I'm off to the Caribbean - but it's all in the line of duty

This is the end of the season, though of course the play-off players have playing to come, as do the cup finalists, but this column now takes a bow till next season. And where will I be? In the lovely, relaxing Lake District - where I'll be in a muck sweat, working like mad, rushing around, screaming and shouting, saying what have I done, why did I take this on, I must be potty agreeing to produce 100,000 words in three months.

I am writing the biography of a footballer. He plays in red, is known for his smile. Guessed? OK, second clue. He comes from Tobago. Yes, you've got it. And if you haven't, you obviously don't follow football, so kindly leave the page.

I've done a book about the year in the life of a football club, done a book about an England World Cup squad, done a football novel, and done a collection of football writings, but never done a biog of a footballer. It just seemed, well, daft. How you can spin out 100,000 words on a lad of 18 who has done nothing, seen nothing, thought little in his life? Or, in the case of Michael Owen, produce three books about him? That's a deal a publisher has just paid over one million for.

A few years ago I was asked if I was interested in doing Gary Lineker's biog. Nice bloke, highly intelligent. I had met and interviewed him but I thought, what can I ask him that I don't know the answer to and he won't refuse to tell me? So I said no thanks. And did a biog of Wainwright instead.

About three months later it came to me in the night how I could do such a book. With everyone, but particularly footballers and other sportsmen, there are always people better, bigger, thought more likely to succeed at every stage in your life. At 11, playing for your primary school, there's always a kid who everyone expects to do well, who you agree is better than you. Even at city, county, national level it still happens. Even when you join a big club, as a youth player, along with 20 others, no one knows which one or two - and it's rarely more than that - will make it into the first team.

At A-levels or university, it's much the same. We know and see and appreciate the ones clearly cleverer and more gifted, but they are not always the ones who succeed in the end. Or whatever we happen to think of as success. In football, and in real life, motivation, application and luck are the elements that matter. And they are not always apparent in youth.

So I thought with Lineker's life, I would track down the boy who was thought the best when they were 11, and the real star of the Leicester youth team, find out what happened to them, what they are doing now. I rang his agent and said hey, I've got a great idea. He said too late. Someone else is doing his biog.

I've been hugging this format to myself for a few years, waiting for someone to walk into it. Then two things happened. The book I'm just finishing is about the West Indies, wandering round some 27 different islands. To amuse myself in Guadeloupe, I tried to find the village where Thierry Henry, the French star, came from. In Tobago, I talked to people who all said they had sat next to Dwight Yorke at school. About half the population, in fact. Must have been big classes.

A few months ago, I had lunch with two football agents, one an old friend, and the other who turned out to be Dwight Yorke's agent. I said Yorke had presumably done a book at Aston Villa, if not several. Stars these days get their biogs written on the hour. I think there are now about 12 Keegan biogs and about six Hoddle books, all currently being remaindered.

Dwight, he said, had refused all offers so far. I said I'd be interested, if he was ever interested, as long as it was my book, written my way, not the usual ghosted stuff. Did you know, by the way, that ghosts have ghosts? The market is so full of football books, so many of them are being turned out, that better-known ghost writers sublet some of the work to ghost-ghost writers.

The attraction of Dwight is not just that he is a star player, in a star team, but firstly his age - 27 in football terms makes you a mature player, a senior citizen, a greybeard who has seen it all, ups and downs, ins and outs, nasty injuries, nasty managers, fickle fans.

Secondly, there's his background. He is one of nine children, born to a dustman and a hotel cleaner, brought up in a two-room house in a little tropical country which has never been known for its football. How did he get here, where he is now, with Man Utd, at the very top of his profession, from there? Who helped him along the way? And who didn't make it along the way?

I'll be going to Tobago with him, when the season ends, see his folks, poke around in his roots, check out his favourite beaches. These sort of books can be really tough, oh yes.

I've only had a couple of sessions with him so far, at his stately home in Cheshire, surrounded by the most elaborate security system I have ever seen. The first thing I checked was that he hadn't done a book so far, in case I'd missed one during his early career at Villa. He hadn't. Why not ? "Because I only want to do a book when I have achieved something. So far I don't consider I have."

Well, with Man Utd in their present position, this could be the season he does achieve quite a few things. Apart from my company. See you next season.

Hunter Davies will return in the autumn, probably looking very brown. In the meantime, Simon Heffer will write here on cricket's World Cup

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 24 May 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Luvvies, stop moaning