Ron Yeats - Unbeatable at the back

Ron Yeats was Liverpool's captain from season 1961/62 to 1969/70, the longest serving captain in the history of the club. Shankly built his defence around his giant and Yeats was his eyes and ears on the field. Yeats' most glorious moment came in 1965 when he had the honour of lifting the FA Cup trophy for the first time in Liverpool's 73-year history after the 2-1 Leeds win.

Ron moved to neighbours Tranmere Rovers on New Year's Eve 1971 and played around 100 matches there and managed the team for 3 years. He later had an unhappy stint as player-manager in California where he stayed four months. In 1986 he was brought back to Liverpool in the role of chief scout and stayed further 20 years at Liverpool.

LFChistory interviewed Yeats in downtown Liverpool. It wasn't our first interview with Yeats as we also interviewed him a few years ago at Melwood (link on the top right of the page.)

Horace Yates in the Liverpool Football Echo on Ron's debut for Liverpool vs. Bristol Rovers on 19th of August, 1961:

"There was much about Yeats that I liked. The advantage which his height gives him made him a great asset in the air, for even if he did not always direct his headers to advantage at least he served to break up aggressive Bristol intentions. He is still settling in and if he can satisfy in his first game the odds that are that he will be very much more impressive as time goes on. He does not move with quite the agility we have grown accustomed to seeing from White, but he has a sound sense of positional play."

Tommy Lawrence said you had the longest left leg in the world and the shortest right. What did he mean by that?

I was very left-footed. I would be lying if I said I would be comfortable on my right side. I had a left foot I could fish up legs with and balls. Myself and Tommy Smith were about seven seasons together. He was my right foot and I was his left. That’s how we worked.

I know a story about him. Tommy Lawrence was frightened to death of Shanks. He was just a young boy. He had been there since he was 16-year-old. He got his chance in ’61. I’ll always remember we were playing Arsenal for the first time in 8 years because Liverpool had been in the 2nd division. We were winning 1-0 with 10 minutes to go and I thought, ‘what a good win this will be at Arsenal.’ I can’t remember the Arsenal’s striker name that hit the ball from 25 yards. I am not joking, but he stubbed his toe first and then hit the ball. It trickled by me and I went ‘it’s yours, Tommy’. Tommy was on the line and opened his legs and the bloody ball went right through him. I couldn’t believe it. They put the pressure on us for the last five minutes, but we held out.

I am thinking to myself all this time, ‘when we get into that dressing room I am going to get into the bath before Shanks come in the door.’ Little did I know that the ten players I was playing with thought the same thing. When the final whistle went...if we had sprinted that much during the game we would have won it easily. Everybody was trying to hurry into the dressing room but it wasn’t quick enough. The door opened and in came Shanks. His face was blue and I am thinking, ‘here it goes.’ He went, ‘where is he?’ I didn’t realise but big Tommy Lawrence was behind me. I was three inches bigger than him and didn’t know where he was. His finger went up and he said, ‘I am here, boss.’ ‘Where?’ ‘I am here, boss.’ He said, ‘before you say anything, boss, I want to apologize to you and the lads. I should have never opened my legs to that ball.’ Shankly went, ‘it’s not your fault. It’s your fucking mother who should have never opened her legs.’  

Roger Hunt said that he felt that Liverpool couldn’t be beaten with you at the back...

I played 100% every game I played and I thought we were never beaten until the last whistle. We went 90 minutes non-stop. Often the opposing players would be quite shattered. We won a lot of games in the last 5 minutes. We weren’t the best passers of the ball, but nobody could outrun us or outhead us. There were individuals who could win a game for us. I was probably the one at the back who could save a game for us.

Which teammate from your playing days did you hold in the highest esteem?

I enjoyed playing with everybody but my best mate was Ian St John. He joined the club two weeks before I did and we are still mates today. I was captain of the British Army team. We played all the big teams and had a tremendous team. The guy from Tottenham, Dave MacKay, was in the team and Alec Young from Everton. I think this is where Shankly saw me and Ian St John play. I played against the Scottish U-21s and we played against each other. I can assure you it was a battle. I wouldn’t say who won the battle but we both got signed for Liverpool within the next two months.

You must have read Ian St John’s new book?

Yes, I didn’t realise that Ian was a boxer at 17. He boxed for Scotland as an amateur. He was a hard crooker. Not very tall, but I have seen him hit a couple of guys. He was frightened of nobody. Big centre halves couldn’t frighten him. We never had any set twos or none of that, even in training. He knew I was fourteen stone eight and he was about eleven stone so it didn’t work.

When you heard about the Bellamy golfing incident in Portugal, it probably reminded you of a few skirmishes among the players back in the days? I read in St John’s book that you and him had a few battles with the locals when travelling abroad with Liverpool.

We were in Spain on a club holiday and one or two lads that were passing when we were having a drink said a few nasty remarks which I don’t mind when I am on the field, but I am not going to do it when I am off the field. There was a few punches and let’s put it this way... they didn’t come off best.

Concerning the incident in Portugal I just can’t believe someone would take a golf club. He could have broken his leg or his shoulder. I don’t know much about it, only what I have read but obviously something happened. He lost his head and has taken the club. The team was very close in those days and this wouldn’t happen. Let’s put it this way, we had a good time.

You never took a golf club to anyone? Not even a putter?

No, no not even a putter...

I worked for a living before playing football. I was an apprentice slaughterman at 15-year-old in Aberdeen. I would start work at three o’ clock in the morning and got finished about ten in the morning.

In your role as a chief scout what players were you most happy with Liverpool signing?

You get a lot of recommendations from agents. We never signed anybody we never saw play obviously. At least in my era. It’s stupid. For someone to come up and say this is a great player and we never had seen him play. Lately we have signed players from videos. I am not a great lover of that. Videos can be highlights of the best headed ball, best cross and not put anything else in it than good things.

I was glad we signed big Sami Hyypia. I went to see him after we was recommended. I went to see him myself and he had a tremendous game. I thought this boy looks a good player. At centre-half he was a great passer of the ball which is unusual for centre halves. I was really taken with Sami and I put in a report that either the boss or a coach should go over and see this man. They did and then signed him a few weeks after the recommendation.

I have rarely seen anybody read the game as well as Hyypia can..

This is it. They say he hasn’t got any pace. I didn’t have great pace but I could read games. I could read what players were going to do. You put them in a corner more or less. The only thing you have to do is get past me on the left and I have got you there. You do get defenders who can read games and Sami Hyypia was one of them. You wonder: ‘how did he manage to get that?’ Well, this was the only place the player could put it and used I to be the same myself.

Which current Liverpool players do you enjoy watching?

I enjoy watching the boy Agger. Being a centre-half myself I wasn’t sure this boy was strong enough to be a centre half. He has proved to me that he is a bloody good player and he will get better and better. He is improving every game and him and Jamie Carragher are settling. Centre halves work in pairs. There is no use having one great centre half and the other boy not good. One has to got to watch the other. They compliment each other great and that is a position where we are very strong. For a young boy Agger is very confident in himself. He will be with us at centre half for a few years to come I’ll tell you.

Agger has said that outside the field he is not interested in football contrary to Carragher who constantly watches football or reads about football.

That’s all I do myself, I must admit, to read about football.

Yeats on the ball used in his heyday:

The ball had a lace in it and if you headed the lace you had prints all over your head. Nobody could kick the ball that hard. When you hit it your toes were sore.

There is a while now since Liverpool had a good crop of Scottish players at Liverpool. First in the beginning of the club, the team of Macs, you and St John and then the likes of Dalglish, Souness, Hansen and Nicol. Gary Mac was the last one at Liverpool.

We’ve got a couple of Scottish players in the youth team and that’s about all. Scotland hasn’t produced for a while, but they seem to be on the up now. They have got a great under-21 team and a good youth team. “The big team” is doing well in their group in the European cup preliminaries. It looks as though it’s coming back. What has hampered Scotland that they don’t have any youth program for their teams. The big teams in England have got academies.

You were chief scout under Dalglish, Souness, Evans, Houllier and Benítez. How did you get along with them?

I got on well with all of them.

You criticized Houllier a bit after he left?

Towards the end we were signing so many French players. 14 French players and I don’t think two of them played for the first team. He’s the first manager I know who was signing free transfers from other clubs. We are one of the biggest clubs in Europe and we are signing free transfers. There’s something wrong there. Giving them five year contracts. [Like Salif Diao.] Towards the end I thought there was something wrong there. We were giving reports of players but I don’t think he ever read the reports.

How was Dalglish?

Very good, but he left it to yourself. He didn’t come and say, ‘this is what I want from you.’ He was more into team reports, what the opposing team were going to do, what method they play. Player-wise he didn’t take a lot of advice from us.

Yeats on the beginning and end of his Liverpool career as player and scout:

I started with a win and ended with a win. I retired as scout on cup final day in May 2006. I was never at home. I’ve never been so happy... after retiring.

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