It hurt me. This was our club, my club. I felt insulted. It really got to me and he wanted to make it hurt. I just had to get him away.
The pain can still be heard in John Gregory's voice on the other end of the phone more than two decades on from THAT historic and heartbreaking transfer saga involving Dwight Yorke's £12.6 million move from Aston Villa to Manchester United.
"Doug's eyes lit up at £8 million," Gregory said, detailing chairman Doug Ellis' keenness to cash-in. "Villa got him for 20 grand don't forget and Doug would have sold him there and then for United's first offer of eight bloody million."
Gregory, of course, only had 11 Premier League games managing Yorke - plus two Uefa Cup quarter-final legs against Atletico Madrid - after he arrived to replace his former mentor Brian Little in February 1998. Villa were 15th and just six points above the drop-zone when Little resigned after a 2-1 defeat at Wimbledon.
Gregory was soon appointed and beat Liverpool in his first game in charge at Villa Park thanks to a vintage Stan Collymore double. Gregory would win nine of the remaining 11 matches to catapult Villa to a seventh-placed finish and European qualification once again while it was Yorke who stole the show with seven goals in his last seven games.
"I only had him for 11 league games at the end of the 97/98 season," Gregory said. "He played a huge part. He was my big star and I had Sir Alex pestering me not long after I had taken the job. I was set on what I was going to do; there was no way I was going to sell him. No way. United weren't having him. We were building an exciting side.
"We just kept rejecting bids throughout the summer. United kept upping them but they were nowhere near what we wanted which was £16 million. Kevin Davies went from Southampton to Blackburn for £7.8 million and United wanted Yorke for £10 million. Yorkie's on another level.
"The start of the 98/99 season soon came around anyway and I played Yorkie upfront with JJ (Julian Joachim) and we drew 0-0 up at Everton. Honestly, he didn't try a leg. Dwight didn't move a muscle and was really playing up. He was just a shadow of himself and it was clear from that moment on that he didn't want to play for us again.
"It was the following morning when he came into my office and told me exactly that. It was an insult; the way he turned around and just said, 'I don't want to play for Aston Villa anymore'. I was hurt and I ushered him away.
"He was miserable around the place in the weeks leading up to that and I knew something was up because Yorkie's always smiling and was the life and soul of the dressing room. I'd lost him way back. Maybe Bozzy had something to do with it because Yorke and Bozzy were big mates. He was probably chewing in his ear.
"After our chat I just thought I can't have a s*** Dwight Yorke for 37 more matches, a player who doesn't want to be a part of what we're trying to achieve. He'd have made the dressing room rotten. After our chat he really got to me as well. I just had to get him away."
Gregory still has United's £10 million faxed offer for Yorke at his home. "I had gone on record as saying that Dwight would not be available unless £16 million were offered," Gregory penned in his autobiography, The Boss.
"I meant it. That's what Newcastle had paid for Alan Shearer and Dwight was younger and in the same class. But the resistance was weakening around me."
Gregory, meanwhile, rubber-stamped Villa's deal to sell star asset Yorke during a bite to eat and a chance meeting at TGI Friday's in Sutton Coldfield on August 19, 1998 - the day before Yorke sealed his transfer to Old Trafford. Gregory - who had asked about the availability of both Andy Cole and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in part-exchange - was at TGIs with long-time friend Gordon Smith when the penny finally dropped.
Reminiscing, Gregory detailed: "Two guys were in the booth next to us and one of them leaned over and said, 'It's not bad news is it?'
"'And what would you consider to be bad news?' I asked tentatively, still unsure about the feedback that would come from supporters. 'Well, Yorke staying of course,' he said.
"That was it. I took that little exchange as a highly symbolic moment. It was like this guy, picked at random, was telling me what the Villa fans wanted. I don't know his name and I doubt he ever realised the role he played in that night's events. But sod it, I thought; let's stop messing about and let the bugger go. Who are you trying to kid? He's finished with us anyway. Let's do the deal."
The deal was done. Villa agreed their club-record £12.6 million fee and Yorke was a United player. "We had a supporters AGM that night Yorke was sold," Gregory laughed.
"It was in the Holte Suite which only holds 800. I think 1400 were packed in there and Doug was getting pelters left, right and centre about selling Yorke. I stood up and defended Doug because, credit to him, he left the final decision down to me and I wanted to get Yorkie out."
It was quite ironic then that after 18 games of the new season it was Villa who were top of the Premier League table at Christmas and five points ahead of third-placed United.
"I remember playing Riccy Scimeca up front in the game after Yorke left," Gregory said. "We beat Boro 3-1. We won eight and drew four games and I remember grabbing a photographer after we beat Southampton 4-1 away telling him to take a photo of us all. I wanted it as a keep-sake because we'd just broken a club record for being 12 unbeaten.
"I think that record still stands. The bloody snapper sold the photo to the newspapers and I came in for a bit of stick. But, with Yorke, we had all moved on. I signed Dion Dublin, Paul Merson and built a really strong team."
As for Yorke, he'd win the treble in his first season at United and scored an incredible 29 goals from 51 games. Yorke, who turns 50 this year, recently spoke about how his move to United came about during an hour-long discussion with The Villa Talks Podcast.
"It was just prompted from my performances, really," he said, knowing he had scored 61 goals in 131 appearances in the run-up to his move to United. "I was performing for Villa on a consistent basis. I was their top man, the top scorer, scoring frequently and creating goals and, when you do that, you draw interest from the so-called bigger clubs. What I've done is prompt the likes of Manchester United and others to say, 'Oh, there might be a possibility of this guy joining'.
"Once the rumours started and, as a player, you've got agents. People are starting to ask the questions, the rumours are starting to fly around. My time at Aston Villa, nobody could take away. I gave nearly 10 years to that football club and every moment I loved. I loved the fans, my connection with the fans. I loved playing for the football club and enjoyed that.
"But it came to a point in my time where I could have stayed at Villa and be the main man and win a competition occasionally and be treated like royalty like I had been; or, realise as a player at 26 years of age you've only got a certain amount of time to cash in if you're going to be remembered as a top striker.
"The Villa fans out there who said I left the football club (in a bad place). I didn't leave the football club in any bad feeling. I just wanted to extend myself as a player to play against the best in Europe. Although, the late chairman Doug Ellis offered me far more money than what Manchester United offered me to stay at the club. It wasn't about the club, the players; it was just that I needed to challenge myself in an individual point of view.
"When United came in and Sir Alex says, 'Come and play for us'... They are the best club in the country; they're winning Premier Leagues; competing in the Champions League. As a player that's the level you want to get at. Unfortunately, in my 10 years at Villa that never really happened. I had a very difficult decision to either stay at Villa and get a bigger pay packet or...
"But it wasn't about the money. It was about the challenge of testing yourself against the best across Europe. When Man United came in it was kind of a no-brainer in many respects and, obviously, everyone seen what happened when I joined the club."
On his relationship with Gregory, claims of him not trying at Everton before his move and Gregory's infamous 'if I had a gun I'd have shot him' comments, Yorke added: "Listen, I was in a good place. I was very comfortable because football and Villa was all I knew coming into England. Villa's always been there; I've never abandoned Villa or refused or been in trouble with Aston Villa. I just wanted to play football.
"For 10 years, the rapport I had with the fans and what was expected of me as a player... I think every time I put on the shirt I gave it everything for the Villa fans. To be signalled out after the Everton game, I mean, OK things were on my mind but it doesn't mean I didn't try. We just didn't play well on the day and, because I was at the centre of attention, it seems like it was pointed towards me.
"I mean, John Gregory and I had a very good relationship. Before John Gregory became the manager after Brian Little left, I had an unbelievable relationship with John Gregory. He was the one I used to take with a bag of balls and say, 'Come, let's go' and do these extras. He'd fizz balls into me to test my touch. We had a good rapport. We were close. Gregors and I were close. Leaving I can understand him being upset because he was losing arguably his best player at the time. I get that.
"The gun thing was just a no-nonsense kind of thing. I don't think he ever meant that. The media played that up and it spun out of proportion. I never took offence to that and I understood his disappointment in me. But, from my point of view, I felt that I was making the right move at the right time. It just felt right.
"It was a big decision because, for 10 years, Villa were by my side and gave me the platform. I knew nothing outside of Aston Villa. When people say I turned my back on Aston Villa I never did. I gave 10 years of my playing career for a club that gave me the platform to play. I had a good rapport with the fans, I was idolised by them and I hope I gave them something back and, even to this day, I still speak to them and they praise me for my time at Aston Villa and what I did.
"I hope that's the case. You just look at the amount of players that come and go at that football club now but, certainly, when I was playing I was an entertainer. I see myself as an entertainer and, hopefully, I did that for the Villa fans."
Gregory, meanwhile, says there's no hard feelings more than two decades on and bumped into his former striker out in India.
"I actually met Dwight when I was managing at Chennai a couple of years ago," he said.
"He was with Wes Brown. The pair of them were Manchester United ambassadors and it was really good to see him again. A lot of water's passed under the bridge. I loved him when I had him but it was Brian (Little) who should get all of the praise. Yorke blossomed under Brian. He took him under his wing. I just wanted to build my team around him which, unfortunately, I wasn't able to do."
SOURCE: Birmingham Mail