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Memory Match – Vinny plays starring role in thriller


Vinny Jones has come a long way in the 22 years since he donned a white shirt for Leeds United. Although he played for almost 10 years in the top flight, it is as a Hollywood star that he is now better known as. Starring in films such as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch and Gone in Sixty Seconds he has been involved in plenty of thrills and spills. However nothing he has done in his career can have been quite as dramatic as this Yorkshire derby in Leeds United’s promotion season of 1989/90.

Hull City travelled to Elland Road that day with little hope of victory. United were flying high at the top of the table, whilst the Tigers were struggling badly at the wrong end of the table, embroiled in a relegation battle. But there was a glint of hope for the Humbersiders, as Leeds were coming off the back of a defeat at Swindon and were struggling with an injury crisis.

The depths of Howard Wilkinson’s squad were going to have to be plundered if United were going to be able to compete with Hull, and he was forced to recruit some new faces as well as bringing into the squad some unfamiliar ones. He had signed one of his old lieutenants in Imre Varadi to play up front with Lee Chapman, and Chris Kamara came into the side at right back. Jim Beglin who had been covering for Mel Sterland was shifted over to his more familiar left back spot, with Mike Whitlow having been ruled out after an injury at Swindon. On the bench Vince Hilare made his first appearance of the season along with summer signing Chris O’Donnell, a reserve centre half signed on a free from Ipswich Town who would never play for the Whites again.

The game was played on a freezing cold February afternoon. I had been out for a mates 18th the night before, got lucky with a lady and had to leg it home to get changed for the 2nd part of his birthday celebrations that night. Dressed in a jacket and tie, it was probably the smartest I had ever been stood on the Kop, but it was certainly not the warmest.

Fortunately the game provided enough entertainment and excitement to ensure that I bounced around enough to keep warm. Leeds took the lead with an incredible goal, which would be overlooked with the drama that followed. A Gordon Strachan corner was only half cleared by the Hull defence, making its way to John Hendrie on the edge of the box. The diminutive wide man planted a precise header goalwards, the ball looping over the even smaller Billy Askew on the line, the carrot topped midfielder failing in his attempts to punch the ball away.

Vinny’s first contribution to the afternoon’s drama saw him not take any part in the action. Felled inside the Hull box, he stayed down clutching his ankle as Hull broke away to the other end of the pitch. The ball ended up with City’s gangly striker Dave Bamber who fell under a challenge from Peter Haddock, and won his side a penalty. Mullet haired striker Andy Payton stepped up and smashed home the spot kick to put the Tigers level.

Leeds were stung into an immediate response and justice for his injury was swiftly administered by Jones. A free kick was driven forward from the centre circle by Haddock, the ball again only half cleared by the Hull defence. This time the ball fell to Jones 25 yards out and he caught the ball on the volley, sending an effort over keeper Iain Hesford which dipped under the bar for a stunning goal, and another iconic moment for the cult hero of the Elland Road faithful. The legendary narration of John Boyd on the “Race for the Title” video said that “the skill factor in Jones’ game, like the cream, was rising to the top.”

Leading at the break, United were expected to cruise to victory over their lowly rivals. However the drama was just beginning. Hull got themselves level with another controversial penalty. Once again it was Bamber who won it, allowed to turn easily just outside the Leeds box, he skated past a despairing tackle by Jones before tumbling over when challenged by Chris Fairclough. Once again the ref pointed to the spot, and once again Payton scored, this time casually stroking the ball into the right hand side of Mervyn Day’s goal.

Dropping two points to Hull would have been bad enough, but moments later the Tigers grasped all three, and once again it was an incredible goal. The similarities to Jones’ goal were uncanny. Lee Sinnott drove a free kick forward from the centre circle which Jones headed out. The ball though fell to Steve Doyle and he struck an even sweeter volley into the same top corner leaving Day rooted to the spot and Leeds staring at a disastrous defeat.

It was time to plumb the depths of the bench and both Hilare and O’Donnell were introduced as Leeds chased the game. With just minutes remaining Leeds poured forward in search of an equaliser. As he did so often that season, Strachan drove down the right hand side into the box, looking for the opportunity to cut the ball back across the box. He did, finding Varadi six yards out, but the veteran strikers effort was blocked by Hesford. Strachan though reacted like lightning to recover the ball and once again put the ball into Varadi’s path. This time he made no mistake and side footed into the net for the leveller, to the relief of the crowd.

Leeds though, involved in a three way fight for promotion with the United’s of Sheffield and Newcastle knew that a point was of little use and continued to push forward for an unlikely winner.

Strachan was all over the place and with the game entering stoppage time won the ball in midfield feeding Jones. The hard man showed there was more to his game than kicking people, and showed great feet to evade a challenge before slipping a magnificent through ball with the outside of his foot to his skipper who had continued his run. With the keeper advancing towards him Strachan cleverly lifted the ball over the onrushing Hesford into the empty net, sending the hordes on the Kop into ecstasy.

Like a great Hollywood movie the good guys had triumphed at the death. The stars of the show, Strachan and Jones, had been aided by the supporting cast to ensure that the men in white won the day.