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LONG before Dwight Yorke became known as the Soccer Sex Machine in the British tabloids, he was a shy and pious Seventh Day Adventist just grateful to be alive.


Sydney's highest paid footballer had grown up barefoot on the beaches of Tobago, skint but ever-smiling, playing soccer in the streets with the other cheerful children of the Caribbean and ferreting out crabs from the soft, sandy beaches to help pay for his first pair of soccer boots.

He lived in the village of Canaan, named after the Bible's Promised Land, but found lands of milk and money far from home.

Tonight at Aussie Stadium, the former Villa, Man United, Blackburn Rovers and Birmingham City striker carries the hopes of Australian football's new A-League when he runs out for Sydney FC in their first pre-season match against the New Zealand Knights.

The legendary playboy nicknamed All Night Dwight is a far different footballer from the teenager who took his first tentative steps on the road to glory in 1989.

At 17, Yorke was spotted by Aston Villa manager Graham Taylor in Tobago and soon after arrived in Birmingham a stranger in a strange land hoping to get a start in the big show.

Sheila Dudley, his landlady then, remembered passing Dwight's bedroom door and hearing the teenager, one of nine children born to a dustman and a lady who cleaned hotels, talking to God every night before he went to bed, cuddling a football rather than one of the many glamorous female partners with whom he would be linked over the next 15 years.

Yesterday, Yorke admitted that he was no longer quite so diligent or fervent in his prayers. He is making plans to furnish his cool new bachelor pad near the Star City Casino and has his heart set on a black Ferrari to cruise between nightspots in what he calls a magnificent city.

When he was two, Yorke was hit by a car speeding on the way to the airport at Canaan and was carried on its bonnet for 100m before bouncing off.

A Chinese doctor stopped at the scene and saved his life but the little boy had a broken leg and spent three months in hospital.

The car's exhaust burned a scar onto his back that eventually grew into the shape of Tobago and to this day it's a constant reminder that every day is a blessing.

"Being given a second chance at life has affected the way I live," Yorke said. "I live for the day.

"Nobody knows what tomorrow brings and I believe you should live life as you see fit.

"I enjoy living on a day-to-day basis, with a precaution, of course, for the next day.

"But who's to say I'm going to make it to the next day. No one knows. That's my theory and while not everyone agrees I have every reason to think that way."

Yorke was part of Manchester United's historic treble in 1999 and is the biggest signing for Australian football's new competition.

Officials see him as a fillip for a code that has had more setbacks in recent years than the Federal Labor Party.

He says the big gun who arrived in Sydney three weeks ago to fire up the new competition is a far different footballer than the kid who desperately missed his mum's macaroni and chicken when he first hit England.

And he says in many ways he's an even better player than when Aston Villa sold him to Man U in 1998 for a record $28million.

"I'm certainly a lot more self-assured and confident in my ability. I'm a lot wiser than when I first went to England," Yorke said.

"And I'm a far better player now than when I was at Manchester United in terms of experience, knowing when to turn the screw.

"Mentally I'm much sharper. I'm quick in the head. Physically I'm in very good shape but I'm certainly not as fast on the field as I would like to be, but that's a reality of age, which happens to everyone."

Yorke expects the A-League to be extremely competitive.

"Everyone is trying to show that football deserves to be at the top of sport in this country, he said.

"But whether it will be world class, I can't say.

"I expected a lot of media hype over my arrival. I hope people will see my presence here, knowing what I've achieved in the game, and see that the competition has a high level of players.

"Hopefully by me coming here it will [help] raise the standard." Yorke said the pre-season training at Sydney FC was more vigorous than he expected but an indication of the professionalism of manager Pierre Littbarski.

"He is a wily, experienced guy and he's done everything and won everything in the game and, being German, you know how hard you are going to work," he said.

After 16 seasons, Yorke is not missing the English Premiership yet but may have pangs of nostalgia when he sees the first ball kicked in that competition.

He made his league debut on December 29, 1990, for Aston Villa against his future team Manchester United, the game ending 1-1.

Getting a start in England was the making of him and he has never looked back. "I would never change anything about my upbringing but growing up in Tobago, we didn't have a lot going for us really. Mum, Dad and nine kids in a two-bedroom bungalow and nine of us in one room for a long time," he said.

"I've had a few disappointments in life but if I'm ever feeling down the scar I still have from my childhood accident reminds me I was blessed with a second chance in life and that I have to make the most of every chance.

"But I don't get down too often.

"Life is too great. Thanks to football I've been to places, had a lifestyle and done things beyond my wildest dreams.

"And I feel lucky to be alive."