PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 November, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 November, 1998, 12:00am

OFF the pitch, it's never looked so promising for Vinnie Jones, English soccer's most infamous hardman.

Acclaimed for his role in a cult film about London gangsters, Jones has also released an autobiography packed with tales of bone-scraping tackles, drink-fuelled rampages and his blind loyalty to those who stand by him.

But it seems a playing career that launched a thousand horrified headlines and turned a builder's mate into the craziest member of Wimbledon's 'Crazy Gang' might finally be drawing to a close.

Jones, who will be 34 in January, switched from his beloved Wimbledon to Queens Park Rangers as player-coach in March as the First Division club wanted 'someone to get the fighting qualities to come through in the team'.

But manager Ray Harford quit last month, Jones did not get his job and he stayed away from the club. There is still little love lost between the Loftus Road outfit and Jones.

His dealings with QPR highlight one of the strongest threads running through Jones' life story. If you're his friend, Jones will do anything for you. But if you cross him, watch out for the self-confessed thug which lies very close to the surface.

'I have to admit that Vinnie Jones has been a thug at times, on and off the field. Thuggery has been part of my character, my upbringing, my life,' he says.

Reading his autobiography, it is clear the breakdown of his parents' marriage when he was 13 shattered Jones, priming his insecurity and sensitivity to imagined slights.

He admits his first 'naive and stupid' inclination when crossed is often to lash out and moods of near-depression as an adult caused him once seriously to consider suicide.

'All my life I've had this thing about carrying an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other,' he says in Vinnie: the autobiography. 'If ever I am made to feel I am not wanted, sensing rejection, I am at my worst.' Brought up in the country north of London, Jones was a disaster at school ? he has never taken an examination except his driving test ? and lived for the weekends he spent with his friends, many of whom he still sees regularly.

After washing cars, working as a hod carrier, a cook in a boy's boarding school and being a gamekeeper - the one profession he hankers after outside soccer - Jones was taken on by non-league Wealdstone as a semi-professional in 1985.

The 21-year-old's life changed for ever when he discovered that many of his teammates whiled away the summer months playing in Scandinavia.

The time Jones spent playing for Sweden's IFK Holmsund convinced him that if soccer could give him a free flat, free clothes, a new Saab saloon, fame and cash in hand he would happily forget about the building trade.

On his return Jones was contacted by Wimbledon manager Dave Bassett and offered a contract, beginning one of the most celebrated player-club partnerships of recent years.

Jones played nine seasons for the south London team, either side of spells with Leeds United, Sheffield United and Chelsea, and the tribalism of the squad, with their love of initiation ceremonies and practical jokes, fitted Jones like a glove.

Wimbledon knew that skill was not their strong point but they made up for it with commitment and spirit.

'Intimidation was a part, a big part, of the ploy,' said Jones, who began as an attacking midfielder but he quickly became the 'enforcer' in the Wimbledon side, a role that suited his personality but led to trouble.

'I became a different person when I stepped over the touchline. I was feeling b igger and bigger but was also conscious of this Jekyll and Hyde thing deep inside me.

'If I put my hand on my heart I have to admit I have never been able to fully control it,' Jones said.

Jones has been sent off 11 times in his career and has also been involved in numerous incidents off the field which betray a serious lack of judgment, such as biting the nose of journalist and putting his name to a video of vicious tackles.

Jones and Wimbledon won the FA Cup in 1988, beating Liverpool in an upset final and he helped Leeds to promotion but his career after leaving Elland Road, despite becoming Wales captain and playing nine times for his adopted country, will be rememberd more for the controversies than his soccer prowess.

The nadir came in a Dublin hotel when an inebriated Jones bit the nose of an English journalist, drawing blood.

He was crucified by the press and at one stage took a shotgun to a wood near his home intending to commit suicide.

But his image has been improved this year by his appearance in the film Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, a box office smash in Britain.

Jones, not surprisingly, plays a gangland enforcer but he impressed the critics with his depiction of a man completely at odds with Jones's own past.

'It wasn't like me at all but it was very good fun,' Jones said.