Dwight was betraying his roots with that victory cigar

One of the good things about writing a biography of Dwight Yorke is that he comes from Tobago, an island I already knew well. I even know where the name comes from. It was the best part, going back to Tobago, tracking down the people from his life, his family and friends, those who had helped him along the way. And of course the sun and the sea. And the rum punches. And that made up for a lot.

Such as all the draggy stuff in England. Getting quality time with Dwight in Manchester, or any time at all with Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, even though it's an official Man Utd book, that was hellish. Then Deutsch, the publisher, drove me mad, having no books on publication day, which then had to be put back a month, even though I had knocked myself out to deliver ahead of time. So it goes.

But in Tobago, people could not have been more helpful. As I suppose you would expect. A sleepy little island, with a population of only 50,000, in an area of the Caribbean not known for producing footballers, unused to the wicked ways of the football-obsessed British media.

Dwight is one of nine children, father a dustman and often absent, brought up mainly by his mother. Home was a two bedroom concrete bungalow with no running water. Not a shack, not slummy, but a clean, God-fearing household, as his mother Grace is a staunch Seventh Day Adventist.

Football was his passion from the age of about six. Just like all football stars,whatever their background or country. So nothing unusual there. (Though I can think of one football star who never actually liked football much - Alan Gilzean. He's the only player I have ever met for whom football was just a job.)

Having a passion for football was a bit limiting in a cricket-mad island, with no professional football. Even on big brother Trinidad, 21 miles away, population 1.3 million, there was no pro football. But by chance a local schoolteacher called Bertille St Clair started a little Saturday morning coaching class. Dwight's mum didn't approve. Saturday is Sunday for Adventists, but eventually she let him go, though he had to beg money for the bus, or make some pennies himself by catching crabs and selling them to restaurants.

He got into Trinidad and Tobago school boy teams from the age of ten onwards. After one successful cup competition, where Dwight had been the leading goalscorer, Bertille went to Dwight's village to check up in on him and found him in the street with some much older boys, a bottle of Carib beer in his hand.

Bertille immediately slapped him, said he would never make it as a footballer if he drank, and made him, there and then, do 20 press-ups in the street. Dwight felt totally humiliated in front of all his friends, but no, he never thought of disobeying Bertille. He believed what Bertille said. You need to be fit and disciplined, in mind and body, no smoking, no drinking, to make it. Dwight didn't have another drink, not till he was 21.

But it was by pure chance that Dwight was eventually spotted. There were no scouts searching in Tobago. No big teams ever visited. He might well have gone off on a sports scholarship to the USA, but for the arrival out of the blue of Aston Villa in 1989. Villa had just come up into the First Division, still struggling to find their feet. There was a sudden break of about ten days in league games, because of an England match, so Graham Taylor, Villa's manager, said let's go abroad for a few days, anywhere, do a bit of bonding. The place they found, at almost the last moment, was Tobago.

Doug "Deadly" Ellis, bless him, Villa's chairman, says that it was he who first recognised young Dwight's talents at a game in Scarborough, Tobago's capital, on what was little more than a municipal park pitch. Graham Taylor says no, he was the first to spot him. He remembers looking round and thinking "who's here?" - so used was he to being at matches thick with scouts.

No one else was there, so Dwight was invited, along with another player, for a trial at Villa. The other player was turned down, and returned to work at Tobago airport, but Dwight went on to overcome the cultural shocks of Birmingham, the cold, the food, the language, the mental and physical demands,and eventually became Villa's star, despite Tommy Docherty saying, on first seeing him play, that if Dwight "makes a First Division footballer, my name is Mao Tse-tung" (see Sunday Mercury, Birmingham, 6 January 1991 - now a collector's item).

Dwight did, of course. Top scorer in the Premiership, etc. But what happened to Bertille? From what Dwight had told me, I imagined he would be huge, tough, frightening. He turned out to be a little weedy bloke, now aged 58, who looks like Chalky, the school teacher in the Giles cartoons. And like Dwight, he has gone on to great success, recently being appointed national coach of Trinidad and Tobago.

Did you watch Man Utd celebrating the treble? Or was it too sick-making? There was a shot of Dwight on the triumphal coach with a cigar in his mouth. I asked him afterwards, what on earth were you doing, I thought you didn't smoke? He said Schmeichel had got it for him. "I wanted a cigar in my mouth, as a symbol of success, to let people back home see. I never actually smoked it.

Subliminally, Dwight, you were betraying your roots. Did you realise that the name Tobago is from the Arawak word for tobacco? Without knowing it, you were telling people where you are from. "Oh yeah," he said, not totally convinced.

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 29 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, An explosion of puffery