Jones the Mouth has the last word

Norman Fox watches Wimbledon's troublesome midfielder do all the right things
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The Independent Online
A FUNNY thing happened at Wimbledon last week, even by their own bizarre standards. Joe Kinnear, the manager, and Sam Hammam, the owner, said a referee was right. It may have happened before but certainly not in the turbulent career of the Wimbledon player who has stretched the patience of more officials than John McEnroe when he used to play at that other Wimbledon.

Vinny Jones had gone over the top once too often even for Kinnear and Hammam. He had been sent off for the 11th time. This time for fouling Ruud Gullit at Chelsea on Boxing Day. For a remarkable change, Kinnear and Hammam took the referee's side. And when Jones followed through with some nasty stuff in the Daily Mirror about the foreigners squealing like pigs when he tried to slice them into rashers, Hammam, who is Lebanese, and Kinnear, who is Irish, took offence, as did the FA who want a word with Jones the Mouth.

So Hammam, who says that Jones has been like a son to him, is listening to offers. So far no one has suggested more than pounds 500,000 for a player who has never got to grips with football's troublesome but fundamental principle that the referee is right even when he is transparently wrong.

Curiously, if this wild enthusiast and former hod carrier does move back down the ladder, his loss to the Premiership will not be entirely a matter for celebration, and that has nothing to do with feeble arguments that he was always a better player than his critics made out or that he is a jolly decent guy to his family, which he is. No, he is the guy who has epitomised Wimbledon, who themselves epitomise the threatened democracy of British professional football. Wimbledon are as widely unloved as Jones, but they represent a wedge against people who are determined to create a self-perpetuating super league based on nothing more than riches and fame.

Yesterday the wedge against Arsenal was the Wimbledon midfield that Jones organised commandingly. What is more, he was politeness itself, but with Arsenal rarely offering serious combat there was never a need for him to raise his hackles, even less raise what remains of his pace. Whatever his multiple faults in temperament and the delicacies of ball skills, he still has an eye for the opposition's weak points. Kinnear said: "I asked him to pick up David Platt and that's what he did." Platt was rendered anonymous. Not only that, Jones found time to act as a spare man, breaking down a lot of Arsenal's counter-attacks in their formative stages.

The irony was that the referee took a total of six names but never passed a word of criticism on Jones. Indeed, quite the reverse. When Mr Lodge took a shot painfully full in the stomach, the only player to enquire after his welfare was Jones, who committed only two fouls but left the field to familiar resounding boos. This time, however, they were all directed at Arsenal by their own unhappy fans.

So will Jones remain a Wimbledon player? Asked whether anyone had phoned to enquire about Jones, Kinnear said: "Yes, his mother." Kinnear reiterated that it was Jones who asked for a transfer. "But in his heart I don't think he really wants to leave. It's in writing though and I've told him that until the right offer comes along he stays training and playing. He's never been a real problem for me - he just does reckless things. I've tried to tell him he's got more to offer than clonking players." And tried, and tried.