JOHN Robertson is a Heart of Midlothian legend, and a hero to generations of supporters. But as far as the club’s record goalscorer is concerned, there is no doubt about the man who deserves to be called the greatest ever Hearts player – Dave Mackay.
Although he was born several years after Mackay left Tynecastle for Tottenham, Robertson grew up in a household that revered the former captain. And as a keen student of Scottish football history, he is convinced that the scale of Mackay’s contribution to Hearts is laid bare in the statistical record.
“He is, without a doubt, the greatest Hearts player to ever wear a maroon jersey,” Robertson said yesterday. “You look at his captaincy of the team in the ‘50s – that’s when Hearts were winning everything: league championships, League Cups, Scottish Cups and playing in Europe
“He was one of my dad’s heroes, along with Willie Bauld and Freddie Glidden. My dad would wax lyrical about him being the complete player.
“Plenty of people have said he was world class – and he was. There was no doubt about it. It’s a mystery to everyone, particularly at Hearts, as to why he only got 22 caps.
“He was a hard and uncompromising player, as everyone knows, but as my dad would never get tired of telling me, he was wonderful on the ball. He could really play when he got a hold of it. He probably encompasses what a great modern-day football player would be – mobile, he could win the ball in midfield and he could create.
“It was 48 years without a trophy, then Dave Mackay came into the team and the titles arrived. Is it a coincidence? Probably not. He was part of a truly wonderful team.
“When you join a club like Hearts that is what you are taught. You’re taught about McCrae’s Battalion, you’re taught about the team in the ‘50s and ‘60s which swept away everything before them, winning the league and scoring 132 goals – still a record – only losing one game that season. It would be poignant if the lads this year continue to do well and hopefully secure the Championship, because it’s the same championship trophy that Dave Mackay lifted in 1958 that they’re playing for.”
Despite being revered around the club, Robertson said he could never quite regard himself as being on the same level as Mackay, whom he always felt he had to treat with an extra mark of respect. “I met him many times. He was an absolute gentleman and he loved talking about football and the Hearts.
“I couldn’t bring myself to call him by his first name – it was ‘Mr Mackay, Mr Mackay’. I just couldn’t get around the notion of calling him Dave. That was out of respect for my dad as well.
“He was just a great guy, he always had time for people, always signing autographs and chatting away to people. He loved Heart of Midlothian football club. It was his dream to play for them.
“It is a sad, sad day for the club. We have not only lost a great player, we have lost a great ambassador – a true gentleman.”