Dave Mackay…would you have tackled him?

Dave Mackay and team-mates peer through the mists of time...
Dave Mackay and team-mates peer through the mists of time…

It’s always sad to hear of the passing of a football legend and the news that Dave Mackay, most famously remembered for being part of the Tottenham double side of 1961, was just that. Amid the many tributes that will be paid to the man in the coming days and weeks, there are five things that I will remember about David Craig Mackay.

Football’s most famous barrel chest
Today, Dave Mackay’s chest-first figure would struggle to get into the slim-fit technical shirts of the Premier’s finest. Mackay was strong, formidable, scary and determined. When Bill Nicholson signed left half Mackay in 1959, he was already 25 years old and had played 135 games for Heart of Midlothian, the club he always wanted to join. He was also an established Scotland international. Mackay was a pivotal figure in a Hearts side that won the Scottish League in 1958, the Scottish Cup in 1956 and two Scottish League Cups – 1955 and 1959. He skippered Hearts in their short-lived European Cup campaign.

Photographic evidence 1 – Billy Bremner
It was August 1966 and Billy Bremner, then a precocious member of Don Revie’s Leeds United side, was a little too zealous. He picked the wrong man to mix it with and Mackay, snarling and bristling, grabbed his fellow Scot by the scruff of the neck. Terry Venables looks on and referee Norman Burtenshaw runs in. Wouldn’t it have been good to hear what was said?

Mackay 3Photographic evidence 2 – Broken legs   
Mackay broke his left twice and had the misfortune to suffer the second break in his comeback game against Shrewsbury Town reserves at White Hart Lane in September 1964. A photographer captured the moment Mackay realises he’s broken his leg again and the referee’s face says it all. Many people wrote him off at that point, but he bounced back.

Derby County 5 Tottenham 0
Mackay enjoyed a swansong at Tottenham when he won the FA Cup in 1967. But his time with Spurs was coming to an end, and at the age of 33, he was sold to Brian Clough’s Derby County in 1968. Mackay was the catalyst and on-pitch leader Clough was seeking to launch Derby’s bid to climb out of the old second division. Derby won the title in 1968-69 and in their first season in the top flight, surprised a few people – including Mackay’s old team, Tottenham, who were trounced 5-0 at the Baseball Ground.

Mackay 2Porridge
If people give Peter Taylor credit for much of Clough’s success, a considerable number would also name Mackay as equally important to Derby’s climb to the ranks of title contenders. When Clough’s empire imploded, Mackay – who had made the first steps into management with Swindon and Nottingham Forest – was recalled to lead Derby. He won the club’s second League Championship in 1974-75 but was let go in November 1976. TV sit-com Porridge, starring Ronnie Barker, featured a newspaper headline, “Mackay Sacked”, which Barker’s character, Fletcher, pinned to his cell wall, a reference to another character from the show.

and most importantly…

I met Bill Nicholson about 15 years ago. He was attending a pre-season friendly at Hitchin Town with former Norwich defender Duncan Forbes. It was a game between a Spurs youth side and Hitchin. I was lucky enough to speak to Nicholson all through the game – a humble, straight-forward man who you couldn’t help but like. He told me that Mackay was, “the best signing I ever made….the best £30,000 the Spurs ever spent. But he was one of many, many outstanding players I was fortunate to work with.” He nodded and nodded – so did Forbes – and watched, a little misty-eyed, at the latest batch of Tottenham youngsters trying to emulate heroes like Mackay. That was a big ask.

David Craig Mackay, born November 14 1935, Edinburgh. Died March 2, 2015.

2 thoughts on “Dave Mackay…would you have tackled him?

  1. Given the nature of the game today, I often wonder if the likes of Mackay, Norman Hunter, Ron Harris and Tommy Smith would ever complete a match. Peter Osgood once said that if ‘chopper’ was in a benevolent mood, he’d put iodine on his studs.
    I always chuckle when I see the image of Mackay and Bremner, great players of a bygone age.

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