SCOTTISH rugby has lost one of its more recognisable characters this week with the death of former Glasgow back-row Gordon Mackay.
Glasgow Academicals, the club with which he started his career and recently returned as coach, are now setting themselves the ambitious target of winning promotion to the top division in the National Leagues as a tribute.
Mackay was a well-known figure in Scottish rugby from his time as a powerful forward with championship-winning Stirling County and Glasgow Hawks teams, but he returned to his roots last season to coach Accies along with Donald Reid. Having pulled the team from the abyss of relegation, they were planning to lead the team back up the ranks this season.
However, the Anniesland club was shocked to be informed on Thursday that the 39-year-old had been found dead at his home in Glasgow that morning, early reports suggesting that he died from a suspected heart attack.
Jamie Doig, Accies captain, met with the squad on Thursday night as they came to terms with their sudden loss. He said: "Obviously it was a very sombre mood at the meeting last night but there was also a great appreciation for what Gordon has done for this club. As well as coaching recently he's been involved in the youth section and so a lot of the young guys had a lot of respect for him while a lot of the older guys knew him as a player and some others had worked with him in the property side of things.
"There was also a great resolve to build on what he has helped start here. With the work he has done in trying to bring sponsors to the club, getting the new floodlights and on the coaching side, he was really laying foundations which a lot of us bought into.
"We want to take that on now and win promotion, which in some small way might help us deal with his loss."
A relatively quiet individual off the field, Mackay undoubtedly stood out on it, his large, solid frame and red hair, which as it thinned could give his head the appearance of a bullet, certainly to opponents waiting in dread to tackle him, the visible pointers perhaps to his style. The term 'no-nonsense' was apt as the man nicknamed 'Snoz' didn't take steps backwards in training or games, preferring the direct route on most occasions irrespective of the pain that might come with it.
It made him a tough, rugged opponent and one some took exception to, but also a player whose name teammates would enthusiastically scan a team-sheet for immediately after finding their own.
Kevin McKenzie, the former Scotland hooker, played with Mackay at Stirling County as they won the Division One championship and for the Glasgow professional team, and can clearly remember the presence he brought to both sides.
McKenzie recalled: "He really was that old clich – a larger-than-life character. I played against him before he came to County and he was a nightmare – he was just such a massive lump of a man, and pretty fiery on the field, that you didn't want to be in front of him when he was running.
"He had a lot of potential and maybe he didn't just focus as hard on that as he might because he could have won more honours. I went on many trips with him, with Stirling and Glasgow, and he was a great personality. He enjoyed a drink and a cigarette, as a few boys at that time did, and was the most laid-back of guys. He could be fiery on the field, but nothing riled him up off it.
"He was a bit of a character too; there were always deals going on with him. I remember him once managing to talk a sponsored car out of a local garage; that's what he was like.
"Most of the Stirling team that won the league were local lads, but he came from Glasgow and fitted in well. He knew most of us from the Glasgow district team and the thing with Snoz was that it didn't matter how long it had been since you last met you always caught him the same. He was a good guy and it's very sad that he's gone."
A Scottish Schools and Scotland under-21 cap Mackay played for Glasgow in their first season in Europe, coming off the bench in the first-ever match, a win against Newbridge, and he left Stirling and returned to Anniesland in 1997 to help launch the new professional outfit, Glasgow Hawks.
Playing alongside the Wallace brothers, Fergus and Murray, Tommy Hayes and Glenn Metcalfe he helped Hawks win the Division Two championship and Scottish Cup in their first season, and played in the famous friendly match in which the Hawks beat Toulouse.
Glasgow then became a fully professional outfit and he was signed up, and went on to make 17 appearances, before accepting the offer of a pro contract with Lyon in France. However, he suffered a neck injury there that ended his rugby career and he returned to his home city again.
Mackay married top city swimmer Irenne, who captained the Milngavie and Bearsden Swimming Club, where she trained alongside Alison Sheppard, the five-time Olympian, and they had two young boys.
Mackay had various business interests and was also a good cricketer for the Accies, but he rarely strayed far from rugby and his customary passion for the game was evident in the way he worked with Reid to plot a brighter future for Glasgow Accies.
Hugh Barrow, the Accies president, said: "It's just a huge shock for everyone at the moment. Gordy had a good rugby career, starting out at Glasgow Academy and the Accies and enjoying good times at Stirling and back at hawks, and then in the pro game.
"He was a popular big fella and the thoughts of everyone at Anniesland are with Gordon's family at this time."
The SRU also issued a statement yesterday in which they extended sincere condolences to Mackay's family and friends.