dave mackay - leader on and off the field

This article originally appeared in MEHSTG Vol. 2 Issue 27 - August 2002

When I think back to the great Double side, the players just roll off the tongue … Blanchflower, Jones, White, Smith and so on.  One man stands out as the really big influence on the side, one who would be arguably the one most missed if he was not in the team.  He was not the team captain but he was the leader of the players both on the field of battle and their leader in play off it.  That man is Dave Mackay.

He was born in Edinburgh on 12th November in Edinburgh and he was the second boy in a family of four boys to a father who worked at "The Scotsman" newspaper. In his youth, Dave was quite small for his age and he played centre-half for his primary school before
moving to left-half at his Secondary school team.  Dave represented Edinburgh’s Under-15 team going on to captain the Scottish Schools' team, he signed for Hearts in 1952 and he made his debut against Clyde in the 1953-54 season.  At that time, he was combining his football with working as a joiner and later he was called up by the War Office in 1955 being posted to Worcester with the Royal Engineers.  During his time with the Army, he learnt the value of planning and discipline.  After finishing his service in the Army, Mackay became a full-time professional with Hearts in 1957 and he made his first full appearance for Scotland's first eleven against Spain that same year.

When Bill Nicholson was looking for a midfield player early in 1959, he initially focused his attention on Mel Charles of Swansea who was available for transfer.  However, Mel chose to go to Arsenal and Nicholson turned his mind back to Dave Mackay, who Tommy Walker, the Hearts manager, had told him was not available.  Bill was not deterred and he travelled up to Scotland to land his man on 17 March 1959 for £32,000.  When Bill Nick was on the station platform at Edinburgh before he travelled back, the station manager enquired what he was doing there.  When Bill told him that he had signed Dave Mackay, the stationmaster was shocked and it made Bill realise that he had signed a hero there.

Dave made a quick impact at Tottenham and Spurs did not lose any of their eight remaining games that season when Mackay joined, although Dave only played in four because of injury.  He admitted to Danny Blanchflower that he was not quite fit, but told him to watch him go during the next season.

Bill noticed how Mackay lifted the whole place by his very presence and enthusiasm.  His commitment and drive stirred up the players at the training ground and suddenly the training routines at Spurs became just as important as the matches themselves. He loved practising his skills and he gave everything in full-scale practice matches and six a side games.

On the field, Dave showed bravery in his tackles as well as accuracy.  He was an expert in the sliding tackle and despite his commitment and ferocity of his tackling, Dave was scrupulously fair.  He quickly formed a useful partnership with Danny Blanchflower in midfield at right-half and Dave at left-half.  The Scotsman became so influential in midfield that he was happy to stay back when Danny prompted his forwards by his forays from midfield.  Mackay was also brilliant in his attacking role, by urging on his team-mates with his driving forward runs.  He had a powerful shot, which often took keepers by surprise and he was very flexible and adaptable as a player.  He filled in at left back and inside left when required and wherever Dave played, Bill knew that Dave would do a good job.  The manager thought that Dave was his best-ever signing and he admitted that Dave would have been his first choice as captain if he had not already got a great one in Danny.

Dave Mackay was a pivotal member of the midfield engine room that brought so much success to Spurs in the early Sixties.  With the vision and cultured play of Danny and the hard-running and positional sense of John White, Dave provided the balance with his solid defensive play with well-timed tackles and his drive and energy and commitment.  He could always be relied upon to urge and rally his team-mates and he was a great person to have around in a crisis.  If things were not going to plan, Dave would drive the team on and lead by example.  During the Double season, when he scored a total of six League and FA Cup goals, he was brilliant and he only missed five games all season from injury.  He was just as influential during Spurs' successful retention of the FA Cup during the following season of 1961-1962.  Scoring eight goals from 26 League games that season when Tottenham nearly retained the title, but finished third, just four points behind the new champions, Ipswich Town, Mackay made a valuable contribution.  He was outstanding again the following season when Spurs finished second in the League in 1962-63 getting six goals from 37 games in the League.  In Europe, Mackay was influential in Spurs' march in the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1962-63 and he scored against Slovan Bratislava and OFK Belgrade, in the semi-final win.  A big disappointment was to follow for Dave when he missed the final triumph over Atletico Madrid because he was injured.

Disaster was to follow in December 1963, when he broke his left leg in the same competition in the away leg against Manchester United.  His leg was broken in two places and it was in plaster for sixteen weeks.  When the plaster was eventually removed, his left leg was four inches thinner than his right leg; such was the muscle wastage he suffered.  Mackay was determined to make it back and worked on his left foot by lifting a 15lb. weight on it for hours.

Dave was out of action for ten months and he returned to action in a reserve match against Shrewsbury Town on 12 September 1964.  Disaster struck again in that game, as he was injured in a tackle and X-rays showed that he had fractured the same leg.  Bill Nicholson ensured that Dave did not put on so much weight while he was inactive this time.  It was being suggested that he might not play again, but Dave was so determined to return and he did, missing just one game in season 1965-66 and scoring six goals.  He had missed the whole of season 1964-65 and he was sorely missed, as Spurs could not regain former glories.  Dave was now captain, as Danny had retired and he took over the role from Ron Henry.  He was a true leader by name and by merit. The bravery and determination shone through and his two leg breaks left him with a slightly misshapen leg, which was visible, but it did not worry him or restrict his movement.  Dave also became a reliable penalty taker for the side.

Mackay led Spurs to new heights in 1966-67 when he captained the team to a third FA Cup win in seven seasons with a 2-1 win over Chelsea in the final.  In a great, unbeaten run from 27 December, Spurs climbed the league to finish third on top of the FA Cup triumph.  Dave was one of only two survivors in the Cup Final squad from the Double team.  The Scot went on to play another 29 games in season 1967-68, before Bill let him go to Derby County in 1968 for £5,000, a greatly reduced fee in recognition of his tremendous service to Tottenham and so that he could do well personally out of the deal.  Brian Clough played him alongside the centre-half and he was so influential that he won the First Division title with them the following season and he was voted joint Football Writers' Association Player of the Year.  He left Derby after making 122 appearances for them and he went to Swindon as player-manager in 1971.  His next stop was at Nottingham Forest before returning to Derby in 1973 as manager and, typically of Dave, they became Champions the following year.  Dave later went on to be a very successful manager in the Middle East.

The lasting memory of Dave Mackay is as a winner.  He led the Spurs team in The Bell and Hare in their after-match get-togethers and he was always the team leader on the field.  Dave won trophies and he was a huge influence in the dressing room and in training and his drive, commitment and enthusiasm was infectious.  When he first returned to White Hart Lane as a player with Derby County, he received a standing ovation from our fans lasting over five minutes.                   [Picture used courtesy of www.sportscartoons.co.uk]
This was because he had been a wonderful player with great skill and
commitment. He played 318 games for Spurs scoring 51 goals and
was probably the biggest influence in the great Double side. At only
5 feet 8 inches tall, he was not the tallest presence on the pitch, but in training, in the dressing room, off the field and on it, he was a colossus.  Dave had a reputation that made him feared by our opponents in Europe, especially Benfica, and it was a shame that our team could not maintain their success as he made 17 appearances in Europe, scoring five goals and he would have had an appearance in the 1962 European Cup final, but for the crossbar in the dying minutes of the home leg against Benfica.

Dave Mackay is an all-time Spurs' great and it is hard to think of any Spurs player before or since with more drive, commitment and enthusiasm and courage and bravery.


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