dave mackay - hearts and flowers



When the news came through that Dave Mackay had passed away in a medical centre in Nottingham, it was hardly conceivable.

The fact that a man who could run through brick walls and was as hard as they came, had been taken from his family and those who knew him and knew of him was hard to take in.  But Dave had not been well for some time and at 80 years of age and despite winning many battles on and off the football pitch, this was one he could not come through.

"Legend" is a term used far too freely in football these days.  You only have to score a memorable goal or play 100 games for a club and the "legend" tag is stuck next to your name with ease.  The tributes that have been paid to Dave Mackay from not just Heart of Midlothian, Tottenham and Derby County, but from all the other clubs he played for or managed, as well as other leading figures in the game who were not that closely connected with him show that he was a player who was revered throughout the sport.

He was a player who was a major contributor to the Hearts side of the early 1950s that won their first Scottish Championship.  The team has been hailed as the best in the club's history and friends who support Hearts tell me of the stories they were told by their fathers of the fantastic way Mackay ran the midfield for Hearts.

It was something that Bill Nicholson spotted and made him a player he was desperate to bring to the Lane.  And once he did, you could see why.  Tottenham were in a relegation battle and there was probably nobody more then Dave Mackay you would want on your side in such a position.  Needless to say, he was instrumental in pulling them out of the fire and his fierce determination was to lead to greater things.

At Hearts, he travelled to play for the club while away on National Service.  Nothing would stop him playing football.  And his drive to be the best he could be produced the stories of him relentlessly training in the old ball courts at Tottenham, smashing a ball against the walls with his left foot for hours to perfect his use of that foot and make it as good as his right.

While he was a giant looking midfielder, he was only 5' 7" tall but his stature in the game grew with every game he dragged Spurs through.  He had played at the 1958 World Cup, with Scotland and the way he carried himself during the 90 minutes he was on the football field lead by example to others who might not have his hunger for glory.

And it was with Tottenham that perhaps his greatest glory was achieved.  A crucial figure alongside Danny Blanchflower in Tottenham's Double winning side of 1961, he is often seen as the artisan to Blanchflower's artist, but Mackay's skills should not be overlooked.  Too often he is portrayed as a tough-tackling, no-nonsense ball-winner, but while he was that, there was much more to his game.  His accuracy and range of passing was second to none and he was good from dead ball situations or putting the ball in from wide positions.  His hard work made it easier for the likes of John White and Cliff Jones to flourish and he provided protection for them as well as his back three.

But the sight of newsreel films showing Dave ploughing through the mud to hit a scorcher of a shot into the top corner are only scant testimony to his ability.  Coming back from two broken legs - one in the reserves, just as he was returning from the first break at Manchester United in the European Cup Winners Cup, when he tried to play on - he faced Leeds United and their niggly, cynical tactics brought about one of the most iconic images of the 1960s.  With Dave grabbing Billy Bremner by the scruff of his shirt, it looked like a wee man being put in his place.  Mackay's anger was real enough, with the Leeds man aiming a kick at his newly repaired broken leg.  Bremner looks like he is about to burst into tears, but Mackay was just making it clear to the fellow Scot that this was not the way the game was played.

Playing a part in all but the final in the year Spurs won the Cup Winners Cup, Mackay would have been heartbroken not to have been part of the team that actually won the first European trophy in Britain, but the next time Spurs picked up silverware, it was he who did so, lifting the FA Cup at Wembley in 1967, following a 2-1 win over Chelsea.

Collecting medals was becoming a way of life, but when Bill Nicholson decided he needed to freshen up his team, he allowed Dave to move on to Derby County in 1968.  Probably seeing Steve Perryman coming through the youth ranks, Bill Nick might have had him down as a straight replacement for Mackay and he did go on to be a Spurs legend in his own right, but there was still life in the old man yet !!

Brian Clough saw him as the man who could galvanise the side and hailed him as Tottenham's greatest player of all time.  Derby prospered from his experience and leadership, as they took the Second Division title in 1968 and that team went on to win the First Division Championship in 1972, but by that time Mackay had moved into management, while playing for Swindon Town.  That was his education for a move to Nottingham Forest and then to take over from Clough, when he left Derby.  Dave finished third in his first season and then, in 1974-75, he won the title with the club he had done the same with as a player.

After a fourth place finish, a European Cup campaign that ended at the hands of Real Madrid and an FA Cup semi-final, the 1976-77 season started disappointingly, so he was sacked.  However, his reputation earned him a job at Walsall, then he went on a tour of Britain and the Middle East to take his knowledge to other clubs.  He retired from management in 1997.

Dave was not a frequent visitor to White Hart Lane in his later years, but when he did come back, he always received a fantastic reception, from children who's father or grandfathers had told them exactly how good he was ... and he was one of the best.

There is nobody in the current game who you could compare to him.  Nobody comes close.  He was unique and footballers nowadays would not have played while doing National Service.  They probably wouldn't even have done National Service.  And there was few who would stay behind after training to improve their weaker foot.

But if they had seen the man in his prime and seen what he had won in the game, then perhaps there would be more who would follow his example.

As a man, a footballer and a leader, Dave Mackay stood taller than his 5' 7" frame.  Puffing out his chest made him the equal of any opponent.  His achievements rank up there with many others who have been feted more than the former Spurs captain, but the sight of him running out of the tunnel at the old White Hart Lane down towards the Park Lane end, with the brown leather ball tucked under his arm, will live in the memory and you just knew that in the coming 90 minutes, he would give everything he had.

MEHSTG sends it's condolences to Mr. Mackay's family and friends at this sad time.

Marco van Hip

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