R.I.P. Dave Mackay

Bill Nicholson and Dave Mackay
Bill Nicholson and Dave Mackay

a true giant.

Dave Mackay an integral part of Spurs 1960s side that brought trophies to the club, as he was at Hearts and Derby, has died aged 80.

When picking an all time greatest Spurs XI we are lucky, there’s a lot of players to chose from, there’s certainly many arguments that can be had but there’s three definites.

Bill Nicholson is the manager, Danny Blanchflower is in the middle and is Bill’s captain and Dave Mackay is Blanchflower’s right-hand man. Or should that be his left-hand man as his position was left-half.

Keepers, fullbacks, wingers, strikers you can argue about them but those three are set.

Signed in 1959 from Hearts, where he’d won every domestic senior trophy, for an not too unsubstantial £32,000, he went on to become regarded by some as Spurs’ greatest ever player, in a style that would now be known as box-to-box. Because for all the talk of a hard player it certainly wasn’t the only part to his game.

Mackay wasn’t just the barking sergeant-major to Blanchflower’s elegant officer.

It all comes down to that one image, the one everyone loves apart from Mackay himself. Mackay striding towards Billy Bremner while holding him by shirt. It’s pretty much the first image that comes to mind when mention of Mackay, much to Mackay’s disappointment.

While other people like the photograph, I don’t because it portrays me as a bully, which I am not and never have been. Dave Mackay

The fact that Mackay would sign copies of it while others would tell the smiling fan where to go shows the class of the man.

Yes he was a footballing hard man and in those days it was a different game but he was never sent off and nobody ever said he was dirty. That picture only came about due to Mackay’s belief that Bremner had been particularly dirty in kicking Mackay on the leg he’d just come back from breaking for the second time – and again different days, back thens broken legs weren’t so easily overcome for players as they are today. Not only did he kick that leg but he’d run round Mackay to kick it when he could have gone for the uninjured one.

He [Bremner] was a brilliant little player but a dirty little bastard. He kicked me in the leg I’d just come back from breaking twice. If he’d kicked the other one, I could have accepted that. But he kicked the broken one and that really annoyed me. I could’ve killed him that day. Dave Mackay

So even though I love the picture, I won’t post it as part of this tribute.

The picture though also highlights one of the great myths about Dave Mackay. As I said at the beginning a giant. But look at the picture and you see him looking eye to eye with Bremner, who you never describe physically as a giant.

With his big barrel chest, great ability to head the ball, playing at centre-half later on, you believe Mackay was not just a tall man but a giant but no it comes as a great surprise when you really look at the picture and see a guy that’s five foot seven or eight.

Take all that and the goals and skill he showed – even before kick-off, when he’d boot the ball high into the air and then trap it dead with his instep – and Dave Mackay wasn’t the Dave Mackay you thought he was. Yes he could kick a player, plenty say he was hard, but he didn’t need to do so to take the ball off them, so he didn’t.

With Spurs he was a major part of the side that won the double in ’61, retained the Cup the following year and was captain when it was won again in ’67. He was part of the side that got to the Cup Winner’s Cup final in ’63 but was injured for the final.

The year following that last FA Cup triumph, after 318 games and 51 goals, he moved to Derby County for £5,000, signed by Brian Clough. Where he moved to a sweeper role and captained them to the Second Division title and then a good run at the First Division title.

He left to manage Swindon before Clough’s side won the Championship but when Clough’s latest piece of brinkmanship with the chairman and board saw the latter win Mackay returned to take over the manager’s job, where he duly won the league title the following season.

After Mackay’s departure, following a season when they went close to the double and thrashed Real Madrid at home before going out on away goals in the European Cup, Derby quite frankly have never had it so good.

Like his great partner in that Spurs double winning side, Danny Blancflower along with many others, Mackay was struck down by Alzheimer’s in his latter years. A sad reminder of all those heavy leather balls, that were even heavier when it rained, that were headed or blocked – you wouldn’t see Mackay jump out of the way of a shot the way modern players do with those lightweight plastic balls.

So a true great of the game, where that word is well overused, a giant and a gentleman, a leader, someone who shouldn’t be remembered for just one photo – no matter how iconic nor how much the rest of us like it. One of the indispensable parts of that great Spurs side of the 60s that brought glory to the game. Chest and jaw jutting out.

Spurs Double Winners
Spurs Double Winners - (back row) Bill Brown, Peter Baker, Ron Henry, Danny Blanchflower, Maurice Norman, Dave Mackay, - (front row) Cliff Jones, John White, Bobby Smith, Les Allen, Terry Dyson

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