Dave Jones: 'I feel cheated out of my job as a Premier League manager'

The Brian Viner Interview: Ten years since child abuse allegations cost him his position at Southampton, the Cardiff City manager speaks about the fight to clear his name, how his family got through the darkest days, and why the time has come to tell his side of the story in an autobiography

Ann Jones didn't know, until her husband Dave wrote his autobiography No Smoke, No Fire, that before going on trial nine years ago charged with the sexual abuse of children, he had organised the family finances, in his words "put his house in order", just in case the court fell for his accusers' claims and convicted him. Nor did she know that he had decided, in the event of a prison sentence, that he would not let her or their children visit him, to spare them the indignity. These revelations reignited some of the emotions she had felt during the ordeal itself. She read them and screamed at him, he laughed at her for screaming, so she screamed louder. Ornaments were thrown. Maybe that is what is meant by catharsis.

The last time I talked to Jones about the scarcely imaginable, wholly avoidable trauma to which he and his family were subjected, he told me that he would never again use the phrase "no smoke without fire", hence the title of his book. He was then the manager of Wolverhampton Wanderers. Now he is at Cardiff City, and the trial is seven years further behind him, but the book has reopened old wounds. Why write it now?

"I've had three publishers chasing me but I felt it wasn't the right time," he says. "I was worried about my children. But my youngest, Georgia, is 15 now, and she's old enough to read it. Which she has." He laughs. "Although it wasn't the details of the trial that bothered her, it was things like my wife referring to a girl I'd gone out with as 'Fish Lips'. She was like, 'Mum, you can't say that'."

Jones is pleased with the book, but wishes he had been able to name his accusers, who were all in prison when they claimed that he had sexually abused them during his time, between the end of his playing days and the beginning of his coaching career, as a care worker at Clarence House, a school in Formby, Merseyside, for children with behavioural problems.

"There were a lot of things the lawyers took out, like their names and some of the things we found out about them. I wouldn't have hesitated to include those things. One of them's away for life."

Jones tells me this with due disdain. We are in his office at Cardiff City's handsome new training ground in the grounds of the Vale of Glamorgan Hotel, the room in which he intends to mastermind Cardiff's ascent to the Premier League. "I feel cheated out of my job as a Premier League manager," he says. "I've got unfinished business there."

In 1999 Jones was managing Southampton, then a top-flight club. When one of the imprisoned former pupils of Clarence House saw his photograph in the paper, and remembered him as the man who had taken games lessons at the school a decade earlier, a plot was hatched.

Moreover, there was already an investigation into abuse at the school, called Operation Care. His accusers were told that they could expect compensation, should he be convicted. "One of them was a [would-be] transsexual, who wanted the money to finish the operation. I would gladly have done it for him, with a knife."

On the fourth day of the trial, in November 2000 at Liverpool Crown Court, the case was thrown out by the judge, who instructed the jury that the Crown Prosecution Service's case had been completely discredited, and complimented the defendant for his dignity. But it was a silent dignity. Unable from the time he was first arrested, more than a year earlier, to comprehend why the police hadn't seen through a transparent frame-up, Jones had not yet given evidence. "All I'd said in court was 'David Jones, not guilty'. I wanted my say."

He's had his say now, but denies that the book represents – that dreaded word beloved of psychobabblers – closure. "No, closure for me was when the judge said what he said." On the other hand, the emotional and financial costs endure. Jones' father fell ill when the news broke, and died of a heart attack before the trial began. And Jones estimates that it cost him £800,000 to defend his name, of which he got back little more than half. "I could have sued the CPS, but I'd have been tied up for years. I got full court costs, but they say things like, 'Why did you have a £500-an-hour solicitor when you could have had one for £250?' Then it goes to tribunal and you get the lowest possible amount."

Still, not every legacy of the ordeal is a bad one. Jones will never forget those who stuck by him, among them Alex Ferguson. When Southampton visited Old Trafford shortly after the charges had been made public, Ferguson told him he wanted to walk out of the tunnel "shoulder to shoulder" with him, as a gesture of solidarity. The Manchester United fans echoed their support. Then the match started, Southampton clawing a 3-3 draw. At the final whistle, the United manager put his arm round Jones' shoulder. "You can fucking well walk back to the dressing room on your own," he said.

It is ironic, adds Jones, laughing, that football, "this mad bloody game", rescued his sanity. But not everyone in the game was as supportive as Fergie. When the youngsters at Southampton signed their first contracts, Jones habitually used to invite them and their families to his house, where "Ann would prepare some food to make them all feel at home as they took their first steps in the game". But this practice was stopped by the Football Association's compliance officer, Graham Bean, who explained that the FA couldn't risk children being in Jones' house. He recalls the episode with a sigh. "In this country you're supposed to be innocent until proven guilty? No. You're guilty until you can prove your innocence."

No less tolerably, but perhaps more understandably, some supporters of rival clubs also seized on the charges to make his life a misery. The worst, he says, were Liverpool fans, who remembered him as an uncompromising full-back for his boyhood club, Everton.

"That hurt me most because I come from Liverpool," he says. "And to be fair to [the then management team of] Gérard Houllier, Phil Thompson, and Sammy Lee, they all told me they were disgusted by it. The abuse still goes on, although I haven't heard it yet this season, fingers crossed. You get hardened to it, although sometimes I react. With Cardiff at Leeds United one time I took abuse for 80-odd minutes, and when we scored our second goal I put my thumb down to their fans, as if to say, 'You're going down'. A woman, a Leeds fan, wrote to say she was disgusted in me. So I phoned her up. I said, 'I suffered abuse for 80 minutes.' She said, 'That was just football banter'. Football banter? I've got children in the stand listening to that."

Had it not been for the accusations, Jones thinks he would still be at Southampton. And that Southampton would still be in the Premier League. As it was, the chairman Rupert Lowe placed him on – another dread term – "gardening leave" until the case was resolved. Meanwhile, Lowe brought in Glenn Hoddle. "And he paid me a compliment without even knowing it. He said, 'I want you to stay with us to find players.' As if I'd have done that. I said, 'Rupert, you know what? I've got this black book full of players, you want to see the young players I've got in that book.' Typical Rupert, he tried to make out it was the club's book. I said, 'It's nothing to do with you, you're not getting it'." Jones roars with laughter. "Of course, there was no black book."

And what about Hoddle, who by a strange coincidence also followed him into the manager's seat at Wolves? Does he feel that Hoddle shouldn't, in such circumstances, have taken the Southampton job? "No. The only issue I had with Glenn is that he didn't even phone me. He got [his assistant] John Gorman to do it. I've spoken to Glenn many times since on other matters and he's never mentioned it. But I think if I'd been him, I would have phoned."

Whatever, the conviction that he was cheated out of a Premier League job continues to drive Jones. To his everlasting credit he took Cardiff to the 2008 FA Cup final, but that's not the feather in his cap that he really craves. "I hope we'll go up this year. It's hard. Over the last three years we've sold £30m worth of players, but I've left every club [Stockport County, Southampton and Wolves] far better off than when I arrived, and that's my aim here. Some of the fans don't think I'm passionate enough. That's not true. I'm not emotional. But I'm extremely passionate."

His passion is shared by the Cardiff chairman, Peter Ridsdale, another man who knows what it feels like when a career implodes. Have they compared notes on their respective, albeit very different, ordeals? "Yeah, no, a bit. I've a lot of time for Peter. But the downside for me is that he's learnt his lesson [following the profligacy at Leeds]. He gave his last manager £180m to spend. I'm lucky if he gives me 180 quid."

Ridsdale once asserted to me, I tell Jones, that to be a success in business it helps to have been a failure first. While his own tribulations in football can hardly be defined as failure, except on the part of the police and the CPS, I wonder whether a similar principle applies: has that appalling experience made him a better football manager, perhaps by sharpening his perspective on life?

A long pause. "People ask whether it's changed me as a person, and I don't think it has. It's changed my wife, made her more cynical. She has no respect for the police any more, which is sad. But as a manager ... I'm not sure. The one thing I can never get right is telling youngsters they're not going to make it. I don't leave that to the academy coaches, I do it myself. But I'm not very good at it."

As a 16-year-old himself, Jones was told by the Everton coaches that he was being released. That was on a Thursday. On the Saturday, the manager, Harry Catterick, was sacked, along with all his coaching staff. So Jones decided to turn up for training the following Tuesday, hoping that nobody would know he shouldn't be there. Nobody did, and at 17 he made his first-team debut. He's always been a survivor. But he doesn't want that to be his footballing epitaph.

No Smoke, No Fire, The Autobiography of Dave Jones, is published by Know The Score publishing, priced £17.99

Dave Jones: Life and times

Born: 17 August 1956 in Liverpool

Playing career:

1974-79 Everton

1979-81 Coventry City

1981, 82-83 Seiko SA (Hong Kong)

1983-84 Preston North End

Managerial career:

1995-97 Stockport County

1997-2000 Southampton

2001-04 Wolves

2005- Cardiff City

Highs...

1997 Promoted to the First Division (now the Championship) with Stockport County.

2003 Takes Wolves up to top flight for first time in 19 years.

2008 Leads Cardiff to their first FA Cup final since 1927. They fall just short, losing 1-0 to Portsmouth.

...and lows

1999 Reign as Southampton manager rocked by allegations of child abuse from time as a care worker in the 1980s.

2002 Loses an 11-point lead and an automatic promotion place to rivals West Bromwich.

2004 Wolves relegated from the top flight with 33 points. Sacked by the Midlands club three months into the following Championship season after only four wins in 15 games.

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