We celebrate the career of the legendary Reds skipper on his birthday
“We have the greatest skipper
Any manager could employ
Let’s drink six crates to Big Ron Yeats
Bill Shankly’s pride and joy”
Ah, the 60s. A time of odd fashion, experimentation with drugs, the Beatles and most importantly the emergence of Bill Shankly’s Liverpool who would go on to dominate the next two decades.
In 1961, Shankly would make two signings that would change the future of Second Division side Liverpool Football Club forever. Marksman Ian St. John would arrive two months prior to commanding Scottish centre-half Ron Yeats, who arrived from Dundee United for a fee of £22,000.
Shankly’s confidence in his fellow Scot was clear to see, handing him the captain’s armband after just half a season – a move that would evidently pay off when the Reds sealed promotion to the First Division on the 21st April 1962 with a 2-0 victory over Southampton at Anfield.
Yeats was a fan-favourite and joked about getting lost amongst the Liverpool supporters in the celebrations that followed, with Shanks quipping “Jesus Christ, son, I thought we’d lost you forever!” Though this was his first taste of silverware at Anfield, it certainly wouldn’t be his last.
A defining characteristic of Ron Yeats as a player is that he always led by example, most notably when he headed in the winner against Manchester United at Old Trafford on 23rd November 1963, his first of 16 total goals for the club. Bill Shankly would boldly announce “Yeats is the greatest centre-half in the world today!”
Liverpool would go on to win the League Championship at the end of that 1963/64 season, finishing four points clear of rivals Man Utd as Yeats captained the side to their sixth league title.
More trophies would follow when in 1965, Yeats had the honour of lifting the FA Cup for the first time in Liverpool’s history after a 2-1 win over Leeds. Always a man of the people, he stated in celebration “I just wanted to throw it into the crowd, to the Liverpool supporters”, before following with “we won it now, let’s share it between us”.
In 1966, Liverpool won their second league title in three years and as well as this, reached a European final for the first time in history. Liverpool took on Borussia Dortmund with the European Cup Winners Cup on the line.
The two sides were tied 1-1 until the 107th minute, when the most unfortunate of bad luck fell Yeats’ way. A Reinhard Libuda strike from distance ricocheted off the post into the thigh of the Liverpool skipper into the net and Dortmund subsequently were victorious. A sole blemish in a career that boasted much success and made Ron Yeats a Liverpool legend and a Kop favourite.
Of course, Yeats can’t take all the plaudits for Liverpool’s defensive stability in the 60s, as he formed a formidable partnership with Tommy Smith at the heart of the defence for many years. Smith would complement Yeats perfectly as the Scot had this to say about his partner:
“Tommy was hard as nails, but a great player as well. He had a bit of Sami (Hyypia) in him, he used the ball very well, a lot better than I did. I was a tackler, a header of the ball and read the game well. I got the ball and gave it to someone who could pass it.
“I knew my limitations. 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. He was my right foot and I was his left. That’s how we worked.”
1971 saw some big changes at Liverpool as Bill Shankly looked to build for the future, a ruthless approach but one that would reap rewards nevertheless. Unfortunately, the skipper would find himself one of the casualties of that approach.
Following unhappy stints in management at Tranmere Rovers and in the States, Yeats jumped at the chance to return to his beloved Anfield when Kenny Dalglish offered him the role of chief scout in 1986. He would maintain this role under Dalglish’s successors: Graeme Souness, Roy Evans, Gerard Houllier and finally Rafa Benitez.
Yeats was awarded the Bill Shankly Memorial Award in 2002, for his outstanding services to Liverpool Football Club. His professional retirement would come in 2006, after Liverpool’s FA Cup final win in Cardiff. A fitting end to a glittering career.