Ian Cheeseman of BBC Radio Manchester interviewed Dwight Yorke recently. Here is a transcript of that interview.
DY: Bit of both really. I’m kind of relieved, at the end of the day, it’s been such a long time and football has obviously been such a large part of my life for a long, long time. It’s kind ‘a, not sure where to turn to without it at the moment. But despite that I have time to reflect and do some of the things that I have always wanted to do, and now my retirement is allowing me to do that.
IC: Smiling assassin is what you’re known as; you’re smiling now – that worries me.
DY: There you go then – nothing to worry about. Everybody who knows me knows I’m a very happy-go-lucky type of guy, I enjoy the moments, I enjoy living, I enjoy life. What you see is pretty much what you get from me really.
IC: I’m almost surprised that you haven’t gone back home to Trinidad and Tobago – it’s raining here, it’s miserable, why ever would you want to stay in England any more?
DY: Yeah, a lot of people say that, are you gonna’ go back home? You know I’ve been living in England for 22 years now, and when I set of here as a 16 years old, I never ever thought that I’d be here this long. So England is very much my home, but Trinidad is my roots and always will be that way. I have two kids here as well now too, so it’s important that I stick around for that main reason as well. Of course I’m doing all my coaching badges and I’m going to try and get in to management along the line as well.
IC: Can you remember back to when you were a kid growing up? Was it fame and fortune, was it football, could it have been cricket?
DY: Well, I mean, to reflect, it was 22 years ago and it was just kicking a ball around on a beach and just kicking a ball around on a beach and hanging around with your mates and stuff and it was pretty good. Those are very fond memories and I wouldn’t change them for the world.
Here we are, 22 years on, set out on a journey to conquer the world in football, and England provided me with that. Gave me an opportunity to play for some great clubs. Arguably the greatest club in the world, and to win trophies along the way and play alongside some of the world’s greatest players. Also to play under the greatest manager ever to be on this planet. That in itself was worth the journey, it’s been a fulfilled one – I never ever thought that I would make the grade and play for a great club like Manchester. That gives me a great deal of satisfaction you know, and I’m very blessed and very lucky.
IC: What was it like growing up then back at home?
DY: Well it was pretty poor really. We were a huge family living in a two bedroom house, a bungalow and those times were very difficult. Money was hard to come by but I wouldn’t change it. It kind of taught me that if you needed to be successful you had to go out and work for it. I didn’t just want to be one of the other kids and just fall by the wayside. I knew that I needed to have a break and a bit of luck to get the family out of the financial situation, so yeah, when I set out on this journey I had purpose in doing it, and I had purpose of trying to make my family better too.
IC: Coming from a big family I guess makes you want to do something that would make you stand out even more does it?
DY: Yes, that’s right. I didn’t want to be, I won’t say like my brothers and that, because they were pretty good role models at the time. But I wanted to be somebody. I wanted to be a name. I wanted to be a face that not just my brothers and family would be proud of, but the whole nation and the country would know and recognize. So I had that instilled into me at a very young age. Bertille St. Clair my mentor, he was the one that instilled that at a very tender age. So I had a vision of being a professional footballer, didn’t envisage being here for 22 years and playing in the top flight and for the best clubs in the world. However that just shows my desire as a person to be successful.
IC: I suppose that the clichéd thing for you to have done was to be a professional cricketer and with Brian Lara being one of your best mates, could you have gone down that route?
DY: Yes, in terms of getting out of the country, cricket was the obvious choice, with the West Indies being such a phenomenal force in and around the globe in terms of cricket. Yes so cricket was always on the agenda. But football was always such a popular sport in our neck of the woods. Just never got recognized to the level of England. But yeah, cricket was a way out and I had nobody to look up to in terms of anybody who achieved success coming out from the Caribbean, and being a success. I mean okay, John Barnes, he had West Indian parentage and stuff, but nobody stands out and say started from scratch, where they left these shores and went over there and made it. So it was quite daunting when I embarked on this journey. What a journey that I can look back upon now after all these years have gone, but it is one that I relished and looked forward to because I always had the feeling that I could make it, make the grade, could make it as a footballer, and play with the best players in the world.
IC: Was it a big culture shock when you arrived in England?
DY: Yes it was huge. All we knew was rain and sun back there. Even if it was raining it was still 18, 19, 20 degrees warmth. So when I got here, and saw snow for the first time, and saw how cold it was, I couldn’t believe that you guys played football in that kind of weather. Of course the food, the people, the weather, the clothing, everything was totally different to what I was used to. It was a huge a culture shock, but it was one that I couldn’t afford to let slide, I was determined to make sure that it worked and if guys in this country could survive in it then so could I. Because that’s how determined I was to make sure that this once in a lifetime opportunity won’t go by without me fighting. That was just my mental toughness of wanting to be successful.
IC: It’s interesting that you mention never having seen snow because they have famously got a bobsleigh team haven’t they?
DY: Yes, I don’t know when I see that bobsleigh team or get that snow from… I’m sure that must be importing it. Snow was a big thing when I got here. You look now and you look around and there’s no snow. But 20 years ago you can assure me this used to be the coldest place in the world. It’s not so cold now. I know we have gotten global changes and that but snow was always guaranteed at this time of the year, 100% and it don’t look like it’s going to snow ever now.
IC: Did you always feel you’d be successful?
DY: I’ve always had a self belief. I feel that I was the best and I feel that I could rub it with the best. I just felt that I needed the opportunity. Once I had that opportunity I came up here because you know, playing on parks and in the streets, and then you got the perfect grounds and stadiums and training facilities, and all of that, it was like a dream. It was like “is this really happening “when I got here. “ Is this how it is done?” I remember playing on the streets with no shoes on. Kicking around with my mates and stuff. To just come and get paid an absolute fortune for what you do and people looking after you and all that. It is really and truly that I was blessed in being able to come here and I look back now and think that I have fulfilled my dream as a player. As I said, I am very lucky that I had the opportunity to play for arguably the best club in the world with the greatest manager and some of the greatest players in the world along the way.
IC: It’s always been something of a cliché that the best players tend to come from a poor background or humble backgrounds. It doesn’t happen much these days although we do still see a lot of Eastern Europeans coming over. Do you think that’s needed as part of the characteristic of a successful athlete or footballer as it is in your case?
DY: I think so because you tend to appreciate it a lot more. I’m not saying that people who come from… whose family have wealth or not … I won’t say they won’t appreciate it. You tend to see the lesser person who is successful have a story to be told. And I am no different I did genuinely come from a very poor family. And the journey was one that I lived in the Caribbean 5000 miles away…. not a single footballer known to make it abroad or even get a trial or be in England. That in itself was a journey and a challenge. And no one taught me anything, I had to self taught myself a lot of things but here I come into an arena, and play Aston Villa, that had everything laid out and laid on for you, and you just had to develop as a player and that’s exactly what I did.
IC: Do you feel like you’re a forerunner then, like the Beatles where the pop music scene was concerned?
DY: Yes, pretty much (laughing)…..but I’m blessed and very fortunate. Football has enabled me to see the world, get to see and understand different cultures, different people, and grow as an individual and as a man, and see how the life changing things happen in and around this part of the world. It’s all beneficial in the sense that I gained a lot of experience from playing football and I’m very grateful for it.
IC: Now you have a stadium named after you, three separate spells as a player with your country, assistant coach as well. You’ve really made the impact that you’ve always dreamed of.
DY: Yes, that right. I kind of find it strange that I have a stadium named after me. It’s something I’m really proud of and the family are, and the family name going to be around forever. IC: You share that with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
DY: Yes, that right, he does, I played in that stadium myself. So I know that he’s got a stadium as well. It’s a great honour and a privilege and I’m very humbled by it. But I’m also dead chuffed about it and it’s pretty cool.
IC: Have you got a sense of humour to match your sunny personality?
DY: I like to think so. I like to think that I’m a happy go lucky type of guy. I like to live life to the full. I think that life is too short to be unhappy. There’s too many unhappy people in and around the world, you just have to look around and you see the poor people, and you shouldn’t be too hard upon yourself at times, and I think that too many people do that.
IC: Have you planned everything in your life or has it meant that that happy go lucky personality meant that you have just gone where from where you’ve gone to, to where you have gone to next?
DY: Yeah, it just kind of happened I don’t plan. Of course I have goals and I set my targets, but I don’t really plan. Whatever happens, wherever the wind blow me, I just tend to go with that wind.
IC: I suppose you talked about United without naming them, but it’s Aston Villa where we most remember you because that’s the club that you had the longest spell with. How did you end up at Villa?
DY: It was a case of being in the right place at the right time. It was in 1988 I think when Villa had been knocked out of the FA Cup and they came out for two weeks break. I was representing my country at the time at 16 years old when they came and I played in two games. They saw what I was like and they invited me back over to England. It was on a five weeks trial with a colleague of mine, Calvin Hutchinson. I played in a couple of games, in one game against Telford I think it was, I scored four … missed about seven. The rest is history so they say. I’m very grateful that Aston villa came out at that time and that Graham Taylor in respect for him in spotting my talent and giving me the opportunity to fulfill my dream.
IC: You were a winger then weren’t you?
DY: Yeah I was a winger, I was a centre forward/winger then, any way that I could play, any way I could get into the team, I loved the game that much. Because that again was just my personality. You learn and you develop as you go along and Aston Villa was a great learning curve.
IC: Your first Cup Final was with Villa wasn’t it?
DY: Yes, that’s right. They beat United believe it or not first, with Ron Atkinson as the Villa manager. 1994 I think, when Dalian Atkinson and Dean Saunders played, and I didn’t play at all – left out all together. I really felt that. I didn’t even make the bench, even though I had been playing not regular, but enough to warrant a place on the bench … but still didn’t make it. It hurt. I think that kid of spurred me on as an individual, because I realized what success was, and I had been deprived of success at that early stage so I thought that I needed to prove myself again, and then I came back again, and within two years got the club back to Wembley again, and played an integral part in that and scoring at Wembley. All the things that you dream as a kid growing up, then just started to keep on coming. Of course after ten years at Aston Villa the big one happened when United showed interest and the rest is pretty much history.
IC: Just before we come on to United, you talked about the humble beginnings being a motivator, and the setback being a motivator. Now that you’re a little older, a lot more mature, and maybe now heading in the direction of being a coach or a manager, is that something that you would like to impress upon young players, that it is those setbacks that make you the person hat you are?
DY: Yes, I think that’s exactly what it is. It takes a lot of character from that individual. How many people do you see have a setback and never come back? I had more than a few of them to overcome and felt that there was times when it was extremely difficult to come back. I always believed that my personality was to fight and keep fighting and don’t get beat down. Just understand that in life you’re not always going to be up, there will always be down periods. The up bit is easy it’s the down period that’s not so easy and that’s when you really know yourself, know your character, and you know a little bit more about yourself. That’s when you find yourself, when you really need have to dig deep. And I’ve had to find myself a few times. Again that’s just in my personality and I feel with the knowledge I have gained and experience over the years, and the changes I have seen over the years in the football world, in the dressing room, making changes myself as a player, I feel that I have gained a lot of knowledge to interact 1, with the players and 2, that I have a good football brain and an eye for players too.
IC: How did your move to Old Trafford come about?
DY: When I first heard the story that United had come in for me I didn’t believe it. I thought, no, it’s never going to happen. That’s not true. They don’t come in for someone from the Caribbean with that kind of international background. Villa were just having a lucky time in the Premier League. I think Sir Alex Ferguson as I found out had been monitoring me for some time. I remember playing against Darren his son. They came out to Trinidad the under-19 team, and I played against them, and I scored a hat-trick. I think that the message got back to him that they needed to come and have a look at me. But I had already signed for Villa by then so they were a little bit late. History says that he had been monitoring me for some time, and then he finally got me to sign for Man Utd and it was a dream come true and the ultimate happened when I joined the club.
IC: At the time, it was said that there was some debate that you’d been tapped up and that United were in the dock sort of thing, what do you remember about all that?
DY: Well I don’t know anything about the tapping up thing. I was just concentrating on my football and I know that the biggest club in the world was in for me. I wanted to be at the club because I wanted to test myself against the best in the world. Internationally I wasn’t playing against the best. If I wanted to win anything this was the time to make my move. It was the right time, the right team, and I was at the top of my game. I felt that going to United would improve me as a player. It was a dream, a pinch me time when it happened, and I rang my Mum and told her, “I’m going to Man United” and the smile never ever left my face ever since. It was just a real joy to be at the club, a real joy to be playing with so many fantastic players and of course the greatest manager in the world playing under him, seeing how he operate, and his demand of the players, the respect for the club, and the shirt what you wear and what it represents. All of those things, it’s a real eye opener and I feel humbled and privileged enough to say it was a very special time in my life.
IC: There’s a certain irony in that if what I read is to be believed. Andy Cole was almost going the other way in a swap deal, and yet you two ended up being such a fantastic partnership.
DY: Yes, that was great and Andy is just such a fantastic guy, a guy that I’ve always got a lot of time for. Even with all the difficulties of him leaving the club, he took out his time to show me the ropes in and around Manchester, where to live, where to go, invite me into his home for food with his family, and this was a guy who was ready to leave the club. You know we just got on so well off the pitch. And then suddenly, that one opportunity to just play with each other…. Because when I first went there, I played with Giggsy up front, with Teddy up front, with Ole up front…. but never with Coley. Suddenly we get the opportunity to play together in one game and then I don’t think Ole or Teddy made the partnership again. The partnership just went from strength to strength. It was a great honour to play alongside him. Among all the fantastic players in the team, you know, Giggsy, Becks, Keano, you go through the team, it was just such a great and special team. It made our life so easy, you know we got the credit for scoring the goals, but the team in itself is what made the whole thing tick.
IC: Of course you never roomed with Andy Cole did you, you roomed with Ryan Giggs?
DY: Yes that’s right I did as well. You know it was like, one day I was with Teddy, one day I was with Giggsy, so I wasn’t quite sure. The only good thing that came out of it was that the gaffer said I was his number one striker, and all I could do at the time was go out there and play and impress. I just seemed to grow whilst I was there, I felt I really belonged there at the club, it was easy to fit in with the players, and the players made it absolutely easy to fit in and play alongside them, ‘cos again I’m an easy going person. Albert Morgan the kit-man, he played an integral part in making me feel at home, he was looking after me like I was his son, and it was just unbelievable, and it was really a fantastic place to be playing football and I’m privileged to say that I was able to do that.
IC: What are the enormous highs then? I presume it’s going to be all United isn’t it?
DY: Yes, I mean the highs … obvious my first League Cup medal with Aston Villa in ’96, that was my first one. That was something to savour because I spent 10 fantastic years and Aston Villa gave me that platform to develop as a player so I am very grateful for being at that club. That first time at Wembley when beat Leeds 3-1 that was a very special moment for me. Then of course when I left there to join the biggest club in the world, I thought that I was going to win maybe the League one year, then try and win the European Cup another year, then the FA Cup another year. To go there and within nine months of the year and walk away with all three, that has to be my proudest moment, that certainly is the proudest moment… ... yeah. To know that it is an historical moment in the club history and to be part of that. Doesn’t matter what people may think or say about you, the history book does not lie… and I’m very privileged to be part of that. That has to be the high of anybody who was involved in United, who played in that particular team, and being around to see it, it’s one that people will talk about for many years to come.
IC: You can’t take away the Treble, but would you have liked to have scored in that Final? Do you look at Teddy or Ole and think “I wish that was me”?
DY: Yes, ultimately you think so. But you can’t always have it your way, I mean I scored in the semis and the quarter final, I can’t always score all the time. That’s why I say, you know, it’s a team sport you’re not always going to have the credit. Fair play to Teddy and Ole, they came on and did what Coley and I failed to do at the time and that was great. We celebrated like if I’d scored it … everybody celebrated. It didn’t stop us having a great night I can tell you that. We had a fantastic time, and a time I will always remember and is very special and will take with me to my grave.
IC: Being a footballer, being on the pitch is the be all and end all of everything. But the celebrations in Manchester after that Treble, the open top bus parade, the arrival at the MEN Arena etc, the speeches etc, something that the fans will always remember and never forget. Is that all a blur to you or do you still remember it all?
DY: No I remember everything. I was in the midst of everything that’s why! But again that was fantastic to see nearly one million people to welcome us back, did the parade around the city, what it did for the City of Manchester ….... you know the pictures from Manchester being beamed all around the world, it was something very, very special. For me it was enormous… I don’t think I sleep for three months after that though because I was on such high. It was such a special day and a special moment and a special moment for the club and everybody from the club who was involved. I am so privileged to have been a part of it all.
IC: I know that you lost your Mum just recently and that must be really hard and upsetting for you, so thanks for talking to me today under these circumstances. She’ll have seen everything so what do you think it would have meant for her to see her little boy achieve all these things?
DY: My Mum is my rock really and I’m so devastated by her loss. She knew that I wanted to be somebody and wanted to make a name for myself and to try and create some history in our world. Yes, she would have seen that, and I would have loved for her to have seen me develop and progress even more as a man. But that wasn’t to be, but I know where she is, she knows that, she’ll be looking down on me. She knows I won’t be stopping here. She’ll want me to push on, and achieve even greater things. If that’s to happen in management so be it, but she’ll know it won’t be for the lack of trying.
IC: In this day and age where so much spotlight is put on money and all the other things and we don’t get to know footballers like we used to, I suppose for you, that’s what it was all about really, making your Mum proud of you?
DY: Yes, that was it. She was my rock, she was what I lived for, I’m devastated by her loss and I loved her dearly. She knows that the reason I’m here is because of her, if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t be here. She knows she was a very special lady, and I’ll miss her dearly but life has to go on, and as I said, I’ll go on continuing to fight.
IC: For all the ups in life and the highlight of the Treble, and losing your Mum is one of the downs. Nobody has a perfect life, do they, and I suppose that you look back on certain events in your life and say “well I didn’t do that right”. Are there moments you look back on, and feel like that?
DY: Yes, I’m sure that there is many people who if they could turn the clock back would do things differently. But would that make the person I am today… I’m not so sure. So yes, we all make mistakes that’s for sure, we know were not all perfect, but the key in making mistakes is in making sure that you learn from them and move on, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. I’ve made many, many a mistake, and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so along the way no doubt.
IC: We all do.
DY: Glad to hear it…that just makes you more determined to be more successful by making your mistakes… you know, I’ve got no regrets looking back on things… yes I’ve made mistakes but I’ve got no regrets whatsoever because I don’t think that I’d be the person I am today without having made those mistakes.
IC: Was one of those mistakes and you know what I am going to say now…. Jordan?
DY: I wouldn’t call it a mistake. But you know, I’m not going to slander the mother of my child in that sense. It’s just not in my nature to do that. I wouldn‘t say it was a mistake at all. It’s happened……. we have a lovely young boy, Harvey, life goes on……. and what I live for now are my kids.
IC: You’re not a person who has sought the spotlight, but you’re in the spotlight because of who you are. When you look at what’s happened to young Harvey who is closest to you, and that family since, and the spotlight that they have put themselves under, do you sort of look at it and cringe a little bit and wish that that they were a little quieter?
DY: Well if I’m totally honest with you I don’t really know all the ins and outs of it and what goes on although I hear it.
IC: Do you get dragged into it?
DY: Yes, of course, my name, but that’s what happens when you have a kid with someone, your name always seems to get dragged into it as you say. That’s all part and parcel of it, I know what the score is, it comes with the territory unfortunately, and I just have to deal with it as best as I can.
IC: Do you worry about the upbringing he’s getting, not necessarily having a go at Jordan here, but the whole circus thing?
DY: Yes, sometimes I do. That’s why I’m saying that I would like to have a lot more input into the upbringing of my child, but unfortunately the circumstances do not allow me to do that as much as I would like to. In the meantime it won’t be for the lack of trying and hopefully he will come through it like I did when I was a young boy.
IC: You’re an active part of his life aren’t you?
DY: Yes, very much so and I will always continue to be so. That will always be ultimate to have an integral part in the upbringing of my kids.
IC: Are you a happy person now in your home life?
DY: Yes, I’m reasonably happy. Obviously I haven’t been too happy with mourning the loss of my Mum. Apart from that I am very happy, very little gets me upset and it has to be something really tough to make me break this smile.
IC: Do you get on with everybody really well? Is that part of your personality?
DY: Yes, it’s my personality… maybe too well…..maybe people think I’m too much of a soft touch…. As I said, that’s just me and I can’t help but being me, and I’m not going to try and pretend to be somebody I’m not.
IC: And yet, when you’ve left certain football clubs, and of course your country, there has been reports down the years that you’ve not got on well with the manager, he didn’t do this, he didn’t do the other. Is that true?
DY: Well I’m not going to sit here and try and say I’m the perfect role model because as I have said, down the years I have made a good many mistakes. Of course if we can turn the clock back I would do some things differently. But that’s all ifs and buts, but what I have learnt over the years is to take those mistakes I have made and try to and make something positive out of them and learn from them, and that’s exactly what I have done.
IC: So when you move forward now, what do you want to achieve with the rest of your life?
DY: Well I think that I am at the stage in my life now where I want to take my coaching badges, I feel that what I have gained over the years as a player. The knowledge in the changes that I have seen take place in the football world. My personality blends in with all that and in becoming a football manager. I feel that I set out to try and be a manager in the very near future to be a manager.
IC: Why would anybody want to be a manager? You’re on a hiding to nothing aren’t you?
DY: Yes, well pretty much. You know. But I think that I have a pretty good eye for players, and I think that I can get them to play in the style that I would want them to play. I feel that my personality would take over then and that would reflect on the team that I manage too.
IC: And as a person, and I get to talk to plenty of black athletes and footballers, you haven’t mentioned race at any time, and I haven’t either, as I happen to think it’s irrelevant. But it’s interesting that you haven’t either because that’s what a lot of black athletes and players do. Is that something that you think about or do you simply move on as you are?
DY: No, no, it’s not something that I think about at all. It’s not something that comes into my vocabulary at all. It’s just colour isn’t it. You cut my skin and cut yours and you’re not going to bleed any differently to me aren’t you? You’re a human being. That’s something that I got from my Mother’s upbringing, that call up has no history either whatsoever and you won’t hear me using that word ……. who’s black who’s white and all that, it doesn’t matter.
IC: That’s a refreshing thing to hear actually.
DY: Well that’s just me. I can’t speak for anybody else, but that just me.
IC: You’re a role model whether you like it or not despite you saying that you have made mistakes in the past. Do you get youngsters, especially when you are back home in Trinidad and Tobago, looking up to you and do you feel a big responsibility in that area?
DY: Yes of course I do. There’s a huge responsibility. I’ve just become an Ambassador for my country, a Sporting Ambassador. There’s an even bigger responsibility for me to go to schools and share some of my knowledge, because it would be pretty rude of me not to go to these schools and share my experiences with them that I have gained over the years that have helped develop me into the person that I am. So I’m sure that these young kids could look at me now, especially back home, and pick my brains, and I love to go and teach them everything that I possibly can, and try and guide them in the right direction. Then to let them know and understand that you can achieve all the stuff that you want to achieve providing that you have the right opportunity, and the right mentality and attitude and will to succeed.
IC: I presume that your life long friend Brian Lara is still your life long friend, and the two of you were absolutely at the top of the tree in terms of sport in your country particularly.
DY: Yes a dear friend of mine and we’re really tight and really close. I’m very lucky to have a friend in him. We spend a lot of time together and spend a lot of time talking on the ‘phone. To have somebody with the kind of achievement that he has achieved in his sport is quite refreshing, quite cool. We can bounce things off each other, we’re on the same wavelength, and it’s great to reflect on past times and the present. It’s just great to have somebody like him alongside of me. We get on really well.
IC: You have used the word “blessed” a few times. I take it from that you are quite religious. You do feel that this all comes down from someone above all this talent that you have got?
DY: Well again, my Mum was quite religious too so, as I said before I live for my Mum and I’ll try and continue her legacy going.
IC: What was her name by the way?
DY: Grace. She always say that somebody is always looking down on you so you must always say the right things, and think before you talk and all these things. So there’s a lot of good things that she has left me with and hopefully I can pass these on to people.
IC: I’m sure that she’ll be very, very proud of you.