Vinnie Jones feared Liverpool’s reluctant hard man more than any other player

Liverpool signed Steve McMahon on this day in 1985, a player who hated his hard man tag despite being feared by VInnie Jones


The traditional football hardman is a dying breed.


In fact, you could argue they have already gone the way of the dodo, in a somewhat overlooked sign of the changing state of the game in recent years.


Sure, in Fabinho Liverpool boast one of the very best holding midfielders in world football while Chelsea can argue the same of N’Golo Kante, with the duo both almost like having an extra man, such is their effectiveness at covering ground and retrieving possession.


That is not a slant on their skills, far from it. They are both phenomenal at what they do, but, with TV cameras and VAR watching their every move, it’s a far cry from the previous hardmen who used to fulfil such positions on a pitch.


In truth, Javier Mascherano is probably the last ‘sh**house’ Liverpool have possessed, but even then his reputation is not the same compared to some of those that thundered into blood-crunching tackles before him.


So where have all the Premier League b******* gone?


The latest crop of top-flight stars just don’t have that nasty streak that used to go hand-in-hand with such a role, with the likes of Graeme Souness and Roy Keane a constant reminder of ‘the good old days’, ruling with an iron fist in a velvet glove, in their weekly critiques of modern football when on Sky Sports pundit duty.


Liverpool signed Steve McMahon on this day in 1985, a player who hated his hard man tag despite being feared by VInnie Jones.


Two of the finest midfielders of their respective eras, it is telling that their lasting legacy to the YouTube generation is their infamous near-assaults on Iosif Rotariu and Alf-Inge Haaland.


But it’s a rather different story for one of Liverpool’s other famous hardmen.


Before Keane’s legendary on-pitch duels with Patrick Vieira engrossed fans, there was Steve McMahon vs Vinnie Jones.


The midfielder was essentially brought in as Souness’ tough-tackling replacement at Anfield, a year after the Scot’s move to Sampdoria, when he became Kenny Dalglish ’s first Reds signing back in 1985.


But with his Liverpool career concluding in the shadow of the inaugural Premier League on Christmas Eve 1991, his legacy is perhaps not what it would have been had he been a ‘bites your legs’, ‘chopper’ or ‘Anfield Iron’ 60s legend or enjoyed his prime on England’s new top stage.


Boasting 277 appearances and 50 goals from six-and-a-half seasons with the Reds, McMahon was a linchpin of Dalglish’s Liverpool, winning three First Division titles and two FA Cups under the Scot.


Yet lasting images from his Reds career come from two Liverpool lowlights rather than those successes.


It was McMahon who was caught on camera repeatedly telling his team-mates there’s just “one minute” remaining, signalling forcibly with his right index finger, moments before Michael Thomas infamously scored in the last minute to steal the title for Arsenal at Anfield in 1989.


And the year before he was on the receiving end of one of the FA Cup final’s most famous tackles just minutes until the Reds’ shock 1-0 defeat to Wimbledon in 1988, as he was left on the floor in a heap by an infamous late Vinnie Jones challenge, which didn’t even warrant a booking. For the record, the England international swiftly picked himself back up before confronting the Welshman, demonstrating his own no-nonsense, hard nature.


The Wales international later claimed McMahon was his ‘only real rival’ in modern day football for the accolade of ‘hardest man in football’, while in recent years he has admitted his challenge on his Liverpool counterpart was premeditated, highlighting the status the Reds man held.


“I’d watched a video and [Alan] Hansen or someone would knock the ball to [McMahon] who’d then let it come across him to open up so he could play it out the other side,” Jones told TalkSPORT in 2018.


“The boys knew I was going to smash him because I’d told them that if I could early enough, the referee wasn’t going to send me off in front of in front of about 100,000 people, but I didn’t get too much of a response from the lads, so it was a bit of a gamble!Referee George Courtney tries to separate John Fashanu of Wimbledon (floor) and Steve McMahon of Liverpool as Vinnie Jones looks onReferee George Courtney tries to separate John Fashanu of Wimbledon (floor) and Steve McMahon of Liverpool as Vinnie Jones looks on 

“So when the ball came into him, I started running. I was about 30 yards away and I kept thinking, ‘just open up’, and he did and thought. ‘Merry Christmas’. BOOM!”

Jones would later claim McMahon got his revenge back at Anfield though, kicking the Welshman to the floor with his studs and forcing him to have stitches on a major cut.

While Jones might have considered McMahon his fiercest adversary, the feeling was not mutual.

“Graeme Souness is my idea of a hard man, so too is Graham Roberts, especially during his days with Spurs, but not the likes of Vinnie Jones,” he wrote in his autobiography, first published in 1990.

“In my view, (he) has a more intimidating mouth than tackle. When he was at Wimbledon he was the king of the verbals.

“Vinnie Jones has been given a lot of credit for nullifying my impact in the FA Cup final, so my comments about him might sound like sour grapes. Not at all: I can take it if an opponent outplays me, but the truth is that Liverpool as a team didn’t play well and I take my fair share of the blame for that.

“It has nothing to do with the fact Vinnie Jones made a neck-high tackle on me in the first five minutes of the final. I got up and got on with the game; that tackle didn’t worry me in the least. He could have made a dozen like it and it wouldn’t have deflected me from my job.

“I’m sure he thought it upset me, but I can assure him that it didn’t… it annoys me intensely that it has been suggested that Vinnie Jones marked me out of the game. I didn’t think Vinnie Jones had more than six kicks in the entire Wembley final! And two of them sent the ball into the stands. That was his only contribution.

“Unfortunately for us, he had the last laugh because he finished on the winning side. That’s our fault, collectively.”

It appears the great Bob Paisley was right when he said: “When Steve McMahon plays well, I always think that Liverpool will play well.”

For a player so vital to Dalglish’s Liverpool, the midfielder actually first made his name at Everton, having been a boyhood Blues fan and previously served as a Godison Park ball-boy.

Handed his Everton debut in 1980, he was voted the supporters’ player of the year in his debut campaign and later earned the captaincy before completing a controversial move to European champions Aston Villa in 1983 which saw Blues fans turn on the Scouser.

“Nobody actually got the true story, even some of the players I played with didn’t know the true story,” he told TalkSPORT in 2018.

“At the end of the day, I was an asset and Everton wanted to sell me. Simple as – that’s football.


But if that was the way it was, then they should have come out and said so rather than make me the villain of the piece because that didn’t help me for two or three years.”


And such vitriolic abuse came his way despite spurning the advances of Paisley’s Liverpool in favour of a less-lucrative move to Villa Park.


“I was sat in an office with my dad – I’d already agreed to go to Villa, but then I got a call from Liverpool telling me they wanted to sign me,” he recalled. “People say I was greedy and left Everton for the money.


“I didn’t because Liverpool offered me more. They actually said: ‘What have Villa offered you?’ I told them the package, which at the time was a lot of dough, and they said, ‘we’ll double that, no problem’.


“And I told them that for personal reasons and family reasons I think it’s best I don’t sign for Liverpool.


“That’s the way I left it. They appreciated it and wished me luck and then later I had the opportunity to come back.


“That’s the way it is and you have to conduct yourself properly. I did it for the right reasons.”


A move to Anfield would follow two years later, but not before infamous tussles with his two future Reds managers.


“I had the misfortune of crossing swords with Graeme in a big way during my days with Aston Villa,” McMahon recalled. “Graeme and Kenny Dalglish still remind me of the day they got me sent off – the only time I’ve been dismissed in my entire career…


“It was a real Scottish double act: an incident with Kenny got me booked, and Graeme finished off the job by getting me sent off. The pair of them still laugh and joke about it. Kenny says I got booked because I couldn’t catch him as he was too quick for me, so I had to hold him back.


“The truth is Kenny had that style of play of shielding the ball and backing into an opponent. In my view I was fouled, but the referee booked me! Later on I was in a tussle with Souness and, as I kicked the ball away, he kicked me in the shin with his studs showing. I squared up to him and was sent off.


“It’s fascinating to look back and see that, at the time, I was quoted as saying: ‘If anyone should have gone off, it should have been Souness. He went over the top, it was as plain as anything – I’ve got the stud marks on my shin to prove it. I didn’t take a swing at him. I just pushed him away, that’s all. It was a diabolical decision to send me off’.


“They certainly set out to wind me up and they succeeded. They were crafty. I was wound up anyway going back to Merseyside and they did me a treat.”


Such passionate altercations clearly left their mark on Dalglish, with the Scot reigniting Liverpool’s interest in McMahon in 1985 after the midfielder decided to return up north.


And he even snubbed a move to Manchester United in favour of biding his time amid reported interest from the Reds.

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