Ferguson recalled a reserve clash at Tynecastle when he was a teenager between his team, Queen’s Park, and Hearts, for whom Mackay was playing as he returned from injury.
Ferguson was guilty of some mild blasphemy as he remembered the brute force with which Mackay tackled him. However, he quickly made his apologies to Andy Prime, the Hearts club chaplain who conducted yesterday’s service of remembrance for Mackay, who died earlier this month at the age of 80. This brutal introduction, though, wasn’t Ferguson’s first memory of Mackay, with whom he later became great friends. “My own memories start in 1956 as a 14-year-old lad at the cup final at Hampden Park,” he said. “I was at the Rangers end, of course. Hearts won 3-1 [against Celtic].
“Two years later I was playing for Queen’s Park reserves v Hearts reserves at Tynecastle,” Ferguson continued, in front of 450 mourners at Mansfield Traquair church in Edinburgh, Mackay’s home city.
“The great Mackay was coming back from a broken toe. And I was playing directly opposite him, this skinny little lad from Glasgow coming over to Edinburgh, another country – and don’t take that personally, please.
“He tackled me. Christ! Sorry chaplain, wherever you are. Our generation did not lie down. You had to get up. So I got up with that spirit of vengeance that only a young lad from Glasgow can have. I got up. And I looked at that barrel-chest. I looked into his eyes and he says: ‘are you all right son?’
“I really should have said to him: ‘Dave, is your toe all right?’ It is a good memory for me to have. The only time I played against Dave Mackay so I will never forget it. I will never forget it.”
Ferguson went on to refer to the famous picture of Mackay tugging Billy Bremner up by his jersey after his fellow Scot’s late challenge on him during a fiery Tottenham versus Leeds United clash.
“We know he was the bravest man in the world, we know that,” said Ferguson. “But he was also a fantastic footballer. He was skilful.
“There was a nice wee piece in the papers where he said he did not enjoy seeing that photograph of him and Billy Bremner. He said ‘it portrays me as a bully and I don’t like bullies’. He was a humble person. He protected his modesty with a pride that only a Scotsman can do. That makes me immensely proud of him.”
Although it was insulting that Mackay only managed to win 22 caps for Scotland, Ferguson explained that this was the way at the time, when England-based player were often prejudiced against in favour of those playing domestically in Scotland.
“When Scotland lost a game it was ‘blame the Anglos’,” he said. “Denis [Law] and Davie tended to get it. It was run by committee in those days – Scotland was picked by a committee. Heads were in the sand. The fact Davie only got 22 caps tells you [that].
“Everyone goes: ‘Only 22 caps, Dave Mackay?!’ You must be joking. But of course we are not joking. We are serious. Twenty-two caps. I could never understand that. But it was just the times. If Matt Busby had been manager, he’d have 50 odd caps. In those days, there were only maybe four games every year.
“His record is fantastic.” he added. “It is a privilege to have been speaking here today. We have seen the passing of a true football legend.”