New Macclesfield Town manager Mark Yates is one of a number of former Imps now managing in League Two. Even older fans may well have forgotten Yates’ contribution to our history, having made fourteen appearances on loan from Burnley under Steve Thompson towards the end of 1992-93. After thirty years spent mainly in the lower divisions and senior non-league football, Yates certainly has a firm understanding of the demands of League Two.
Starting his career at hometown club Birmingham in 1986, his time at the club coincided with one of the worst periods in the Blues’ history. Having just been relegated from the old First Division, central midfielder Yates made his Second Division debut at the age of eighteen in 1987-88 as Birmingham narrowly avoided relegation to the Third Division. He appeared more regularly the following season, but gates at St Andrews tumbled to the 4,000-mark as City were relegated to the third tier for the first time ever. The expectation of an immediate return to the Second Division in 1989-90 did not materialise as the side finished outside the playoffs in seventh.
Yates moved to newly-relegated Conference side Colchester on loan in August 1990 where he made thirty appearances, scoring six times. On his return to St Andrews in February 1991, he had the consolation of appearing in Birmingham’s 3-2 win over Tranmere to win the Football League Trophy at Wembley. After a handful of appearances in which Birmingham finished in their lowest ever League placing of twelfth, he was sold to Fourth Division Burnley for £40,000 after scoring six goals in sixty-one games.
Yates scored on his Burnley debut in a 4-1 win at Doncaster, and went on to make twenty-two appearances in 1991-92 as Burnley won the Fourth Division title and also reached the Northern Area Final of the Football League Trophy. He made just two appearances the following season before being sent to Lincoln for that loan spell in February 1993. His time at Sincil Bank got off to a good start with two wins, but form fell away as City won only three more games to finish just outside the play-off places in eighth. He returned to Burnley after a 2-1 home defeat to Bury, and was deemed surplus to requirements at Turf Moor. In August 1993 he became one of three Burnley players to sign for Third Division Doncaster Rovers. Despite winning a regular place at Belle Vue, he was on the move again after just one season and signed for Conference club Kidderminster Harriers in August 1994.
His five-year stay at Aggborough was to prove the most consistent of his playing career to date. Conference champions Harriers had just suffered the disappointment of being denied a place in the Football League due to ground grading. League form was indifferent as Harriers finished eleventh in 1994-95. However, Yates enjoyed a return to Wembley for the FA Trophy Final, although they went down 2-1 to Woking. Harriers improved to finish seventh in 1995-96, and led the table for most of the following season before a late slump saw them finish second behind Macclesfield. A relegation battle surprisingly followed the following season with the side finishing fifteenth, and in January 1999 Kidderminster sold their captain to neighbours Cheltenham Town for £25,000. Yates enjoyed immediate success at Whaddon Road as Steve Cotterill’s side took the Conference title and won promotion to the Football League for the first time. He also appeared for the fledgling England C team – then called the England semi-pro XI – in a 2-1 win over Wales at St Albans on 23 May 1999.
Cheltenham made a great start to life in the League in 1999-2000, narrowly missing the playoffs by two points in their first season. They missed the playoffs by four points the following season, and missed automatic promotion by a single point with a 2-0 final day defeat at Plymouth in 2001-02. However, their fourth-place finish took them into the playoffs for the first time, and a 5-4 penalty shootout win over Hartlepool took Yates back to Wembley for the third time in his career for the play-off final. A goal from ex-Imp John Finnigan helped Cheltenham to a 3-1 win over Rushden & Diamonds, and Cheltenham were in the third tier for the first time in their history. Cheltenham also set a club record by reaching the fifth round of the FA Cup, eventually going down 1-0 to neighbours West Brom.
Life in League One proved more difficult after manager Cotterill departed during the summer. Despite an excellent late-season revival that saw them pick up eighteen points from eleven games, Cheltenham were relegated straight back to League Two after a final day defeat at Notts County. Yates lost his place in the side the following season and returned to former club Kidderminster in February 2004 where he finished his playing career after a further fourteen appearances.
In the summer of 2004 he was appointed reserve and first team coach at former club Burnley, where Steve Cotterill had just been appointed manager. Eighteen months later, he returned to former club Kidderminster Harriers as manager on 6 January 2006. Harriers had been relegated the previous summer after five tough seasons in the Football League, and were struggling badly in their first season back in the Conference. They had taken just six points from their last eleven league games and sat two points above the relegation zone. Harriers won his first match by 1-0 at Woking, and so began a revival that saw them climb to safety and finish well clear of danger in fifteenth.
The improvement continued into next season as the side finished tenth and reached the FA Trophy Final against Stevenage Borough, the first competitive match to be played at the new Wembley Stadium. Despite leading 2-0 at halftime, Kidderminster were beaten 3-2 in front of a record FA Trophy crowd of 53,262. Harriers slipped to thirteenth the following season despite picking up four more points than the previous year, but returned with a consistent promotion challenge in 2008-09. On 22 December 2009, Yates departed for another of his former clubs, League Two Cheltenham Town in succession to caretaker manager John Schofield. It was time for another rescue job, with Cheltenham just four points above the bottom two. Results struggled to improve before a 1-0 win over Lincoln in April kick-started a run that ultimately carried Cheltenham to safety. A 1-1 draw at home to Accrington on the final day ensured survival and sent Grimsby Town into non-league football.
The 2010-11 season got off to a great start, with Cheltenham sitting in the playoffs at the midway stage. Three wins from twenty-one games saw the Robins plummet down the table including an 8-1 thumping at Crewe. The run came to an end with a crucial 2-0 win at Lincoln with three games to go, and Cheltenham were safe. Lincoln, of course, went down. There was to be no repeat performance in 2011-12 as Cheltenham hit the ground running. A sixth-place finish and a 4-1 play-off semi-final win over Torquay saw Yates back at Wembley for the fifth time in his career, but a 2-0 defeat to Crewe ended the promotion dream. Automatic promotion was missed by four points in 2012-13, and the play-off campaign ended at the semi-final stage with a 2-0 aggregate defeat to Northampton. To everyone’s surprise, 2013-14 saw Cheltenham slide down the table to finish just five points clear of relegation. The following season started with great promise, with Cheltenham top of League Two in September. However, a poor run of eight points from twelve games saw the side slip to eighteenth, and Yates parted company with the club on 25 November 2014.
After a brief spell out of the game, Yates returned as manager of newly-relegated League Two side Crawley Town on 19 May 2015. Things got off to a very slow start, with six points from the first nine games leaving Crawley in the bottom two. Four wins in October lifted the side well up the table, and results became more consistent. However, a terrible run of six successive defeats led to his dismissal on 25 April 2016 after less than a year in charge.
After some time out of the game, Yates had two brief months as U23 coach at former club Kidderminster between July and September 2017. Then came another rescue job, this time in the National League. On 15 November 2017 he was appointed manager of struggling Solihull Moors, who were six points adrift at the bottom of the table with eleven points from their nineteen games. Yet again, Yates pulled off his rescue mission with room to spare. Having achieved just one win from his first seven games, Solihull embarked on a fine run over the second half of the season. A 2-1 win at promotion-bound Tranmere in the penultimate game ensured survival, and Yates was back on the managerial map. After the departure of John Askey for Shrewsbury, Yates was back in the Football League as manager of newly-promoted Macclesfield on a three-year deal.
Mark Yates has over 600 professional games to his name as a player, and over 500 as a manager. That gives him a great deal of experience in lower division football, and a cynic would say that he is going to need it if he is to prevent Macclesfield becoming the first promoted club to make an immediate return to the National League. His record at unfashionable clubs with small gates speaks for itself, but will this season present one challenge too many?
P = Promoted; R = Relegated; SF = Lost in play-off semi-final; F = Lost in play-off final; PO = Won play-off final; D = Demoted.
Figures are league games only; cup matches and playoffs are not included.
League position shown is either the position at the end of the season or the position at the time of departure.
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) July 22, 2018