DCSIMG

David Mackay draws parallel from both sides of track

THE EDINBURGH trams will pass close by Murrayfield Stadium when they finally appear on the streets of the capital city, and ironically the man driving the new transport network, David Mackay, is the individual who attempted to transform the Scottish Rugby Union and paid the price for moving too swiftly by being forced out of office.

That was 2005, the year Scottish rugby imploded. Mackay, a successful businessman, retained his reputation and even in rugby precious few believed that the decision to get rid of him was right for the sport, hence why most of the men behind it subsequently lost their posts.

Now Mackay is back with his first love – transport. The 66-year-old was born in St Andrews and on leaving school would spend three nights a week travelling from East Wemyss to Edinburgh to study banking. But he studied the views from train windows in more detail, failed his exams and moved to a career with Alexander's Buses.

In January, nearly 50 years on, he will come full circle by taking over as chairman of Lothian Buses. As chairman of both Transport Initiatives Edinburgh, the design and build business behind the trams, and the umbrella Transport Edinburgh Ltd, he has not had much time in recent years to worry about Scottish rugby. And in between his tenure at Murrayfield and the tram project, he also chaired – successfully – the Commonwealth Games bid for Glasgow.

However, Mackay is a rugby enthusiast and no matter how many plates he keeps spinning, the Fifer retains a strong desire to see Scottish rugby do better. The answer to how that might be achieved, he believes, is a similar one to those who ask about the trams, and how one line will be the backbone for a tram-rail network to get Edinburgh going.

"The only possibility of real success for Edinburgh and Glasgow lies with private financing," says Mackay. "But it is like the tram lines. The Scottish Government and Edinburgh (City Council] are funding the first tram line, as happened in Dublin, but the second tram line, the third, fourth and the fifth will come from private money because the developers see an opportunity of property development, retail exposure and growth.

"The Irish model is incredible, and they had all the problems as we had – they've expanded now across the city and are clamouring for more lines – and the same applies in rugby. Success breeds success, and failure ... it's the same.

"I admire what Edinburgh and Glasgow have done with limited finance, but squad sizes and competitive salaries mean the Scottish teams are two tries down before they start. When you get into the Heineken Cup, that is a massive encumbrance. When you see the money coming into Italian rugby, which is mainly private, it is a concern, but in the current climate the chances of finding investors to take over those teams is more remote than ever."

Mackay pursued private funding as far as Scottish businessmen in South Africa when he was at Murrayfield and considered buying the Glasgow team with a consortium only a few years ago, before deciding he had not garnered enough investment to secure even a mid-term future. So, what is the big plan?

He believes a solution will occur with or without the current SRU regime's support – a third professional team in London. He is a vice-chairman of the Friends of Scottish Rugby, Scots businessmen of varying, but mostly great means, and invests in London Scottish. "I hear the SRU feel they can't put money into them because that would be questioned by clubs up here asking why money was being spent in Richmond rather than in Edinburgh or Aberdeen, but that is stupid; it's a totally different set-up.

"The problem is you have to take one hand off the wheel and the SRU are not good at taking any hands off the wheel. You will never get private investors if you are a governing body that doesn't have commercial freedom. When we were there that (private investment in pro teams] was in our business plan. We knew of big names prepared to put money into a professional Scottish side in London. Now, it is arguably the only route the SRU have to bring in private finance.

"You have to look at the overall picture. London Scottish are second in the league and if they do well this year and the economy improves there will be all sorts of opportunities for them. The SRU then have to look at things.

"We'll have played our autumn internationals and our Six Nations games, and I hope we'll have done very well, but what is the next step in our development? How do we get well into that top ten of world rugby, and how do we perform well in there? It is by getting a third professional team in a place stuffed with money and which has genuine potential.

"People who have put their hands in their pocket in London do so because they want to see Scottish rugby performing better at international level and see this as a route to do so. One way or other it will happen."

Mackay sounds like a man with a plan, but one looking in from the outside. Yet he is by no means a bystander, and is now chairman of Glasgow Hawks Sports Trust. He lives near Dunfermline, talks of improvements in rugby across Fife and believes clubs are as culpable as the SRU in failing to grasp the nettle. Time for change, he says, with semi-pro clubs – and mergers.

"What we must never forget," he says, "is that if the clubs die then Scottish rugby dies with it. So we need more investment.

"I have absolutely no doubt that a shortened, eight-team league, with semi-professional clubs, is the way to seriously improve our club game. I listened to Ian McGeechan at Anniesland say the same last week.

"I believe semi-professionalism is inevitable, having seen what Glasgow Hawks are creating. They have a blueprint now of cradle-to-grave sport in Glasgow, pulling together all the interested clubs, schools, young executive faces, and crucially separating finance and corporate governance from rugby and welfare. It's an idea of being all-embracing and socially inclusive, vital because rugby has always had this elitist image.

"The other thing is – and this will be very controversial – mergers. There isn't room for the number of clubs around, in terms of volunteers, players, officials and administrators, and sponsorship and funding, for everyone to thrive.

"I know you can't envisage two famous old clubs merging but we have to perhaps give it a nudge by looking at a new semi-pro Division One with two clubs from each of the Borders, Edinburgh, Caledonia and Glasgow. That would really take club rugby forward."

Mackay insists he wants to slow down, but the eyes, mind and body do not seem in agreement. He worries that Scottish rugby is not dynamic enough to change, that the union wastes time twisting and turning to the whim of every club voice. One senses frustration from being cut from the SRU mid-task.

"There was a fabulous quote, 'I'd rather die from exhaustion than boredom', but there comes a time where you start thinking there is more to life. When the trams are up and running, maybe I can slow down."

A glance at the watch, firm shake of the hand and the tall, pinstripe-suited figure is off; a man on a mission. Glasgow's Commonwealth Games chiefs grasped what Scottish rugby let go, and won. Edinburgh will have two more years to wait to see the results of his latest incarnation but Scottish rugby could yet benefit from the vigour of a man who has seen the game from both sides of the track.

'I had set out to do a job and it was only half-finished – that haunted me'

THE year when the governance of Scottish rugby crashed around Murrayfield and forced rugby's leaders in front of the Scottish Executive to explain themselves was one many in the game might have erased the memory of.

David Mackay still winces at the recall of New Year, 2005, however. It is not so easy for him to forget that period in history. Having been on holiday, he returned to Scotland to a phone call demanding a meeting outside Edinburgh, at which he was effectively handed the death warrant to his time as chairman of the Scottish Rugby Union's executive board.

He had accepted the post in June of 2003, a new broom from successful business brought in to re-shape the sport struggling with the move to professionalism and haemorrhaging money. He moved out Bill Watson, the former chief executive, and moved up Phil Anderton, a radical young marketing talent, into the chief exec's office. The pair won many admirers across the game for their direct and imaginative approach, but it did not go down well with some long-serving amateur committee men and clubs, who decided in the Christmas of 2004 to force him out.

"It was a painful time," recalls Mackay. "I'm pretty certain that we (he and Anderton] tried to do what was right for Scottish rugby and took some satisfaction that after the new board came in some of the changes we wanted to drive came in, such as the new governance and board re-structure and serious tackling of the debt, which is a huge achievement by Gordon McKie and Eamon Hegarty.

"You called me a sacrificial lamb and that's what I was. That's not a pleasant thing, but if you have to be it ... in some respects Bill Watson before that was a sacrificial lamb because I had to drive change and the man that goes is the man at the top of the organisation, but that was not the panacea for all Scottish rugby's ills when he went. I do feel that we were the catalyst for change, or at least the opportunity for change, which then occurred. But it didn't have to be done the way it was. Instinct had told me that we were getting acceptance publicly but, below ground, there was a lot of activity, and I knew who was driving it, so it was not a huge surprise that it came to a head.

"I was surprised though to get the phone call, the summons to meet SRU committee members (Gordon Dixon, Norman Douglas, George Blackie and Jimmy Gracie]. Their message was that the clubs had said they had no faith in me, and I had to go. That was never true – one or two clubs may have been upset at changes, but we knew that it wasn't widespread.

"I was told afterwards that they were after Phil and I was the sacrificial lamb, but that must be total crap. If they had wanted to get rid of Phil, they could have come to me and I would have happily delivered my resignation and no doubt his, rather than the drama of guns at your head.

"It has also been said that the finances were out of control under us – absolute bollocks. It was very tight, annually audited, and we were looking at ways of bringing spending down. If we'd had freedom to do all that we wanted to, the finances would have been in better shape. Who knows what the real reasons were?

"But the thing that haunted me and kept me awake quite a bit after that was that I had set out to do a job and it was only half-finished, so there was this huge frustration. There was also a great sense of relief because Scottish rugby is a seven-day, seven-night a week job and you never get away from it."

Mackay is a proud man and bears no bitterness towards the sport or those who replaced him, which is why he looked into investing in the Glasgow professional team, now chairs the Glasgow Hawks Sports Trust and invests in London Scottish.

"I've got no regrets now. A lot of the pain and the tears have gone, and (wife] Jane and I still go to lots of rugby things.

"The first time I went back to Murrayfield was for the schools cup final and walking through that room (President's Suite] was not easy, but we did it, and we enjoyed the rugby, and shook hands with a lot of people. I had nothing to be ashamed of."

Biography

DAVID Mackay was born in St Andrews in 1943 and attended Kirkcaldy High School. The son of a Highland policeman, he followed friends into banking at what is now the Royal Bank of Scotland, but failed his exams and turned instead to transport by taking a job with Alexander's Buses as a trainee executive.

He moved from there to John Menzies, where he worked his way up to become chief executive and was a leading figure in the firm's drive into aviation. Menzies was the third largest aviation services company in the world by the time he left to join the Scottish Rugby Union, replacing Ken Scobie as executive board chairman, in June, 2003.

Mackay had come across the current SRU chief executive Gordon McKie and McKie's business partner and now SRU finance director Eamon Hegarty, while at Menzies, but had no role in their appointment to the SRU six months after he was forced to resign from the Murrayfield post in 2005.

He was also the non-executive chairman of Malcolm Group, the Glasgow-based logistics company, for a spell and has held numerous positions on boards across Scotland.

On leaving the SRU he was appointed chairman of Glasgow's Commonwealth Games bid, securing the 2014 Games for Scotland's largest city.

His main focus currently is chairing the public bodies steering a new tram system into Edinburgh, which he expects to see opened in the spring of 2012.

Mackay is married to Jane, has two children, Euan and Katie and lives in the Fife village of Charleston.

 
 
 

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