You have told me before what a lovely man Shankly was, as Shankly’s captain did you have any run-ins with him over the team?
Not really. I knew who the boss was and it was Bill Shankly. He left the captaincy to me on the pitch but off the pitch he was the boss.
He never asked your opinion on team selection?
Shankly was his own man. In the ten years I played the only time he chose someone else was because of injury. We didn’t get beat twice in a row. If we got beat we always won the next one. He didn’t have to change a lot of people. If injured he had to make changes. Three seasons in the sixties we played just with 14 players.
You played with little injuries because if you didn’t it took you 18 months to get back into the side no matter who you were. I was fortunate I never had a bad injury. One or two of the players I played with had quite bad injuries and it took them ages to get back into the side.
How did you like your experience as a manager at Tranmere?
I didn’t. That was the worst decision I had ever made in my life. Nice people except one guy who was the chairman at the time. He made my life a misery. Three of our youngsters were playing in the first team and he sold every one of them within 18 months for pittance of money. He sold Steve Coppell to United for 40,000 pounds. He was worth over 100,000. I thought, ‘What am I doing here?’ He could do that without even asking me. I was glad when everything came to halt after two and a half years. It was the worst years of my life.
I was player manager in America in 1976. It was the start of one of their leagues. It was in Santa Barbara, a beautiful place. I was 38-year-old then. Santa Barbara was a brilliant place. It was the best place in America. We didn’t get big gates, only 3-4,000. We did quite well. The league had only started a year and a half ago. The Americans learn quickly.
Ron discussed his stay in America in the Liverpool Football Echo on 18th of August 1977
Ron Yeats arrived home from America, 8,000 dollars out of pocket and out of football after his American adventure. Ron left for America, more specifically for Santa Barbara in California, with some players in tow. He had been hired as player-manager of Santa Barbara Condors, but things didn't turn out as expected.
One or two of the owner's cheques bounced higher than the Eiffel Tower.
"The whole thing has sickened me, especially as I had made promises, based on what I had been promised myself, to the players I took out with me, I felt so responsible for it all. The general manager, the owner of the club, just didn't have the money to run it. He said an investor had backed out at the last minute and left him stranded. The trouble was the guy running the club, an insurance broker, didn't have any money in the first place. It was terrible for us. It was so bad, when I went out in April three days before the season started we didn't have any kit to play in, no pre-season advertizing or publicity, no fixture lists.
Nobody knew what we were doing, they called us the mystery team of Santa Barbara. People wouldn't take cheques so I had to go into stores with hundreds of dollars to pay for track suits, boots and so on. One or two of the owner's cheques bounced higher than the Eiffel Tower. It got so bad that after seven weeks I got all the lads together and we decided we would strike if we didn't get our wages due to us. We only got one month's wage packet in four months there. I lost nearly 8,000 dollars myself with the contract I had. The players lost around 4,000 dollars each.
Ron was disappointed but still wanted to get back into football in England: "It's still in my blood. I am willing to start at the bottom and work upwards. I believe in myself and I think I can make a success of something. I've had the disappointing side, now I'm looking forward to better things to come."
Earlier this year Yeats met KR Reykjavik's players who were Liverpool's first opponents in the European Cup back in 1964.
Do you go often to matches nowadays?
All the home games. I don’t go away, I get too nervous. I’d be really bad.
What are you up to nowadays?
I do a lot of after-dinner speaking and I enjoy telling stories about Shanks, myself and how it all started. I have some very good punch-lines in my stories.
Can you give me a good story?
The best one I think is about my debut as a professional. I played for Dundee United and I had just signed a contract. I was in the boardroom at Dundee United with the chairman and the manager. The chairman, Mr Robinson, stood up and he went: ‘Ron, do you think you are the man for us?’ We are looking for a centre half. We are willing to pay you 8 pound a week with bonuses. I couldn’t believe it. I was getting 10 pounds as an apprentice slaughterman at the time. He saw my face drop and he stood up and said ‘of course we will give you 100 pound signing on fee.’ This was 1957. He took out his money and put 100 pounds in my hand and I said ‘Where do I sign?’
I signed for a 100 pound and thought great. Went home and gave the 100 pound to my mother. ‘Here you are.’ She hadn’t seen a 100 pound in them days. I was chuffed she got it. I signed in November 1957. Two weeks before Christmas that year I get a telegram saying ‘You will make your debut against St Johnstone in Perth. You will captain the side.’ I hadn’t played for them before. I was only 19-year-old. I couldn’t believe it. It’s the only time I can remember when I went to bed at 10 o’clock at New Years’ Eve. We played at New Years’ Day in Scotland. That’s how stupid we were.
I couldn’t sleep I was so excited. I am playing for Dundee United. I was getting the 10 o’clock train from Aberdeen to Perth which is a two hours journey. I was there quarter to ten and put my bag up. At five to ten another guy opens the door and puts his bag up and just sits across from me. There were only the two of us in the carriage. The train took off. Quarter of an hour later this guy stood up and put his hand in his bag and took out the biggest bottle of whisky I have ever seen in my life and he went; ‘Fancy a drink, son?’ He didn’t know me. I said: ‘I can’t. I am making my debut for Dundee United against St Johnstone today in Perth.’ He said: ‘That’s the one. I am the fucking referee.’ I was sitting with the referee. Then he drank that whole bottle of whisky before we got to Perth. I jumped out at Perth, he fell out at Perth. I’m like, I don’t want nothing to do with him.
I went to the hotel where the manager and the players were. I was telling them and the Dundee United manager went: ‘It couldn’t have been the referee, Ron. A scottish referee wouldn’t do that.’ I said: ‘Well, he said he was the referee.’ He said: ‘No, when we get to Perth stadium you’ll see it wasn’t him.’ I just forgot about it. We get to Perth and the St Johnstone stadium. So I looked up and who was coming out of the referee’s room but this guy to test the pitch. He was all stripped, with the ball under his arm. He hit every corridor going downstairs. He gets on to the pitch. The game shouldn’t have been played. The pitch was white and rock hard. You can imagine a scottish New Years. Anyway, he bounced the ball on the pitch and it went 20 feet in the air. He waited, then he grabbed it, ‘Game on lads!’ The game was on so 10 to three we come out. He’s already in the little box at the middle of the pitch staggering about. I was captain for my first game as a professional. The other centre half at St Johnstone was the captain. He gets into the little circle. He is pissed out of his head. He gets the coin out and went: ‘Heads or tails?’ I went, ‘tails’, like always. He missed the coin, didn’t he? He bent down, slipped and hit his head on the ground and had a big bump on his forehead. I can’t believe what I am seeing. He went, ‘Sorry, lads.. I’ll do it again.’ He did it again. It went up about an inch and a half and he caught it and went, ‘tails’.
It’s the first match I had ever played professional or amateur. The referee blew for on and never blew again for quarter of an hour. We were kicking shit out of each other. I was having a great game because I was the biggest and the strongest. This was my first game as a professional and I am thinking to myself, ‘I love this game. It’s superb.’ The first time he blew for a quarter of an hour was for a corner for us. I went up for the corner kick because I was the biggest in Dundee United’s team and the big centre half at St Johnstone was marking me too close to my face. I didn’t like that and was thinking about headbutting him, but thought to myself, ‘it’s your first game, Ron, better not.’ The ball came over into the box and us the two centre halves went for it and we just slipped in the ice. And when I am down I hear, ‘Penalty!’ I looked up and he went, ‘Alright Ron?’ We stuck it away. We were winning 1-0, he never came out for the second half. He was so pissed it was unbelievable. They got a replacement and then we put another away in the second half and won 2-0. That was my introduction into professional football.
Interview by Arnie at LFChistory.net
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