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Fri, Dec
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HE'S a footballer, just not like you know it. Not in this country, anyway.


Nike filmed its new A-League TV ad at an indoor cricket centre near Sydney Airport recently. One player from each club was brought in for the shoot.

Nike asked Sydney FC if it could borrow Dwight Yorke for an hour or two.

As it would.

As the film crew readied the set they struck a couple of slight problems.

Actually, not so slight. Dwight's diamond ear-studs, each one the size of a beer nut, were upsetting the lighting. Could he, um, take them out?

"Sure, no worries mon," said the league's Great Dwight Hope, handing them to club media man David Lyle. And the diamond-studded wristwatch and the diamond-encrusted crucifix with its equally diamond-encrusted chain.

"Pretty soon," Lyle said, "I was standing there holding bling worth more than I earn in a year."

And then some.

When Sydney FC arrives in Brisbane tomorrow for Friday night's match against Queensland Roar, it will be bringing with it Australia's highest-profile buy since Blue Poles.

For the bargain basement price (by its standards anyway) of $1.1 million a year, A-League boss Frank Lowy signed up the perfect man to kick-start football in this country.

Once the top scorer with Manchester United, Yorke is a walking headline.

Three years ago he couldn't scratch his nose without earning a two-page spread in News Of The World.

His romance with topless model Jordan was the stuff that tabloid editors' dreams are made of.

That, plus the fact that Yorke's most recent Premier League stint with Birmingham City had ended less than amicably, suggested Lowy had bought an expensive publicity stunt.

One month in, the pint-sized striker is showing 'em - three goals in three games - and at the first of Sydney's two training sessions in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium yesterday Yorke wasn't hard to spot.

As the rest of the squad headed for the showers he stayed behind, knocking over 100 push-ups, followed by a similar number of sit-ups.

"That's the way I've always done it," he said of the extra training. "It was how I got to the top and I'm not changing anything now."

Yorke grew up on the West Indian island of Tobago, second youngest of nine children. They were dirt poor. Sport offered Yorke his only possible escape.

He remembers two games in his career more than any others. One was his first organised match on a waterlogged pitch in Tobago. He remembers the mud squelching through his toes.

Getting a pair of boots was as big a dream as playing for Manchester United.

He did both. The first by trapping crabs and selling them to neighbours, the second through talent and hard work.

He was spotted playing on his island by former England manager Graham Taylor and sent to try out with Aston Villa.

He was 16 years old and didn't know a soul. More than anything he remembers the cold. The woman whose family the club boarded him with remembers him spending hours alone in his room, praying.

"I came from a very religious family," he said. "I was praying that God put me on the right path."

The path led all the way to Old Trafford. Yorke's debut for Manchester United is the other match he will never forget.

"I'd played there before," he said. "For Villa, but Man U was the team that was winning everything then. They were the best, the pinnacle.

"To walk out on Old Trafford and hear 50,000 people chanting my name, then to score one goal and a second and to be trying for my hat-trick, on debut. Man, that was the best day of my life."

Yorke's success that day gave him the key to the golden door.

But the downside was the tabloids, trying to run down him and his famous teammates.

Which is one of the reasons Yorke likes Australia so much. So far no one has tried to stitch him up and the people are polite. He likes Sydney so much he's even getting behind the Swans' tilt for the AFL flag.

He's also looking forward to getting to Brisbane, even if he's not too sure where it is.

He has been shown the press ad exhorting Queensland fans to come along to Suncorp and see the Roar defend its unbeaten home record against Dwight Yorke and he loves it.

"You tell 'em we'll be there," he says, his voice so full of excitement that he could be a 12-year-old without any boots. If not for all that bling, of course.