Obituary: Dave Mackay, football international and manager

Dave Mackay: Distinguished footballer who had great success with Scotland, Hearts, Spurs and Derby. Picture: Getty
Dave Mackay: Distinguished footballer who had great success with Scotland, Hearts, Spurs and Derby. Picture: Getty
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Born: 14 November, 1934, in Edinburgh. Died: 2 March, 2015, in Nottingham, aged 80

Often described as the archetypal Scottish midfielder, Dave Mackay was one of the finest footballers ever to wear the maroon of Hearts and the dark blue of Scotland. That he also had a long and distinguished career south of the Border where he tasted unprecedented success for a Scot made him famous throughout Britain and the world of football as a whole.

As the inspirational captain of the Tottenham Hotspur side that won the first English League and Cup double of the 20th century, Mackay’s place in footballing history is secure, but it was his heroics for his beloved Hearts in the 1950s that mean he will never be forgotten down Gorgie way.

Mackay was born on 14 November, 1934, less than a mile from Tynecastle Park at Glendevon Park near Carrick Knowe municipal golf course, the second son of a family of four brothers, the others being Tommy, Frank and Ronnie, all of them keen footballers.

Mackay recalled, as practically his first memory, sneaking into an empty Tynecastle and standing on the terraces to gawk at the stadium. It was the start of a love affair with the club that lasted a lifetime.

His father Tom was a linotype operator for The Scotsman, and the family were comfortably off until Tom Mackay was called up for wartime service, during which time the Mackay brothers organised a paper round to boost the family income. To brighten up deliveries, they invented football games on their rounds, and Mackay credited these boyhood endeavours with developing the close control that was his trademark in later life.

After schooling at Balgreen Primary School and Carrickvale Secondary, previously known as Saughton, his father suggested he might want to follow his dad into “the print”.

But by then Mackay had already won footballing honours, and he rejected the offer as it would almost certainly stop him playing on a Saturday afternoon when he had more important things to do.

The Scotsman’s loss was football’s gain. Despite being small in football terms, Mackay’s attributes of tough tackling and slick passing had seen him play for Edinburgh Schools and captain the Scottish Schoolboys’ team, as well as winning the national schools shield with Carrickvale in 1949. Mackay was thus “on the radar” for senior clubs and it was Hibernian who first came calling.

By then Mackay was an apprentice joiner with Laurence McIntosh Ltd and was playing for Slateford Athletic, where his progress was being noted by a Hearts scout.

Mackay’s father alerted Hearts about the Hibs’ approach and manager Tommy Walker promptly signed the youngster for a £20 signing-on fee and £10 per week while allowing him to continue his apprenticeship – it was the norm for footballers in those days to have two jobs.

Farmed out to top junior club Newtongrange Star to gain experience, the 17-year-old Mackay soon learned that football could be a hard game, and returning much physically tougher, he made his debut for the reserves against Montrose before making his first-team debut against Clyde. He did not play well in a 2-1 defeat for Hearts, and was dropped.

Never-say-die Mackay worked hard on his fitness and came back into the first XI against Hamilton Accies. Hearts won 6-3, Mackay was outstanding, and he was never dropped again. This was the era of the “Terrible Trio” – Alfie Conn, Willie Bauld, and Jimmy Wardhaugh – and Mackay proved to be the supporting midfield dynamo they had been seeking. He won his first medal when Hearts won the Scottish League Cup in October 1954, and was also selected for his first under-23 appearance for Scotland.

Off the field he finished his joinery apprenticeship and was called up for national service in 1955. He served his two years with the Royal Engineers, initially at Worcester, and was allowed home at weekends to play for Hearts. On one of those weekends, Mackay was at his inspirational best when Hearts beat Celtic 3-1 to win the Scottish Cup Final of 1956.

He was also selected for the British Army side and played alongside Duncan Edwards and Eddie Coleman, two of Manchester United’s Busby Babes who died in the Munich air disaster in 1958.

While he was still in the army, Hearts began their impressive run to win the 1957-58 Scottish league championship under captain Mackay, and he was recognised as Scotland’s player of the year. He had made his full debut for Scotland in a 4-1 defeat by Spain in May 1957 and went on to play in the World Cup in Sweden in 1958.

That he only played 22 times for his country is evidence that the blazerati in the selectors’ committee were more concerned about selling tickets than picking the best players.

In his 22nd and final match for Scotland in 1965, he came up against George Best, who inspired Northern Ireland to a 3-2 win in Belfast. Best always said Mackay was “the hardest man I have ever played against – and certainly the bravest”.

In the days when players were commodities, Hearts sold Mackay to Tottenham Hotspur for the princely sum of £32,000 in 1959. Spurs were building a great team under manager Bill Nicholson and they duly won the Double of League and FA Cup in 1960-61.

They won the FA Cup the following year with a side that was built around Mackay and Danny Blanchflower with Jimmy Greaves up front.

The following season, Mackay could have become one of the first Scots to win a European trophy but that honour was reserved to Bill Brown and John White as members of the Spurs side which beat Atletico Madrid 5-1 in the 1963 Cup-Winners Cup final, injury denying Mackay his place in the team.

That was highly unlucky as Mackay had been in his pomp throughout the tournament, including an 8-4 aggregate defeat of Rangers.

Mackay suffered a career-threatening injury, a broken left leg, against Manchester United. Shortly after returning to play he fractured the same leg again, and in total was out for 18 months at the peak of his career.

Yet he returned and Mackay’s Spurs won the FA Cup final in 1967, the Scot having taken over from Blanchflower as club captain.

As clubbable off the field as he was tough on it, Mackay’s way of encouraging esprit de corps was to order pints all round – he enjoyed a drink, often after a round of golf at which he was no mean player.

In 1968, he joined Derby County, and with McKay thriving under the mercurial managership of Brian Clough, they won the Second Division.

He was named joint winner of the 1968-69 Footballer of the Year award along with Tony Book, the first man to win the honour in both.

His days as a manager were less conspicuously successful, but after periods in charge of Swansea Town and Nottingham Forest he succeeded Clough as manager of Derby County and led them to the league title in 1975.

He would also manage Walsall, Birmingham City and Doncaster before Mackay proved himself a trailblazer by spending seven years as a coach in the Middle East, at one point managing the national side of Qatar where the World Cup will be played in 2012.

Mackay lived quietly in retirement and was always happy to chat to fans of his clubs, but especially Hearts on his visits to Edinburgh. He published two volumes of memoirs, Soccer My Spur in 1961 and Mainstream Publishing’s The Real Mackay, written with Martin Knight in 2004.

Mackay is survived by his wife Isobel with whom he had four children, David, Derek, Valerie and Julie.