# Making a mark
The Irishman who set up a goal for Robbie Keane on his Premier League debut at 19
Now 34, Mark Yeates reflected on his career in the game on the latest episode of The Football Family podcast.

mark-yeates-and-andreas-granqvist-2822006 Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Mark Yeates on Ireland U21 duty against Sweden in 2006. Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

AS MANY IRISH footballers can attest, the transition from youth level to the first team at a Premier League club is made by only a small percentage of those who attempt it.

For a teenager living away from the family home, striving to succeed in such a competitive environment becomes a considerably more onerous challenge when the pain of a personal tragedy is inflicted.

That was the situation 17-year-old Mark Yeates was faced with in September 2002, not long after swapping Dublin for London to join Tottenham Hotspur.

Having played for several League of Ireland clubs, including Shelbourne and Athlone Town, his father, Stephen, was well-known within the Irish football community. He was 39 when his untimely death occurred.

“I still remember when I got the phone-call,” Mark Yeates explains. “It was a tough one. I think we were playing Coventry away in a youth-team game. The coach actually called me up to the front of the bus, he said: ‘Your mam is on the phone.’

“I was thinking, ‘I’ve got a mobile, why is she not ringing me?’ I got a phone-call to say he wasn’t well so I flew back after the game. It was just like that — he had been out having a few pints, came out of the pub and banged his head. A couple of weeks later, that was it.

“So yeah, that was tough. Probably for a couple of months I found it hard. Tottenham were great with me at the time.”

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While grieving his loss, Yeates was grateful for the support of the other members of the club’s Irish contingent, none more so than his fellow Tallaght native Robbie Keane. 

He eventually refocused and got his first taste of senior football the following season during a short loan spell at Brighton & Hove Albion. On the final day of that campaign, he marked his Premier League debut for Tottenham by providing an assist for Keane to open the scoring in a 2-0 win away to Wolverhampton Wanderers.

“I don’t know, something clicked,” he says. “I went from being one of the sort of good, young youth-team players to being probably the one that people were saying: ‘He’s got a good chance here.’

David Pleat [Tottenham manager], he called me back in and I was in and around the first-team training a lot. He had sort of given me the heads-up, saying: ‘Look, I want to get you your debut at some point so we’ll see how the season pans out.’

“I remember the last couple of games were coming and I was sitting in the stand, or whatever. But yeah, he told me I was playing away at Wolves and I was obviously over the moon, thinking: ‘My God, I’m going to be playing in the Premiership here.’

“Luckily on the day we won the game, I did well and set up a goal for Keano. I actually remember I celebrated more than anyone. He was nudging me as if to say: ‘Look, this is my old club, I’m not going to be going mad here.’

“So yeah, it was a nice moment,” Yeates added, while appearing on The Football Family podcast, a collection of in-depth conversations with a wide range of Irish football personalities. 

wolves-v-tottenham PA Archive / PA Images Robbie Keane is congratulated by Tottenham team-mate Mark Yeates after scoring against Wolves. PA Archive / PA Images / PA Images

Although a couple more Premier League appearances with Tottenham would follow, Yeates’ future lay elsewhere. A decade-and-a-half later, he’s still earning a living from the game at the age of 34, playing for ambitious National League club AFC Fylde.

Access to The Football Family — including Episode Seven with Mark Yeates — is one of the many exclusive benefits available to our membership. Details of how you can become a member for just €5 per month — or €42 for an entire year — are available here.

The former Republic of Ireland U21 midfielder/winger recounted his nomadic career, during which he represented 15 different clubs, among them Leicester City, Sheffield United and Watford.

He was also brought to Middlesbrough by current England manager Gareth Southgate, who was later replaced by Gordon Strachan, a man with whom Yeates had a rather complicated relationship.

He f**kin’ hated me.”

Among his other career highlights was a goal for Bradford City as they knocked Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea — Premier League champions at the time — out of the FA Cup with a 4-2 win at Stamford Bridge in 2015.

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