Yeats Passed His Flight Test; PART ONE OF A THREE-PART SERIES LOOKING AT A LIVERPOOL GREAT Chief Scout in Eventful Trip into Unknown

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Byline: NICK HILTON

LIVERPOOL set off next week on the latest instalment of the European adventures they began 39 years ago.

Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia represents a new destination for Liverpool who have played in many of the Continent's famous venues, and some of the most obscure,over the past four decades.

The UEFA Cup first round trip to Central Europe is not expected to present Liverpool with any serious logistical problems about travel, security or finding appropriate facilities for the team.

The journey for the official Liverpool party on a specially-chartered flight direct to their destination and transfer to a vetted, top-class hotel should not distract the players and officials from their focus on the game.

They will also have a first hand assessment of the strength of the opposition to work from.

Many of those comforts, a necessity for a team being asked to perform well on unfamiliar,foreign soil, are denied the men who are sent out to check the opposition, the venues and the facilities in advance. The scouts live their working lives in planes, trains, automobiles and football grounds. Often the travelling is humdrum and routine. Occasionally they fly by the seat of their pants.

At Liverpool this important work falls to the department headed by chief scout Ron Yeats.

The towering centre-half who captained Liverpool on their first, pioneering journeys into Europe in the mid-1960s has always seemed the appropriate man for the post.

Yeats started the job in 1986 and only recently has stepped off the treadmill of watching as many as five to six games a week at home and abroad.

He says he is grateful for the release, particularly from the early morning departures from distant locations to be back at Liverpool before the end of the working day.

These days most of the leg work is done by Yeats' assistants in an expanded department: director of scoutingAlex Miller and Frank McParland, who is based at Liverpool's Youth Academy.

At 65 Yeats, the man Bill Shankly dubbed a `colossus' still cuts an imposing figure. He is broad-shouldered, trim and a good head of dark hair has only recently begun to turn grey. Yeats says he is in no hurry to retire but is happy his job is now predominantly an administrative one, making sure Liverpool's network of scouts and contacts are at the games they shouldbeat.

He says: ``In those first 16 years in the job I must have seen enough games to set a world record.

``The operation was expanded in 2 002 and now there are three of us working full-time and a dozen scouts who do regular work for us. ``Alex does a great job across all of Europe andSouth America. We have a network of contacts all over the world. They are not LFC employees but we know that if we phone them they will go to watch a team or a player for us.''

The pages of Yeats' passport bear testimony to his exhaustive travel. He concedes there were many enjoyable trips to some appealing destinations. Monaco is a particular favourite. ``I'd go back there any time,it's a beautiful place,'' he says.

There were also the remote outposts and obscure corners of Europe that present the pathfinder with difficul-ties. None more so than Vladikavkaz, the final stop on the worst journey of Ron Yeats' life.

The way Yeats tells the tale now, eight years after the event makes his ordeal sound like a surreal comedy. But it was a seriously worrying experience at times and Yeats confesses: ``There were moments when I did not know whether to laugh or cry.''

When Liverpool were drawn against SpartakVladikavkaz in the first round of the UEFA Cup in September 1995, Yeats was dispatched to the southern Russian republic of Severnaya Osetiya-Alaniya.

Yeats recalls: ``It wasn't so long after the break-up of the old USSRand t here was a good deal of unrest in the area at the time. …