The Scottish defender was considered an immense presence by Bill Shankly even before his appointment as Liverpool manager but, upon bringing him to Anfield from Dundee United, his status – and stature – would only grow.
“Take a walk around my centre-half, gentlemen. He’s a colossus.”
One of Shankly’s many famous lines, those were the words that greeted the press as they were introduced to then 23-year-old Yeats following his signing on July 22, 1961.
He was a colossus – and he remains one in the club’s history.
By the time 34-year-old Yeats left for Tranmere Rovers in December 1971, he had lifted one Second Division title, two First Division titles and LFC’s first ever FA Cup over the course of 454 appearances.
He would then spend 20 years – from 1986 to 2006 – as the club’s chief scout.
At 6ft 2in tall and stocky in build, the strong foundation he could offer to then Second Division Liverpool would have been immediately evident to that media contingent in the summer of 1961.
Just quite how strong, surely, was not.
Come Boxing Day of that year, Shankly named him captain.
Come April 21, 1962, he and his teammates had secured promotion to the First Division.
Evidently, already, this was a player whose authoritative presence both solidified the team as a whole and spread that sense of confidence throughout it.
That the Reds’ second season back in the top flight saw them win it, only enhances that notion.
His first goal for Liverpool earned one of that 1963/64 season’s crucial victories too, as his 75th-minute header earned a 0-1 win at Old Trafford on November 23.
Shankly’s side simply kept pushing higher. 1964/65 saw them find what was, at the time, seen as Liverpool’s holy grail – the FA Cup.
Yet to win it in their 73-year history, Yeats and co changed that.
West Bromwich Albion, Stockport County, Bolton Wanderers, Leicester City and Chelsea were beaten on the way to the May 1 final against Leeds United – where a 2-1 extra-time success got the Reds over the line.
That season also saw Yeats begin to develop a superbly proficient central defensive partnership with Tommy Smith.
The balance offered by the right-footed – slightly more technical – Smith and the left-footed – more physically imposing – captain was seen as ideal.
It was, again, a key factor in the club securing a second First Division title in three seasons in 1965/66.
It was a season where they also reached the club’s first European final – in the Cup Winners’ Cup. They narrowly lost out to Borussia Dortmund in the Glasgow showpiece, though, as Reinhard Libuda’s 107th-minute lob – which struck the post and unluckily deflected in off Yeats – secured a 2-1 extra-time victory for the Germans.
Disappointment – ultimately – but also more new ground broken.
The Reds would enter more of a transitional phase in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and that included Yeats’ departure at the end of 1971.
He was player-manager at Tranmere between 1971 and 1974 – a spell he has since admitted was a largely difficult one, primarily due to the chairman at the time selling some of the club’s best young players for relatively meagre fees – and also had spells in charge of Los Angeles Skyhawks, Barrow, Santa Barbara Condors and Formby between 1975 and 1978.
Then, in 1986, he returned to Liverpool as chief scout following an invitation from Kenny Dalglish – by then a player-manager himself.
It was a roll he remained in until May 2006, when he retired after the Reds won their seventh FA Cup with that dramatic penalty shootout victory over West Ham United.
There was a pleasant symmetry to it, given Yeats’ roll in the club’s first triumph in the competition 41 years earlier – and it wasn’t lost on him.
“I started with a win and ended with a win. I retired as a scout on cup final day in 2006,” Yeats said.
He was – and is – a colossus, in so many senses, for Liverpool FC.
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