Old-school ass kicker ball buster

Infamous former soccer player and BAD-ASS VINNIE JONES now has Hollywood by the balls.

VINNIE JONES WAS FAMOUS for being a ball-clinching brute on the soccer pitch before making it big in Hollywood as one of Tinseltown’s resident bad-asses.

During the early 1980s through the late 1990s, Jones was a talented and fearsome midfielder in England’s Premier League. Unsurprisingly, his style of play was ultra-aggressive, which explains how he set a Premier League record with 12 career red cards. “I was famous for all the wrong reasons over there,” the cockney accented actor, now 51, says about his reputation as the hardest man in soccer.

That notoriety was cemented in 1988 when a photographer captured Jones mercilessly clutching Newcastle United star Paul Gascoigne’s crown jewels during a match.

“It was a ball-crushing, heartfelt moment, and it got me in a stack of trouble,” Jones admits. A decade later, Jones, who was still playing soccer, made his film debut in the classic come thriller Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

“I just signed a two-year contract with Queens Park Rangers when I got a call from my manager who said two guys wanted to put me in a movie,” Jones recalls. “It was [writer/director] Guy Ritchie and [producer] Matthew Vaughn, and I had no idea who they were.” Landing the role of Big Chris—a menacing debt collector—sparked Jones’ unexpected transition off the pitch and into the movies.

“The premiere was amazing; there was a standing ovation at the end. And when I walked out, Dustin Hoffman grabbed a hold of my arm and said to the press, ‘This boy’s gonna be a big star!’

“I saw my dad with tears streaming down his face,” he remembers. “I thought they had made him buy a round of beers.” Since then, Jones has been in big-screen slap fights with everybody from Arnold Schwarzenegger to Sylvester Stallone to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.

“I realized I had gone Hollywood when I was on set with Nicolas Cage, and everybody was laughing at everything he had to say at craft services—whether it was funny or not. It made me sick,” he says. Jones estimates he’s made “about 90 movies,” including Gone in 60 Seconds, Snatch, Swordfish, and the recently wrapped remake of The Magnificent Seven. But despite his successes in Hollywood, Jones remains as hard as nails.

“I keep in shape by boxing,” he says. “I hit the bags pretty hard.” Another sport the rough-and tumble Jones actively participates in? Fight club? Full-contact rugby? Nope. Golf. “I’m addicted,” he reveals. “I’m out there every day I can be.” To keep excess weight off and to stay out of trouble—Jones has racked up a couple of assault charges over the years—he decided to become a teetotaler. “I stopped drinking altogether three years ago,” he says. “I saw all my old teammates gain 50 or 60 pounds, and I didn’t want that. [Staying sober] helps me with my work. I focus better, and it makes it easier to train when you’re not hungover.”

Jones, who now resides in Los Angeles, has become a rabid baseball fan and adopted the Dodgers as his team (he’s a season ticket-holder). That said, he’ll never give up his first love. “I played and managed the Hollywood All-Stars soccer team, and we won our league six out of seven years,” he says. And Jones won’t rule out moving back across the Pond for his dream job to manage Leeds United, the team he played for during the ’89–91 seasons.

“It’s the only hole in my résumé,” he explains. “But this acting thing is cracking for me now, isn’t it?” Yes, it is. Of course, because of who’s asking the question, we’d agree even if it were total BS.

JONES made his movie debut in Guy Ritchie’s ’98 classic Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

NOW COUGH Vinnie Jones became infamous on the pitch when he grabbed Paul Gascoigne.