CULT HEROES NEW
Ohhhhhh, what's occurring? I have no idea how that's relevant, it's just that I've recently been watching the Gavin and Stacey Christmas Special, and I felt the need. Sorry.
Anyway, onto more relevant things - WE HAVE A GAME THIS WEEKEND! Yeah, that's right. For all of you who'd got wrapped up in Martin O'Neill's arrival, peeking from behind those pesky trees at the AoL, you'd do well to remember we host Blackburn Rovers on Sunday - and we need to sodding win.
So yeah, following the recent Roker Report reshuffle, this week I find myself on Cult Heroes duty.
Now, at first, I was struggling to think of who I could do. The immediate names that sprang to mind when considering ex-Sunderland and Blackburn players were hardly inspiring. Diouf. Chimbonda. McAteer.
I thought about giving up. But then (with a little help from Twitter), the names started to flow. Shay Given. Andy Cole. DOMINIC MATTEO! (chortle) The obvious choice, though, seemed to be the one and only Michael Gray. An England left-back in his Sunderland days, local boy done good and, as far as I'm aware, fairly well liked at Ewood Park. It was so perfect, so simple.
But nah, balls to that. Here's Dwight Yorke instead...
Dwight Yorke arrived on Wearside in the hazy late summer of 2006 amid a plague of hookers and tabloid headlines. Bearing his trademark cheeky grin, designer shades, and holding up a matching bra and thong as evidence of his escapades the previous evening, Yorke strolled into Sunderland adamant that he would play beautifully both on and off the field.
Now, actually, none of the above is true. But it is testament to the character of Dwight Yorke that it very well could have been.
Starting out at Aston Villa as a wide-eyed teenager in the late '80s, Yorke plyed his trade primarily as a right-winger. Though a Villa regular, it wasn't until he was shifted to centre forward that he became a leading light in English football.
Indeed, in his first season up front for the Villains, he fired the side managed by Brian Little to victory in the 1996 League Cup Final. Partnered with the rather memorable Savo Milosevic, Yorke wrapped that game up with the third and final goal in Villa's 3-0 win over Leeds United. This game signalled the beginning of the end for Leeds boss Howard Wilkinson, who was sacked just over five months later. Wilkinson, of course, eventually ended up at the Stadium of Light helm. If Leeds had won that day at Wembley, he may well have overseen years of success at Elland Road, and never ended up in the Sunderland dugout. So thanks for that one Dwight.
97 goals in 231 games for Villa didn't go unnoticed, and soon Sir Alex and Manchester United came a-knocking. Made well aware of United's interest - Fergie tapping up players? Never! - Yorke promptly told then Villa boss John Gregory that he wanted to leave the club. Gregory replied by telling Yorke that, had he possessed a gun in his office at that moment, he'd happily shoot him with it. Nice. Gregory then refused to sell him unless United offered Andy Cole in exchange. Not gonna happen, John. Yorke, dismayed, proceeded to put in one barely-even-half-arsed game against Everton, leaving Gregory with no choice but to accept Fergie's £12.6m bid.
Off to Old Trafford then, and time to strike up a deadly partnership with Andy Cole. Anyone doubting the reasoning behind United wanted to sign the rather troublesome Yorke was soon shut up - the Reds won the treble in his opening year there. Finishing as top goalscorer helped to underline his contribution to the cause, and it was much the same the following season, when United again retained their Premier League title.
Gaining notoriety as a goalscorer was matched with his off-pitch womanising prestige, and no end of Yorke-related stories soon adorned the red-tops on a weekly basis. Chief among them was that which stated he, while at United, hooked up with old Villa team-mate Mark Bosnich - literally. Yes, that's right, Yorkey and Bozzy (sorry) enlisted the help of four consenting females, before setting forth on a night-long 'drink-fuelled sex romp'. In Sutton Coldfield, no less. Not long after that, Yorke decided it'd be a good idea to hop on top of a certain Katie Price - that's Jordan, to those who see through her recent attempts to rid herself of her previous persona - and risk running up some paternity bills. Nine months later, Harvey was welcomed into the world. Well, not by Dwight. Only a DNA test Jeremy Kyle would have been proud of was enough to prove to the striker that he was now a father.
Unfortunately for Yorke, his troubles in the bedroom soon became troubles in the dressing room. Rumours were rife that Sir Alex, never one to suffer fools gladly, had had quite enough of his striker's playboy lifestyle - appearances for Yorke in the 2001/02 season were severely limited. A January move to Middlesbrough fell through - mercifully, some/I would say - and it was instead at Blackburn that the Trinidad and Tobago international was to venture next.
Here he reconnected with old chum and pal Cole, and the pair fired the Rovers to a sixth-placed finish. With that came qualification for the UEFA Cup, and all seemed well again in the mad world of Dwight Eversley (seriously) Yorke. But, alas, it wasn't to stay that way. This time Yorke managed to fall out with Graeme Souness, something which is in no way surprising, and left Ewood Park after just two seasons.
He lasted just half that at new club Birmingham City. A bright start, capped with a goal on his debut, soon petered out, and he found himself released by Steve Bruce (never heard of him) in mid-2005. Not to worry though, the beaming grin remained, and Dwight soon found himself clamoured over by foreign clubs. The Qatari football league was by far the most wealthy among his potential suitors, but Yorke, perhaps well aware he'd already made his lot, opted for the sun and shine of Down Under, signing for Sydney FC.
Seen as a star player for the entire Australian A-League, Yorke enjoyed a mini-Indian Summer in Australia. Indeed, such was his level of her performance, he was recalled to the international set-up by Leo Beenhakker, and remained a fixture in the side as they took in the nation's first World Cup Finals in 2006. Though they would go out in the group stages, Yorke and his countrymen far from embarrassed themselves - had Brent Sancho cut his dreadlocks, England's Peter Crouch may never have scored that contest's opening goal, and Trinidad and Tobago may have escaped with a famous draw.
Following the World Cup, Yorke finally made that journey to Wearside. He was signed in a haze, but it was actually a haze of fellow players - Yorke was one of six men brought in immediately following Roy Keane taking on the role of Sunderland manager.
Yorke's first year on Wearside was an unmitigated success. Admired by fans from the off, Yorke assumed a central midfield role, engineering the Black Cats' move from the bottom of the Championship to promotion in just eight months. A particular highlight for Yorke came in the top of the table clash against West Brom, where he stroked home a superb opening goal.
His performances would become more sparing in the Premier League years on Wearside, as he became slower and the game faster. Yet, there were still glimpses of the old magic, and Yorke remained a reliable back-up when needed. Keane's departure, and Ricky Sbragia's subsequent ascension, led to Yorke being named as an assistant manager alongside Neil Bailey and, having ensured Sunderland survived in 2008/09 (just), he called time on an illustrious playing career.