Dave Mackay: A tribute to one of Scotland’s finest players

Written by Nathan Lee Price

Sadness spread over the football world today as former footballer of the year Dave Mackay had passed away aged 80. Eventually losing a long term battle to illness, Mackay was a fighter on and off the pitch.


Described as “The hardest player I have ever played against” by George Best, the Scotsman will be best remembered for his superb spells at Hearts, Tottenham and Derby County.


An Edinburgh boy, the local lad spent 6 delightful years at his beloved Hearts, winning all 3 domestic titles during his time there. This included captaining the side in its legendary 1957/58 season as they won the league with a staggering 103 goal difference.


Hard but fair, Mackay’s reputation grew, as at 24, Spurs signed him for £32,000, a figure that they would not regret. The midfielder became vital to the North London side as their fortunes turned. Struggling before his arrival, the club became double winners the season after he joined. 


European success soon followed as Spurs won the Cup Winners Cup in 1962/63, despite not playing in the final Mackay has been credited as a main reason to the success. Though his time at Spurs wasn’t without its problems. Two leg breaks ruled Mackay out of action for a while and on his return an event would occur that would shape how he was perceived forever.


Leeds midfielder Billy Bremner was known for his hard challenges on players and one in particular, on Mackay’s recently recovered left leg, would become a part of history. The picture of Mackay grabbing Bremner by the shirt has become symbolic. Mackay disliked the picture however, believing it portrayed him unfairly. Despite being tough on the football pitch he was always fair, he was booked once in his 135 Hearts appearances. 


After 268 games for Spurs he was approached by Brian Clough to join his Derby County side. That was where the Scotsman was named joint Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year, with Manchester City’s Tony Book. Clough transformed Mackay into a sweeper, breaking up play and starting attacks for the Rams, as they were promoted to the First Division in 1969. 


On international duty he scored 4 goals in 22 caps for Scotland and a final season as player/manager for Swindon Town brought an end to a highly successful playing career. Though this wasn’t the last we would see of him, as his managerial career continued.


Mackay started full management at Nottingham Forest, before moving back to Derby following Clough’s resignation. Despite just missing out on their league title in his playing career, he left a year beforehand, he won it as manager in 1974. Spells at Walsall, Doncaster and Birmingham followed as well as a spread of Middle Eastern clubs. 


Later inducted into both the English and Scottish Football Halls of Fame. Tributes have been flooding in from fans, former team mates and the clubs where he made his name. Mackay will forever be remembered as a gentleman who embodied football throughout the 50’s and 60’s.