David Craig Mackay
Born: 14 November, 1934;
Died: 02 March, 2015.
DAVE Mackay, who has died aged 80, after a long battle against dementia, was more than a great footballer, he was one of the absolutely best players ever to pull on the dark blue of Scotland. With the exception of a few very elderly Tynecastle fans who might opt for Tommy Walker, today’s older generation of Hearts fans would also overwhelmingly vote for Mackay as the greatest ever Hearts player.
He holds much the same status at Tottenham Hotspur, where he was the lynchpin of the double-winning team of 1961. Mackay was also in the top five when The Herald sports desk team nominated their 50 greatest Scottish footballers, alongside Jim Baxter, Kenny Dalglish, Jimmy Johnstone and Denis Law.
Mackay was born in Edinburgh, into a Hearts-supporting family. He attended Carrickvale Secondary, later to also mould another Spurs and Scotland player, Graeme Souness. On Saturdays, the young Mackay would crawl under the turnstiles at Tynecastle, in order to watch his heroes.
He won his first Scotland honour against Ireland, at under-14 level in 1949. That same season, when Carrickvale reached the final of the Edinburgh Schools Under-14 Cup, Mackay trod the pitch at Tynecastle for the first time. Legend has it, Hearts immediately spotted his potential, which was confirmed with an Under-15 Scotland cap, against England at Wembley the following year.
By now, it was clear that, sooner or later, he would be playing football, for Hearts. The club kept tabs on him as he played Boys Club football for Slateford Athletic; they directed him out to Newtongrange Star, to toughen up a boy who was never going to be a giant, eventually peaking-out at five-foot eight inches tall. Then, on 1 April, 1952, Tommy Walker signed him as a full-time Hearts’ player and he made his first-team debut the following season, in a 2-1 Tynecastle loss to Clyde, on 11 November, 1953.
This debut came during his two years of national service as Sapper D Mackay, 23162786, Royal Engineers. But, once back in Civvie Street, Mackay and Hearts began to make waves.
The legendary Hibs team of the time, with its Famous Five forward line, had been cocks of the walk in the capital since the end of the Second World War, but Hearts gaffer Tommy Walker was signing some impressive young players, such as Mackay and with the Terrible Trio in their pomp, driven on by young wing-halves Mackay and John Cumming, Hearts began to swing the balance of football power in Edinburgh from Leith to Gorgie.
In October, 1954, he was in the Hearts team which beat Motherwell 4-2 in the League Cup final at Hampden – Hearts’ first domestic trophy since they had won the Scottish Cup in 1906.
In April, 1956, they ended a 50-year Scottish Cup draught by beating Celtic 3-1 in the final then, in 1958, with Mackay now captaining the side, they won the league, for the first time since 1897. Truly this was a new golden age for the club, with Mackay right at the heart of things.
In 1955, he had captained the first Scotland Under-23 team; sadly, they lost heavily to England at Shawfield. He won Scottish League representative honours and, on 26 May, 1957, in the Bernabeu Stadium in Madrid, he won the first of an eventual paltry 22 Scotland caps, in a 4-1 loss to Spain in a World Cup qualifier.
Mackay had to wait over a year for cap number two, which came in the final game of the World Cup finals campaign, in Sweden, against France.
The 1958 World Cup over, Sir Matt Busby took over as Scotland team manager, immediately making Mackay his captain. However, he was not to retain the position past the two Autumn Home Internationals against Wales and Northern Ireland, with Celtic’s Bobby Evans returning to the role for the visit to Wembley in April, 1959.
By then, Mackay had left Hearts, after Tottenham paid a bargain £32,000 for his signature, in March, 1959. He had played 208 games, scoring 32 goals, during his time at Tynecastle.
He left a team at the top in Scotland, for one struggling in the English First Division, but, Spurs boss Bill Nicholson was building something special at White Hart Lane. The wing-halves, skipper Danny Blanchflower – the brains of the team – and Mackay – its heart – were joined in midfield by another Scot, "The Ghost", John White; this trio would transform Tottenham from also-rans to the team which, in 1961, achieved the first English League and Cup double of the 20th century. As an inspirational Tottenham captain, Mackay led the side to FA Cup glory in 1967.
Two leg breaks, plus a reluctance on the part of Tottenham to release Mackay, White and goalkeeper Bill Brown for Scotland undoubtedly cost him Scotland caps. It also did not help that he and Law were blamed, almost as much as unfortunate goalkeeper Frank Haffey, for Scotland’s 9-3 thumping by England in 1961 – he should have won many more caps.
He did, however, win recognition by the (English) Football League, captaining their representative XI and even playing against the Scottish League on one occasion.
In 1968 he left Tottenham, after more than 300 games, to join Derby County, then managed by Brian Clough. He had by now converted himself into a sweeper, his ability to read the game more than compensating for his lack of inches.
His on-field inspiration, as much as Clough’s managerial genius helped turn a mid-table Second Division side into First Division title contenders, although by the time County did win the League, Mackay had moved on to be player-manager at Swindon Town.
His part in County’s Second Division title win in 1968-69 saw him share the Footballer of the Year award with Manchester City’s Tony Book, on the only occasion this award has been shared.
He stayed a year at Swindon, during which he took his career playing appearances over the 600 mark. He then moved to Nottingham Forest as manager, before, in October 1973, in the wake of Clough’s messy departure from Derby, he returned to the Baseball Ground to pick up the pieces.
In his first season, he took Derby to third in the English League, before, in season 1974-75, he led them to the title. This was the high point of his British managerial career.
Derby sacked him in 1976, after a poor start to the season. He barely rippled the surface at Walsall, before taking-off to spend nine years coaching in Kuwait. He then spent two undistinguished years at Doncaster Rovers and had a disappointing spell at Birmingham City, before returning to the Middle East to coach in Egypt and Qatar, until his eventual retirement from football in 1997.
In retirement, he settled in a small village in Nottinghamshire, mid-way between Nottingham and Derby. He was always a welcome guest when he returned to any of his former clubs, but he preferred the quiet life, continuing his life-long fitness ethic by talking lengthy walks, in all weathers, in the surrounding countryside.
His contribution to football was recognised by his induction, as one of the 22 inaugural members of the Scottish Football Hall of Fame in 2004, the same year he wrote a best-selling autobiography The Real Mackay. He had also been an inaugural inductee into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and was named as one of the Football League’s 100 Legends, as part of their centenary celebrations. He was also an inductee into the Hearts Hall of Fame in 2006 and is in the Tottenham and Derby County Halls of Fame.
Mackay was gladiatorial, but he was not a dirty player – he was hard but fair. A picture of Mackay was taken during a Spurs v Leeds game in 1966, when he responded to being kicked on his twice-broken left leg by Billy Bremner, by grabbing his fellow Scotland captain by the throat. It is a picture which Mackay always hated.
His final years were blighted by dementia. He was zealously guarded and brilliantly nursed by Isobel, his wife of over 50 years – who was from a Hibs-supporting family. Dave and Isobel had four children – David Jnr., Derek, Valerie and Julie, all born in Edinburgh, so that, Mackay insisted, if he had boys, they could play for Scotland.