Dave Mackay was the indestructible powerhouse at the core of the Tottenham Hotspur football team which in 1961 became the first side during the 20th century to win the League and FA Cup double. Just as his fellow wing-half, the eloquent Ulsterman Danny Blanchflower, was the brain of that remarkable side, so the flintily imperious Scot was its fighting heart.
Not that Mackay was a mere intimidator; he revelled, too, in the game's refinements. There was not a Spur who struck the ball more cleanly, controlled it with more assurance or passed it with more precision, a circumstance in which he gloried shamelessly.
In training he would dumbfound mere mortals by volleying continuously against a wall from 10 or even 15 yards, a staggeringly difficult exercise. Then, in later years, having succeeded the older Blanchflower as captain, he would stride on to the pitch carrying a ball, which he would hammer skywards, then catch it infallibly on his instep as it plummeted to earth. Some thought Mackay was showing off, but in fact he was intimidating the men with whom he was about to do battle.
However, it would be fatuous to contend that being a warrior did not provide the essential platform for Mackay's success. Though only 5ft 8in, he exerted a fearsome muscular presence with his oaken thighs and barrel chest, and he tore into tackles like a runaway snow plough.
Yet what set him apart was his ferociously combative spirit, a will to win at everything, perhaps a need to win, which could appear as fervent in a game of cards as it was in a cup final. Both on the football field and off, often it took no more than a withering glance from the mighty Mackay to make grown men quail.
The son of an Edinburgh printer, he made an early impact as a schoolboy international, then excelled as a wing-half with non-League Newtongrange Star before joining Heart of Midlothian part-time in 1952, combining his football with work as a joiner. He soon emerged as the dynamic midfield inspiration of a splendid side which accumulated multiple honours.
Mackay was central to triumphs in the League Cup in 1955 and 1959, the Scottish Cup in 1956 and the League Championship in 1958. There was personal glory, too, as he was called up for the Scottish league and the full international side in 1957, though on his debut for Scotland against Spain he was handed a footballing lesson by the experienced, wily and supremely brilliant Alfredo di Stefano.
As a result he was discarded temporarily, eventually being recalled during the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden, yet still his overall form remained buoyant enough to be crowned Scotland's Player of the Year and he attracted attention from England's leading clubs. The upshot, in March 1959, was a £32,000 move to Tottenham which made Mackay the most expensive half-back in the domestic game.
In fact, the deal almost foundered over Hearts' reluctance to part with him, and Spurs' manager Bill Nicholson turned his attention to Swansea's Mel Charles. But the Welshman chose Arsenal, the Scottish champions changed their mind about selling, and Mackay headed south to become a hero at White Hart Lane.
He made an immediate impact, reinvigorating a collection of gifted but arguably under-achieving internationals, astonishing them with his sheer drive, commitment and desire. Operating at left-half, he proved a perfect foil for the more delicate contributions of right-half Blanchflower, while meshing compellingly with both the deceptively penetrative inside-forward John White - a fellow Scot whom he had recommended to Nicholson - and the courageous Welsh speed merchant Cliff Jones on the left wing. He was integral, indispensable even, to the superlative League and FA Cup double triumph of 1960-61.
The following season, with an already enchanting side enriched still further by the arrival of Jimmy Greaves from Milan, Spurs might have repeated their achievement, but although they retained the Cup they fell short in the title race, finishing third behind unfancied Ipswich Town and their Wembley victims, Burnley. Part of the reason for that unexpected reverse was the energy expended in reaching the European Cup semi-finals, where they were defeated controversially by Benfica, having two seemingly legal goals disallowed.
There was meaningful compensation a year later when Spurs became the first British club to lift a European trophy, the Cup-Winners' Cup, but Mackay missed the final with a stomach injury. More heartache was in store when he shattered his left leg twice in nine months, against Manchester United at Old Trafford in December 1963 and then on the comeback trail against Shrewsbury Town reserves, and there were fears for his footballing future.
But although he never added to his 22 caps – a total which surely would have been far higher but for a perceived prejudice against so-called "Anglos", who made their living in England – Mackay emerged more inspirational than ever at the age of 30 to captain his club while shifting mainly to a central defensive role.
However, it was a diminished Tottenham to which he returned, with Blanchflower retired and White having been struck dead by a bolt of lightning, but there was more FA Cup glory, against Chelsea in 1967, before the buccaneering veteran was transferred to Derby County in July 1968 for £5,000, a nominal fee in recognition of his wonderful service to Spurs.
Brian Clough was in no doubt that Mackay could be the defensive general to drive a thrusting young team towards promotion. Derby won the Second Division title and he garnered further acclaim in the shape of the Footballer of the Year award, which he shared with Manchester City's Tony Book.
Mackay stayed for two more seasons as County consolidated their place in the First Division, then made a natural progression into management, becoming player-manager of Swindon Town in May 1971. After a year in the Second Division in which he led them to a mid-table position, he retired as a player, then in November 1972 took charge of Nottingham Forest, who were at the same level. He improved a poor side but never harvested the fruits of his City Ground labours because when Clough left Derby sensationally in October 1973, Mackay returned to the Baseball Ground.
He walked into a club in turmoil, with a revolt over Clough's exit and the boardroom in disarray, but he rose to the challenge, quelling a threatened strike, taking protest meetings in his stride. He presided over a stirring revival to third place in the table and a Uefa Cup slot. Then, having brought in high-quality players such as Francis Lee, Bruce Rioch and Rod Thomas, he guided the Rams to the League title in 1974-75, an achievement to stand comparison with any of his career peaks.
The 1975-76 campaign produced a fourth-place League finish, a run to the semi-finals of the FA Cup and a rousing 4-1 home European Cup victory over Real Madrid before elimination in the Bernabeu second leg. Mackay had built impressively on Clough's foundations, but there were tales of discord and indiscipline in the dressing room, directors grumbled about his freewheeling style and, after a wretched start to the next season he was sacked.
He returned to the game the following spring with Walsall of the Third Division, whom he saved from relegation and lifted to sixth place the following season before embarking on nine years of success in the Middle East, the highlight being Al-Arabi's five Kuwaiti titles. Comebacks to the English game with Doncaster, whom he could not rescue from demotion to the Fourth Division in 1988, and Birmingham, whom he failed to lead out of the Third, ended in bitter disagreements with directors, and in 1991 he returned east to coach Zamalek of Egypt, with whom he won two league titles.
Further success in Qatar emphasised that minor UK travails could not tarnish one of the most illustrious bodies of work in the history of the English game. Unarguably, Dave Mackay was a titan among footballers, and a very fine manager.
David Craig Mackay, footballer and manager: born Edinburgh 14 November 1934; played for Hearts 1952-59, Tottenham Hotspur 1959-68, Derby County 1968-71, Swindon Town 1971-72; won 22 caps for Scotland 1957-65; managed Swindon 1971-72, Nottingham Forest 1972-73, Derby 1973-76, Walsall 1977-78, Al-Arabi Sporting Club, Kuwait 1978, Alba Shabab, Dubai 1986, Doncaster Rovers 1987-89, Birmingham City 1989-91, Zamalek, Egypt 1991-93, Qatar national youth 1994-96; married (two daughters, two sons); died Nottingham 2 March 2015.Reuse content