again tomorrow," sympathised his agent hours later. Next day, I reached that familiar gruff voice on a dodgy mobile line. "Vinnie," I shout, relieved that none of his 14 shotguns are nearby. "I wonder if you call yourself a New Man?"

Silence. "I dunno know what you mean?" I explain about being touchy-feely and washing up. "If you have to do it, I suppose you have to do it," he says. "But I've had enough problems looking after myself. I don't think I could look after anyone else.

"A real man," continues Vinnie, warming to the subject, "can run with the boys, fight with them and have a good time. But if a woman walks in, he snaps out of it. He can still open a door for her, carry her bags. He's a gentleman."

So now that he is a film star, are there any "real men" that he would like to play? "William Wallace in Braveheart." A painful end, I say. "How about John Gotti, the Mafia boss, and Richard Gere in An Officer and A Gentleman? "I'd love to do them."

Football, I say, seems part of his being a man. Does he support women playing? "It's good for them," he declares enthusiastically. "My daughter, Kaley, plays brilliantly. We have a small pitch in our garden. I've got a thing in life - you should do what you want, give two fingers to everyone and tell them to get stuffed." Suddenly, the phone goes dead. I redial.

Vinnie is still there, ready for more. So what does he think of today's players, like Alan Shearer and Michael Owen, who are so smoothly groomed? "Corn-fed," shouts Vinnie. "Like chickens. They're bred just to be footballers. There won't be any great characters soon. When was the last time a non- league player like me came off the building site and played against Man United?"

I want to tell Vinnie my theory, having read his autobiography. He isn't really aggressive, just defensive because he feels threatened. So much so that his book details how he once contemplated suicide. Vinnie seems desperately loyal to friends, but gets into bother with outsiders. Does he agree?

" I'm very tribal," he says. "I like to have my mates around me. But I've got a temper. My first reaction is aggression if someone threatens me. Everything I've ever done I have had to fight and scrap for." What had made him feel so insecure? "Probably leaving home, my parents splitting up. I was only 13, just coming into being a man, then all that happened. It's still a big part of my life."

His twenties sounded stressful, I say. Does he feel more relaxed now? "Yeah. I'm 33. I feel more content," he says. "I've fought my way up to where people can't affect me anymore. It's no longer a win or die situation for me. In the last 18 months I've begun to have that wanted feeling."

Vinnie is beginning to sound touchy-feely. But our chat is over. "OK that's it. I've got a plane to catch," he shouts. The phone goes dead. This time, I don't redial.

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