The Brian Viner Interview: After single-handedly turning Sir Alex Ferguson's hair grey, the former Manchester United striker thinks he's ready to run a big club. He speaks about race, women and his drinking adventures with Brian Lara.
Five years ago this month, Blackburn Rovers supporter Jason Perryman was banned from every football stadium in England and Wales, for five years. The crime for which his punishment is almost up was to make monkey chants and gestures at Dwight Yorke, as the footballer, then with Birmingham City but previously a Rovers player, warmed up on the touchline at Ewood Park.
In Yorke's autobiography, Born To Score, there is only the most fleeting mention of this unpleasant episode, with no names or details. The book tells us a tremendous amount, rather more than we need to know, about Yorke's stupendous sexual appetite, indeed the title is a deliberate double entendre. We also learn plenty about his tempestuous relationship with Katie Price, still better known as Jordan and the mother of his autistic son, Harvey. But about race, and racism, there is scarcely anything, which casts some perspective on an unsettling exchange I have with Yorke's personal assistant after I have chatted to him for an hour at London's swanky Sanderson Hotel.
Can I not make too much of the racism stuff he and I talked about? she asks. After all, none of it's in the book, and it's to plug the book that we're here. But he said it, I protest, and it wasn't off the record. She walks away looking as though she's just sucked a lemon.
In fairness to Yorke's agitated PA, the subject has been raised by me, not him. He has told me that he would like to go into management, and I mention the dearth of black managers, especially in the Premier League. There has been Jean Tigana and Paul Ince, coincidentally at Rovers, and for the latter it was a short and rather sorry sojourn.
"Yeah, it's like everything else," says Yorke, "black players are not given the chance to manage at the highest level." Does he ascribe that to racism? "Is that what you call racism? Maybe, yeah. Would I get an opportunity? I don't know. We [him and other black former players] were all hoping Paul Ince would do extremely well so we could break in. But it didn't work out for him, or for John Barnes either."
Yorke turned 38 last week, and announced his retirement as a player two months ago. He has done a Uefa 'B' licence coaching course, and aims to start studying for his 'A' licence in January, so he is evidently serious about a career in management. I ask him whether, like Ince before him, he aims to start in the lower reaches of the Football League?
"I'd like to start in the Championship," he says. "I've seen [Gareth] Southgate, who was my captain at Aston Villa, and Simon Grayson at Leeds, who I played with, getting the breaks. They haven't done more than I've done in the game. Rather less, maybe. Yet they got huge jobs. Chris Sutton at Lincoln, not such a big job but a nice break. So why not someone like myself or Andy Cole? Les Ferdinand's another one. I know these guys want to be managers. Why are they not getting the breaks? Why?"
Why indeed? Is he saying, just to be absolutely sure, that it is because of the colour of their skin? A pause. "Well, it's a very delicate thing. But nothing is happening. It's very interesting."
Let's suppose, though, that we lived in an ideal world, with equal opportunities. In such a Shangri-La would he prove his excellence as a manager and end up as the gaffer at Manchester United, where he spent four spectacular years after his nine years at Villa, his prolific goal-scoring helping United win three successive championships and in 1999 the Treble of league, FA Cup and Champions League.
"In an ideal world?" A dazzling smile. "That's more like a fantasy world. No, in an ideal world I'd say Aston Villa. It's where I started, I have a good relationship with the fans there, so that would be my target."
Famously, Yorke joined Villa after impressing manager Graham Taylor when playing, aged 17, for Trinidad & Tobago. In March 1989 Villa had a blank fortnight after being knocked out of the FA Cup, so Taylor hastily organised a trip to the West Indies. The skinny, toothy Tobagonian caught his eye, and was offered a trial. The rest is football history, and a whole lot of tabloid headlines. Those headlines, indeed, and some of the tales in the book, raise an obvious question: how would Yorke the manager deal with a player who tried to smuggle a woman up to his room in the team hotel, on the eve of a big match?
Another huge smile. "That's up to him. But if he does that then he has to make sure he plays well, and scores a goal, which is what I did. To be quite honest I think it's a myth that sex before games is bad. Each to his own. Gary Neville probably says 48 hours for sex before a match. Actually for him it's probably a week." Yorke giggles, delighted with his own effrontery. "But if you feel that having sex even on the day of the game makes you play better, fine. I wouldn't ever say to my players, 'Don't have sex before a game'.
Anyway, they have so many gadgets now, they come on the bus with earphones, laptops... they could be watching porn. You have to have an open mind. And the young players are so buoyant, so confident. Even the greatest manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has had to adapt to the younger generation. In my time you were intimidated, coming into the first-team dressing room. Now these young guys come in like they've already played 100 games."
In our hour of conversation, Yorke refers to Ferguson perhaps five times, but never as anything other than "the greatest manager, Sir Alex Ferguson", which is rather sweet considering that Fergie cites Yorke, only half-jokingly, as the reason for most of his grey hairs. At any rate, it was Yorke's lifestyle, combined with the arrival of Ruud van Nistelrooy, which led to his departure from Old Trafford. In 2002 he joined Blackburn, then managed by Graeme Souness. Yet he and his new manager did not hit it off, to put it mildly.
"I went from playing for the greatest manager to maybe the very worst, in terms of handling players. He would constantly talk about the times he'd had at Liverpool, the way they used to do things, and it just became boring. I know he was a great player, and played with great players. But I played with great players too. I won trophies. You can't keep going on about it to players who maybe haven't yet won anything themselves. It's disrespectful."
After a brief stay at Birmingham, and a season at Sydney FC in Australia, Yorke was signed by his old United captain, Roy Keane, for Sunderland. He spent almost three years there; longer, as it turned out, than Keane. And on the day Keane resigned, Yorke sent a text expressing regret that it hadn't worked out, and thanking him for the opportunity. He still keeps Keane's gracious reply –"Go f**k yourself" – and laughs when I mention it. "Yeah, that's true, and it made me smile. But it's kind of sad to see Roy [struggling] at Ipswich. He has a great personal aura, as we all know, but is that enough?"
Yorke's interim successor at Sunderland, Ricky Sbragia, gave Yorke some coaching responsibilities, which hardened his belief that he could cut it as a top-level manager. In fact, he still thinks he could cut it as a top-level player.
"Definitely," he says. "I'm as fit as I can be, and if I played with United tomorrow I'd easily fit in, because I'd have such good players around me. Lesser teams have to do a lot more running, so with a lesser team I might get caught out. But United keep the ball, and make the right pass at the right time. That's why Ryan Giggs is still doing so well. And he's kept up with all the changes. I was there [at United's Carrington training ground] just a few days ago and there have been so many changes. We also had a swimming pool but now they have a treadmill in the swimming pool. They have different kinds of massage. Yoga. These are the things Giggsy is doing."
Yorke still lives in the Manchester area. "I could go back to the Caribbean and live like a king," he says, "but it's better for me to be here. I get back there a lot, anyway. My close friend Russell Latapy is coaching the Trinidad & Tobago team, and I'm going to be his assistant. And the government have made me and Brian [Lara] sporting ambassadors, which is great. We'll be going round the Caribbean telling kids what it takes to succeed in football and cricket."
I wonder whether they'll advocate plenty of sex and late nights? Yorke tells a marvellous story about a Friday night out in Port of Spain in 1995. Lara was due to play for the West Indies in a one-day international against Australia the following day, and Yorke was going along as a spectator, but at 3am they were still out partying. The following morning, having overslept, Yorke switched on the TV to find that Lara was at the crease, already past 50. "It was," he tells me, "really and truly amazing. And that's what I was saying earlier. If you're going to do that, you have to play well. You can't stay out half the night and then score a duck. But Lara knew what level he was at. He knew it wouldn't make any difference."
They are still the greatest of mates, he adds. "We're massive. I spoke to him last night. We're going on holiday together soon, to Australia and LA. It's all golf-related. I'm a three handicap and he's about the same. We're very competitive. We don't ever give each other shots. If one's getting better it's up to the other one to catch up."
In his book, Yorke chronicles a period, while he was at Birmingham, when he thought he might give up football and try to become a professional golfer. From St Andrew's to St Andrews, you could say.
"Yeah, it was a really tough time," he recalls. "I was falling out of love with the game, and golf seemed like a sport where if you put your work in, you get your rewards. You don't have to rely on other people. But then I got the call to go to Sydney, and I had a great time there."
We haven't, I venture finally, talked much about Jordan, even though he has chosen to meet at the Sanderson, which is where he first set eyes on her. Is she the reason, rather than his recent retirement, why the book has come out now, capitalising on her fame? "If I'm totally honest with you, probably," he says. There has been quite a lot of honesty in his answers, I think. Perhaps a little too much for his PA's liking.