If there is one consistent story that emerges from sporting leagues around the world, it is the storyline of a young men and women who come from abject poverty and succeed in amassing immense wealth.
Football is one of the most common vehicles for financial success in the world, taking talented youngsters from all corners of the globe and turning them into wealthy athletes. Far too often, however, we see this vehicle of wealth breakdown on the side of the road. Children are exploited and dragged from families, only to fail to realise their dreams of playing professionally. Others are unable to cope with the fame and immense wealth, blowing through their fortune and ending up as poor as the day they left their homeland.
Then there are the success stories and Dwight Yorke is one of them. Growing up in extreme poverty in Trinidad and Tobago, Dwight was the eighth of nine children in his family. The entire Yorke family lived in a small, two-bedroom bungalow in Canaan, Tobago. Dwight was able to escape his family’s station in life and amass wealth courtesy of his football skills, and would eventually look to give back as much as possible following his escape from poverty.
As a youngster, Dwight displayed a deep well of raw talent in football. When asked about his school years, Dwight replies:
“I remember my first school vividly, a kindergarten called Baby-Jo Nursery 150 yards from our house and run by a local woman. A wonderful little set-up, where my elder siblings often took me, although it was not unusual in our relaxed world for me to walk home by myself. I failed my eleven-plus at Bon Accord Junior School in Tobago, which meant missing out on one of the better secondary schools available.
Fortunately, by then my football prowess was such that I was offered a scholarship to Scarborough Secondary School. This had never been done before, and it was nothing to do with money, it was all about being offered a place at the school, despite failing the exam, purely on my sporting merit.
After Scarborough, I switched to Signal Hill in Tobago when I was 14 and then I had to move again to Arouca School in Trinidad, which was a shame as I’d enjoyed Signal Hill. There I had been a star after we won the National Schools Football Final one year.” How about non-sports subjects? “I loved math and accounts, but hated chemistry!”
Sport was in his blood, almost certainly due to his family traditions, as Dwight puts it: “We were a very sporty family. My older sister Deborah played netball, basketball and did athletics. My older brother Clint played county cricket and represented Trinidad and Tobago at international level. Naturally, I tried to emulate my brother but my passion was really football and was fortunate enough to be taken, at the age of 6 years, under the guidance of the Bertille St Clair Coaching School. I had no shoes but my skills developed at the Coaching school and playing on the beach and in the streets. We have only two seasons in Trinidad and Tobago. Rainy and dry. We played football in the rainy and cricket in the dry and I represented my country in both sports from a young age. Football took precedent and I played College football and represented the national sides, including, under 12s, under 14s, under 16s, under 19s and under 21s. I was selected for the senior national side when just 16.”
The Discovery of Dwight Yorke
It wouldn’t take long for a chance encounter to launch Dwight’s career into the English Premier League, the wealthiest football league in the world. In 1989, Graham Taylor, the manager of Aston Villa, was with his club on a tour of the West Indies when he discovered Dwight. Taylor saw Dwight playing in the Trinidad & Tobago National team against the USA during the qualifying stages for the 1990 Football World Cup. Dwight recalls, “Although we lost that match Graham Taylor must have seen sufficient in my skills to offer a 5 week trial in England, after which I was offered a two and a half year contract. I accepted this despite also having a scholarship, offer from Harvard University and the possibility of an offer from Italian team, Inter Milan”. Dwight would make his first team debut with Aston Villa on 24 March 1990 and would go on to play for Villa from 1990 until 1998.
Arriving in England
Leaving home for the first time is always nerve racking, but Dwight was excited to go to England. He spent the long plane journey dreaming about making it as a footballer in England. “I still get paid. The contract I had signed offered me 200 English pounds (approximately 300 USD) a week which, if I should ever make the first team, would have another £50 added. I had just turned eighteen and that was an unimaginable fortune. I would have enough to live on in England, I calculated, and still send plenty back to Mum. Incredible!” However, on arrival things did not get off to a good start. “It was the worst snow England had seen in an age and it was there to greet me in my first weeks in Birmingham in the winter of 1989 as I settled into life as an Aston Villa player. I had never seen snow before of course and it took some getting used to. It was absolutely freezing and I had just left blistering sunshine. What on earth had I come to?”
Dwight was given a place to stay in the city centre, a short distance from the stadium, but he found it overwhelming. He asked to be relocated and fortune connected him to Sheila and Bryn Dudley, who would become his substitute parents. Dwight stayed with them in a typical English cottage in Shustoke. Much quieter, much more peaceful than a city centre. “I loved my new digs. I absolutely loved it! This village life was how I imagined England to be and I have so much to thank my ‘adoptive’ parents for. Sheila was very much a mother figure, so much so that after a while I began calling her Mum. She had never had children of her own and so I think she liked me calling her that. Bryn was around less because of his work as a long-distance lorry driver but as he watched his wife happily adopt the role of mother to this youngster from the other side of the world; he was comfortable with it too. Sheila and my mum eventually met some time later and they got on brilliantly. My English ‘family’ would provide a vital anchor for me to grow and develop as a footballer and a man.”
The Smiling Assassin
Dwight’s playing career with Villa began as a right winger, but his fluid movement and natural scoring ability quickly landed him at centre forward. During his time with Aston Villa, he made 232 appearances and scored 73 goals in league fixtures. Following the 1997/98 campaign, Dwight transferred to the Premier League power house team Manchester United in August 1998, for £12.6 million, then a club record. Dwight remembers the first years,
“It was a surreal first year for me. I was their most expensive signing to date which put a lot of pressure on me. However, the first season ended as a wonderful dream. I scored plenty of goals and Man U did the treble, winning the Premiership, the FA Cup AND the European Champions League. I was voted the Top player in the premiership and also was winner of the Golden Boot, being the top scorer in the premiership. To cap that Man U also won the World Club Intercontinental Cup that same year.”
Dwight remembers that it was a great team with many outstanding players and an outstanding manager. Dwight always played with a smile, hence he was given the name, “Smiling Assassin”. “I smiled even while the opposition players were kicking the living daylights out of me.” He would play for the Red Devils until 2002, appearing in 96 matches and scoring 48 goals in league fixtures, with a total of 188 appearances and 64 goals in all competitions.
The latter stages of his career in England included a stint with Blackburn R overs from 2002 to 2004, and one season (2004/05) with Birmingham City. His prolific goal scoring in those latter years dipped, as he appeared in just 73 league games and scored just 14 goals. He would have one final Premier League run with Sunderland from 2006 to 2009, but in 59 league appearances he managed just six goals.
In addition to his stellar club career, Dwight proudly represented his country of Trinidad and Tobago on a number of different occasions. He was a central figure in the nation’s surprise qualification f or the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the first ever appearance for Trinidad and Tobago. He would go on to tie the record for the number of appearances in the World Cup, qualifying stages included, after participating in six total World Cu competitions (1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, and 2010). Overall, he officially (according to FIFA) appeared in 72 matches for Trinidad and Tobago with 26 goals in all competitions.Dwight is so beloved in his native Trinidad and Tobago, that a stadium in Bacolet, Tobago (built for the 2001 U-17 World Cup) was named Dwight Yorke Stadium in his honour.
Giving Back to Future Generations
After escaping the poverty of that small bungalow in Canaan, Dwight admits to spending lavishly early in his footballing career. At the same time, however, he has the self realisation that events from his childhood shaped his view of money. After retiring in 2009 Dwight continued in football and sports related activities. “Along with my good friend, Brian Lara, the cricketer, I am a sports ambassador for Trinidad and Tobago. This is a diplomatic role so I have a treasured diplomatic passport. I am also an ambassador for my old club Man U. For the last year or so and into the near future I am contracted to Sky Sports as a TV pundit, an extremely enjoyable role.”
Dwight is a strong supporter of organisations helping children. His son, Harvey, suffers from blindness and is autistic and Dwight frequently makes appearance at fundraising events. In the Caribbean Dwight has his own charity, The Dwight Yorke Foundation, for underprivileged kids. He recently went on tour with Chevrolet and the Barclay’s Premier League Trophy to India. The event offered young football fans in India a chance to see the trophy and meet Dwight in person. In return, young Indian footballers were given 20,000 near indestructible footballs to play with in an effort to support the poor children of India who could not otherwise afford a football. Additionally, he appeared at a charity gala and auction in Azerbaijan to help raise funds for the rights of children with disabilities living in that country. Organized by Bakcell, the first mobile operator in Azerbaijan, in coordination with UNICEF, the event helped raised 23,000 AZN f or children with disabilities.
Kreol posed a question for Dwight, “What is your favourite saying?” to which he replied, “Live for today, tomorrow will take care of itself!” Dwight Yorke has completed his Level B coaching badge; we hope to see him on the pitch soon again.