He always wanted to return to Hearts, and yesterday Dave Mackay was able to do so. The footballer’s final journey started at Tynecastle, where he once fulfilled his greatest wish by signing for the club he supported as a boy.
His death earlier this month was mourned in places other than Gorgie, of course. But, while Mackay had been based in England for nearly 60 years, it seemed right that it was to
Edinburgh that mourners came to pay their last respects.
And come they did to Mansfield Traquair, a wonderful stone church set somewhere bordering on Hibs country in the capital. Even given the location, and summing up the esteem in which Mackay is held, his cortege was saluted as it made its way slowly from the west of the city towards the east side.
Mackay once attended another funeral in the same former apostolic church. Greatly taken by the handsome surroundings, he whispered to Isobel, his wife, that this was where he would like to be remembered.
Sir Alex Ferguson, Denis Law and Alan Gilzean, his Spurs and Scotland team-mate, were in attendance yesterday. They were joined by Bertie Auld and John Clark, representing Celtic, and Willie Henderson, the former Rangers winger. Ian St John, Mackay’s former Scotland colleague, was also there, as were Spurs greats Steve Perryman, Mike England and Clive Allen. Ferguson gave a eulogy that described Mackay as the “world’s bravest man” while Cliff Jones, the former Spurs winger, tugged on heartstrings with the comment that whenever he hears the skirl of bagpipes playing Flower of Scotland, “I think of Dave Mackay”.
Jones also referred to the timing: “Dave would be so proud that Hearts are now back in the Scottish Premiership”.
There were six pall-bearers; two from Spurs, two from Derby County and two of course from Hearts. Jones and Pat Jennings, the former Spurs goalkeeper, were proud to answer the call on the behalf of the London club, while Roy McFarland and John McGovern did so for Derby, where Mackay enjoyed such a fruitful Indian summer.
As for Hearts, John Robertson, the club’s highest league goal scorer, and goalkeeper Gordon Marshall, a former team-mate of Mackay’s, bore the responsibility, before the club’s chaplain, Andy Prime, invited over 450 mourners to sing the first hymn Abide with Me, “one Dave sang numerous times at Wembley”.
Of course football was at the heart of what was described as a ceremony of remembrance. How could it not be so? But the first eulogy, delivered by Tommy Mackay, a nephew, on behalf of Mackay’s eldest daughter Valerie, focused on the father who provided an idyllic childhood for his four children in Enfield. He was a lover of music, a dancer, a Pied piper on whom his children, and grandchildren, doted. Even at his 80th birthday celebrations last year, Mackay was, according to Valerie, “very much on the ball”.
There was laughter when Ninian Cassidy, a cousin of Mackay’s wife, recalled a trip to Tynecastle to watch Hearts and Spurs play a Europa League tie, four years ago. Vladimir Romanov, the club’s then owner, “was not as gracious as Ann Budge”.
Their seats, he recalled, were right at the back of the main stand. As they clambered back up to this lofty perch after half-time, the game had already re-started. A free-kick was cleared towards row X and the ball arced into Mackay’s eyeline. He tried to head it, cue cheers all around him. “At least I had a go!” Mackay explained to Cassidy.
At the same game, Mackay had been asked to appear on the pitch at half-time. When Cassidy walked out in the expectation Mackay was behind him, he turned around and saw Mackay being bear-hugged by Joe Jordan, the then Spurs assistant manager.
“Tell Dave he is wanted on the park,” Alfie Conn jnr, son of another former Hearts great, told Cassidy. “You have to be joking, you think I am getting between Joe Jordan and Dave Mackay!?”
Few would want to get between Mackay and the ball, certainly. But he was more, much more, than just the hard man, as we heard several times yesterday.
The old 1960s classic Bannerman by Blue Mink – “And the bannerman held the banner high with the hallelujah in his eyes” – played as mourners filed out, some to a private service at Warriston crematorium, attended by close family and friends.
The song was a fittingly jaunty one for someone whose joie de vivre was commented upon in more than one eulogy. Later at Tynecastle, family, friends and football legends gathered once more. In this number was Gilzean, the once famously reclusive star. Missing Dave Mackay’s funeral had not been an option, he stressed. Gilzean boarded a flight from Bristol yesterday morning to be here in time and was happy to share his memories, including the time he first saw Mackay play.
“I was about 16 or 17, Hearts played St Johnstone in the League Cup,” said Gilzean. “It was the era of Conn, Bauld and Wardhaugh. I was a Hibs supporter rather than a Hearts supporter but I went to watch.
“They beat St Johnstone about 5-0 or something. Even when they were four up, Mackay was still driving them on. It was the same when he was at Tottenham, driving you on. Any shirkers, he let you know. He wouldn’t tolerate it.
“I really had to be here today,” he added.
Gilzean put Mackay in the same bracket as the Manchester United prodigy Duncan Edwards when asked to rank his former team-mate in the pantheon of greats. Wherever you looked yesterday, distinguished players patiently waited to pay tribute to Mackay. There was a recurring theme – leader of men.
“He set the standards that others needed to follow and I’m honoured to say I played alongside and knew Dave,” said Jennings. The legendary goalkeeper played over 1,000 top-level games. He played with hundreds of players. If asked to name a greatest XI the only thing he says he knows for sure is that its skipper would be Dave Mackay.
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