IT was a strange few days for Jerry Yates.
There he was, a Rotherham United player. Yet he was on holiday in Marbella with his old promotion teammates from Swindon Town. And all the time Blackpool FC were chasing his signature.
Millers manager Paul Warne had granted Yates a short of leave of absence from training earlier this month to fly to Spain with the Town squad with whom the striker had topped League Two during a season-long loan.
It had never truly worked out at AESSEAL New York Stadium for the 23-year-old who had been a rising star in Rotherham’s youth set-up.
But it had certainly worked out at the County Ground where his scoring exploits had many clubs taking notice.
Swindon left their bid to keep him too late and, soon after Yates’ return from his Mediterranean jollies, Blackpool landed their man.
Yates is pleased and Millers staff are pleased for him. Possibly more pleased than anyone is his mum who famously used Twitter to blast the Millers when they brought him back from Swindon for a brief spell during their own successful promotion push, in League One, last January.
It’s the right moment for him to leave. He and Rotherham had run their course.
No longer is he the fresh-faced prospect I first interviewed back in July 2016 when he’d scored against Premier League Sunderland in a pre-season friendly at New York.
The Millers had lost 2-1 but Yates had equalised with an smart finish early in the second half.
Afterwards, he was comfortable in the limelight, handling media duties with a maturity beyond his then 19 years. This was going to be his breakthrough season, he hoped; he was looking for between ten and 15 goals.
As it turned out, there would be only five in more than 50 Millers appearances over the next four years.
The emotion of the Norwich game
It’s typical of the attacker’s character that he doesn’t shy away from the truth about his impact with the club he’d joined as a boy.
“My only regret is not getting enough goals,” he says. “I wish I’d performed better
“I would have loved to have scored more goals for them. They gave me my first chance, my first contract.
“The Gaffer put a lot of faith in me sometimes. I don’t think I really took my chance.”
He plans to take it with Blackpool who have paid around £200,000 plus add-ons for his services and look very serious in their bid to escape League One next year.
Millers fans knew his name long before he broke into the first-team set-up. He’d ripped it up as he came through the age groups and looked promising in the reserves.
I remember a second-string game at Roundwood one Tuesday afternoon when he took possession, back to goal and with a visiting defender tight to him, on the edge of the penalty area.
Even tighter than the opponent was Yates’ touch and, after a lightning turn and flashing shot, the ball was bouncing off the bar.
“Tells you the lad’s got something,” muttered a respected journalist standing next to me. “You don’t coach a bit of skill like that.”
Industry and mobility came in greater volume than the turns and flashes when Warne started to use him more. In and out of the team, in and out of the squad, the youngster found his form and confidence suffering and he went on to play his best stuff away from the Millers.
He impressed at League Two Carlisle on loan in 2018, scoring five times in four games just before he was recalled, and then came his coming of age at Swindon where his goals had Town heading to League One and to Spain’s Costa del Sol
“Yeah, we had a good time, thanks,” he says. “I was back in training with Rotherham.
“I texted the Gaffer to say the Swindon lads were going to Marbella. I said it didn’t matter if he wouldn’t let me go, but I just thought I’d ask.
“To be fair, he let me go with open arms, sort of thing. He’s been a player himself and understands it from a player’s point of view. It’s not every season you have a promotion to celebrate.”
A pre-season strike against Sunderland
There were glimpses Yates was worth persevering with, not least in the 2-1 win at Blackpool in December 2017, when he came on at half-time, ran the Seasiders ragged and changed not only the course of the game but also Rotherham’s entire season.
But in the end time just ran out for him. Supporters had seen him as one of their own and had given him their patience, willing him to do well. Slowly, he slipped from being a kid with potential to a pro not quite delivering enough.
“It wasn’t meant to be,” he says. “It is what it is.”
The forward didn’t miss many chances, there just weren’t that many he was on the end of to miss. Maybe he was wrong for Rotherham’s style under Warne where the ball goes wide and is bombed into the box. Maybe he needed to drop down to League Two to discover himself and will now do his talent justice at a higher level.
As the journalist had noted, he had something. It just wasn’t being unlocked at New York.
Watching him shine at Swindon was an absolute joy. Town put behind-the-scenes video snap-shots of him on social media and you could see his dressing-room verve and humour. Not arrogant. Confident. He was a changed figure, no longer a frustrated boy but the main man. In the best kind of way, he’d found his swagger.
He also found the net. 14 times in 35 matches.
At Roundwood, he wasn’t one of the louder members of the group but was an integral part of it: a good lad, funny, popular with this teammates. And he trained hard.
Warne rated him; it was just that there were always players ahead of him in the queue: Michael Smith plus one, with the likes of David Ball and, later, Freddie Ladapo and Kyle Vassell always ready to take up the second invitation.
His mum rates him even more and defended her boy. “F*cking hoofball,” she tweeted before he was allowed to return to Swindon. “Amazing how players thrive after leaving RUFC and playing on the ground.”
Warne had a quiet word with the player. Son had more than a quiet word with Mum.
The manager never forgot that Yates helped give him one of his greatest moments as Millers boss, pouncing for the opening goal in a 2-1 Championship win over the manager’s home-town club, Norwich City, at New York in January 2017.
It was emotional for everyone. The forward’s grandfather - a major figure in his childhood - had died in the build-up to the match and a tearful scorer jumped into the arms of his family in the West Stand.
“Norwich is the game that really sticks in my mind,” Yates says. “I can’t thank people enough for what happened. I scored and the fans were cheering my name. There is no better feeling in the world than that. I was absolutely buzzing.
“A week later, I’m playing at St James’ Park against Newcastle. It was all so surreal. Rotherham gave me one of my best moments of my life, never mind my career.”
Two years later, in another Championship season, his Millers adventure had reached its closing stages.
Warne’s injury-ravaged side, putting up a brave but futile fight against relegation, were pummelled at Derby County in April 2019 and Yates and Jon Taylor went public on the pitch with their dissatisfaction with each other. The striker never started for the club again.
Swindon came calling. They rescued him, he revitalised them. Strike partner Eoin Doyle scored more goals but the arrival from South Yorkshire still bagged plenty himself and Town fans appreciated his greater all-round contribution.
The switch to the Seasiders is a good move at a good time for all parties. Except Swindon who were desperate to see Yates return but took too long to make their move.
Substituted at Derby in his last ever Millers start
Rotherham get decent money for a homegrown attacker who was no longer prospering with them but very much looks ready to prosper somewhere else.
Yates. With swagger.
The cold North-West coast of England might not be the sun-kissed shores of Southern Spain and the Tower might not be the Puerto Banús Marina.
But Blackpool could turn out to be his Marbella.
PLAYER'S PRAISE FOR MILLERS
JERRY Yates departed Rotherham United with no hard feelings, describing the club as being “like one big family”.
The striker signed for Blackpool last week, six years after making his Millers debut, and said management and staff had flooded his phone with ‘good luck’ messages.
“I’m leaving on good terms with everyone; of course I am,” he says. “I’ll always look out for Rotherham’s results. I’ll always speak to the management team.
“The Gaffer (Paul Warne) has texted me. Everyone has texted me. Matt Hamshaw (coach) has. They’ve all texted me saying that if I need anything, in football or out of football, they’ll always be there to talk.
“Even all the physios and the fitness coach have been in touch. It’s like one big family.”
Yates is set to lead Blackpool’s attack in League One next season and is dreaming of facing the Millers, who have been promoted to the Championship, the year after that.
“All the best to Rotherham next season,” he says. “I’d love to see them stay up and hopefully I’ll be playing at New York for Blackpool in the Championship sooner rather than later.
“Rotherham will always stay with me. It’s a big place in my heart. The Gaffer’s been great for me and I can’t thank him enough. He put me on the first rung of the ladder really.”
Meanwhile, he admits to his embarrassment last season when his mum, Jo, posted an anti-Millers tweet when he was briefly recalled from his loan spell at Swindon Town.
“Oh, Mate, don’t! It stresses me out,” he says. “I always tell her to shut up!
“I’d advise anyone to ignore when she’s talking about football because she knows nothing about it!
“To be fair to her, she always tries to find excuses for me. But I haven’t got any excuses for my time at Rotherham. I feel like, in my eyes, when I played for Rotherham I obviously didn’t do enough. That’s my biggest regret.
“I would have loved to have scored more goals and would have loved to have done unbelievably well for the team and the fans.
“She was just trying to be protective. It was a mum sticking up for her boy, but I don’t really need that. I’d rather say what’s what. She is what she is!
“I’m sure she’ll be at a few games at Bloomfield Road. She’ll bring my little brother, Ruben.”
YATES ON HOW THE BLACKPOOL MOVE HAPPENED
“I got told about it three or four weeks ago. I saw they were signing a few players and one of the lads from Swindon, Keshi Anderson, had gone there.
“I spoke to him about it and he was saying the manager (Neil Critchley, former head of Liverpool under-21s) has got a good thing going. The manager has come from Liverpool and wants to try to play good football.
“I spoke to the manager and everything was positive. Blackpool are trying to go for promotion. I thought: ‘This is a place where I can be part of something.’
“I want to kick on and go for promotion next season. Fingers crossed. It would be nice to go up."
YATES ON WHY HE WAS A SWINDON HIT
“Before the season started, I had similar chats with Swindon manager (Richie Wellens) to the ones I’ve been having now with the Blackpool manager.
“He put full confidence me. He’d seen me from my time in my first loan at Carlisle. He put a lot of faith in me. I felt so confident going into the season. I scored in my first game and that helps massively. You can just kick on then.
“I took my chance, worked my nuts off and that was it really. It was down to hard work more than anything. I put my all into it.
“We were desperate to become champions and we eventually did it. Not in the right way because coronavirus meant the season ended early but, in the circumstances, it was still nice to finish in top spot. I felt so confident and happy there.
“The fans took to me and the coaches spoke quite highly of me. When you’re going into a Saturday pretty confident that you’re going to start, it’s a big confidence-booster. It’s been an unreal year for me, my most successful and enjoyable one yet.”
YATES ON HOW SWINDON MISSED OUT ON HIM
To be fair, at one stage I thought Swindon would be the club I’d sign for. At the end of the last season, in my head I was certain that I’d sign for them. Swindon had just won promotion. Why would I not go back?
“Things change. It was between Swindon and Blackpool. I felt Blackpool were a bit more ambitious. They really wanted to go up. I spoke to both managers. It was a hard decision, to be honest. I spoke to my family long and hard about it.
“Eventually I came to the conclusion that Blackpool would be a new and good challenge for me. Blackpool showed how much they wanted me. It’s a nice feeling when a club is prepared to put faith in you.
“The manager has gone out of his way to get me. It’s a big confidence-booster to see a team of that size and stature wanting me. I couldn’t really say ‘no’, to be honest.”
2014/15, Championship: one appearance
2015/16, Championship: loan spell at non-league Harrogate Town
2016/17, Championship: 23 appearances, three goals
2017/18, League One: 20 appearances, two goals
2018/19, Championship: seven appearances (29 appearances, seven goals on loan at League Two Carlisle United)
2019/20, League One: one appearance
(35 appearances, 14 goals on loan at League Two Swindon Town)
Total: 52 Millers appearances, five goals
JERRY'S ROTHERHAM GOALS
August 2016: two in a 5-4 League Cup home defeat against Morecambe
January 2017: one in a 2-1 Championship home win against Norwich City
September 2017: one in a 5-1 League One win home win against Oldham Athletic
November 2017: one in a 3-0 Football League Trophy win at Bradford City