Liverpool links

Mar 2, 2021 | News

Everyone at Bristol Rovers Supporters Club was probably as shocked and saddened by the passing of Ian St John earlier today as you were. It is ironic that the following article, written by Keith Brookman, appeared in last week’s match-day programme and tells of the links between Rovers and Liverpool. Did you know that Ian St John maded his Liverpool debut at Eastville?

We are happy to reporoduce keith’s article below.

.It might be a tenuous one but there is a link between the rise of Liverpool Football Club, and two of their great players, and the part Bristol Rovers played in their journey.

To understand, we travel back to the first day of the 1961/62 season when the team from Anfield arrived in Bristol to take on Rovers at Eastville.

Rovers’ stars of the 1950’s were coming to the end of their careers, while their potential replacements were lacking the experience needed to mount a serious challenge at the top end of the table.

Manager Bert Tann, in charge throughout the fifties, had twice led his side to sixth placed finishes, but they had ended the 1960/61 campaign in 17th place, four points clear of the final relegation position.

By contrast, Liverpool had been very consistent in their Second Division placings following their relegation from the top tier of English football at the end of the 1953/54 season, and had finished in third place in the previous two seasons under manager Bill Shankly, a proud Scot, who had moved to Anfield from Huddersfield Town in 1959.

The Liverpool manager felt he needed a strong centre half and a centre forward and had watched Motherwell’s Ian St John and Dundee United’s Ron Yeats when he had been in charge of Huddersfield, though the Yorkshire club couldn’t afford to sign either of them.

This time he got his men, paying £37,500 for St John and £20,000 for Yeats and both proved to be inspirational signings. The addition of those two meant that the spine of Liverpool’s team was Scottish as goalkeeper Bert Slater had previously moved to Anfield from Falkirk.

Tommy Leishman, another Scot, was also in the side and it should be no surprise that there were so many Scottish players at the club. Shortly after their formation, in 1892, Liverpool played their first fixture, a friendly against Rotherham Town, and their side contained all Scottish players so Shankly was simply continuing a tradition!

Rovers and Liverpool included two players making their debuts back in 1961. The Rovers players were defender Johnny Hills, a £5,000 signing from Tottenham Hotspur, and Brian Carter who cost £1,500 from Portsmouth. Hills would go on to make 29 league appearances for Rovers, Carter just four.

Contrast that to the careers enjoyed by Yeats and St John who made their Liverpool debuts that afternoon. Yeats skippered the side and would continue to do so until 1969/70. Between them they appeared in 694 league games for Liverpool and both were capped by Scotland though Yeats won just two caps compared to St John’s 21.


An Eastville crowd of 19,438 saw Liverpool win 2-0 thanks to a first half goal by Kevin Lewis and a Hills own goal after the break.

The report of the game said this about Yeats; ‘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 Rovers intentions.

‘He is still settling in and if he can satisfy in his first game, the odds 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, bur he has a sound sense of positional play.’

The reporter was slightly less complimentary about St John; ‘Right on the last minute he missed the chance of a lifetime. Milne carried the ball forward and found the centre forward in an ideal position but St John fired straight at Norman and so squandered the opportunity of chalking up his first league goal.’

The striker more than made up for that over the course of the season, though as he went on to score 18 league goals, which included one against Rovers in another 2-0 victory for the Reds in the return fixture at Anfield in December. The other Liverpool goalscorer on that occasion was future World Cup winner Roger Hunt.

Rovers lost their next six league games and were relegated to the Third Division at the end of the season, while Liverpool romped to the Second Division title, finishing eight points ahead of second placed Leyton Orient.

Yeats and St John helped Liverpool to their first First Division title in 27 years in 1963/64 and their first ever FA Cup win, in 1965, when St John’s extra time header saw them beat Leeds United 2-1.

Both went into management on retirement, Yeats spent three years as boss at Tranmere Rovers, St John with Motherwell and Portsmouth, and he was also assistant manager at Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City.

Yeats returned to Anfield as Chief Scout in 1986 and remained in post before his retirement in 2006, while St John went on to enjoy a career in the media and is probably best remembered in that role for his ‘Saint & Greavsie’ TV show with Jimmy Greaves.

The two remained good friends and Yeats said in an interview a few years ago; ‘I enjoyed playing with everyone, but my best mate was Ian St John. He joined the club two weeks before I did and we are still mates today.’

And so the Liverpool journey, and that of two of their iconic players, began against the Gas!