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Mackay, David Craig (Dave)locked

  • Matthew Taylor

Mackay, David Craig (Dave) (1934–2015), professional footballer and manager, was born on 14 November 1934 at 56 Montpelier Park, Edinburgh, the second of four sons of Thomas White Mackay, a linotype operator at The Scotsman newspaper, and his wife, Catherine Murray, née Craig. Soon after his birth the family moved to 18 Glendevon Park.

A keen footballer from a young age, Mackay was part of a Saughton School team with future professionals Terry Tighe and his own brother Tommy Mackay, that won the Scottish Schools Cup in 1949. He also represented Edinburgh and Scotland at schoolboy level. Initially working as an apprentice joiner while playing for junior side Newtongrange Star, he was signed as a part-time professional by the club he supported, Heart of Midlothian (known as Hearts), in 1952. He made his debut just before his nineteenth birthday at home to Clyde in November 1953, and by the end of the season he was a regular in the Hearts midfield. On 12 December 1955, at Haymarket register office in Edinburgh, he married Isobel Patricia Dixon, a shorthand typist then aged twenty, daughter of Patrick Dixon, coal miner, and his wife, Anne. They had two sons, David and Derek, and two daughters, Valerie and Julie.

A combative and dynamic defensive midfield player, Mackay became the pivotal figure in Hearts’ most successful period since the 1890s. The Edinburgh club won the Scottish League Cup in 1954 and 1958 and the Scottish FA Cup in 1956, but its greatest achievement was the 1957–8 League Championship. Now captained by Mackay, Hearts lost only one game, amassing sixty-two points out of a possible sixty-eight and scoring a record-breaking 132 goals.

In 1959 Mackay followed a well-trodden path for talented Scottish footballers by moving south to England’s Football League. He joined Tottenham Hotspur, a side with a reputation for playing entertaining football but at the time struggling near the bottom of the First Division. Under manager Bill Nicholson, left-half Mackay soon forged an impressive midfield partnership with Northern Ireland international Danny Blanchflower. Some observers felt that Mackay’s commitment and robust tackling allowed more space for Blanchflower’s supposedly more cerebral qualities. As one reporter put it: ‘Danny Blanchflower is telepathic and Dave Mackay is psychopathic’ (Mackay and Knight, 109). But Mackay was a supremely intelligent player, a fine passer of the ball, and a skilled football technician, a point recalled by his contemporaries but often overlooked in simplistic journalistic accounts of his career. Hugh McIlvaney noted that his technique was ‘superb’ (Times, 4 March 2015), and while George Best noted that the Scotsman was ‘a hard bastard’, he acknowledged him as ‘a truly gifted ballplayer’ (Daily Telegraph, 3 March 2015). Indeed as a party trick Mackay would flick a coin up with his foot and head it into his top pocket.

In 1960–1 Tottenham won the coveted league and cup double, the first English team to do so in the twentieth century. Mackay was central to the team’s success, playing in thirty-seven of forty-two league matches and personifying the determination that resulted in eleven consecutive wins at the beginning of the season. The following year Spurs won the FA Cup again, beating Burnley 3-1, and reached the semi-final of the European Cup. Victory over Atletico Madrid in the European Cup Winners’ Cup followed in 1963, although Mackay missed the final because of injury. More serious injuries followed. His leg was broken after a challenge from Manchester United’s Noel Cantwell in December 1963 and again during a reserve team fixture against Shrewsbury just nine months later. On his return to the Spurs first team in August 1965, he was made captain. Most of the double-winning team had gone, but the squad was strong enough to win another FA Cup, beating London rivals Chelsea 2-1 in 1967.

Compared with his club success, Mackay’s international career was disappointing. At the time those who played in England—the so-called ‘Anglos’—were often ignored by Scottish selectors; as a result he was only capped twenty-two times. He had played poorly against Spain in his debut in 1957, and he featured in just one match during the 1958 World Cup in Sweden. Strangely he was given the captaincy for his next match against Wales in October 1958. It was his third cap and he was only twenty-three. But the move to England halted his international progress. So too did his involvement in one of Scotland’s most abject and humiliating performances, a 9-3 thrashing by England at Wembley in 1961. Mackay recalled it ‘[i]n footballing terms’ as ‘the worst day of my life’ and admitted to being ashamed at having let his country down (Mackay and Knight, 126). He was at the peak of his career but was not selected again for two years and only played seven more times for Scotland.

In 1968 Mackay left Tottenham and was expected to return to Hearts as player-manager. But he was persuaded by management duo Brian Clough and Peter Taylor to join Derby County, then languishing near the foot of the Second Division. At Derby, Mackay played as a sweeper, marshalling the defence and inspiring his younger teammates. The club was promoted to the First Division in his first season, with Mackay named joint footballer of the year for 1969.

Mackay had three more seasons as a player—two in the First Division at Derby and one as player-manager of Second Division Swindon Town. After a short spell with Nottingham Forest, he returned to Derby in 1973 as manager, replacing Clough and Taylor who had fallen out with the board. In 1974–5 he managed Derby to the First Division championship, improving an already strong side with the addition of Francis Lee and Bruce Rioch and bringing in Peter Daniel as centre-back in place of the injured Roy McFarland. A poor run of form at the start of the 1976–7 season led to his resignation from Derby. He was moderately successful at Walsall in 1977–8 but less so at Doncaster Rovers and Birmingham City during the later 1980s. His coaching reputation was secured, however, through long spells in the Middle East, where he won five league titles at Al-Arabi in Kuwait (1978–86) and two with Zamalek in Egypt (1991–3). He also coached in Dubai and Qatar.

Mackay died of dementia and Parkinson’s disease at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham on 2 March 2015. He was survived by his wife and his four children. His death was particularly mourned in Edinburgh, north London, and Derby, where he had been instrumental in inspiring the local clubs to some of the greatest achievements in their respective histories. While the obituaries were affectionate, many offered a rather one-dimensional view of Mackay as ‘brave’, ‘tough’, and ‘hard’, an emblem of the ‘rough and ready physicality’ (Daily Telegraph, 3 March 2015) thought to have been typical of British football during the 1960s and 1970s. Such a view was encouraged by a famous 1966 photograph of him angrily grabbing the shirt of Leeds United’s Billy Bremner. Mackay himself disliked the picture (taken after Bremner had kicked him in the leg he had broken twice) because he felt it made him look like a bully. It was certainly an image that simplified the complexities and contradictions of one of British football’s greatest post-war characters.


  • D. Mackay, Soccer my spur (1961)
  • B. Crampsey, The Scottish footballer (1978)
  • D. Mackay and M. Knight, The real Mackay: the Dave Mackay story (2004)
  • The Times (3 March 2015); (4 March 2015); (6 March 2015); (7 March 2015); (11 March 2015); (25 March 2015)
  • Daily Telegraph (3 March 2015); (25 March 2015)
  • The Guardian (3 March 2015)
  • The Independent (3 March 2015)
  • The Scotsman (3 March 2015); (4 March 2015); (14 March 2015); (24 March 2015)
  • Daily Record (3 March 2015); (4 March 2015)
  • Birmingham Mail (3 March 2015)
  • Doncaster Free Press (3 March 2015)
  • Edinburgh Evening News (3 March 2015); (24 March 2015)
  • Swindon Advertiser (3 March 2015)


  • photographs, repro. in Four Four Two, 1 May 2009,, accessed 30 August 2018
  • photographs, Mirrorpix
  • photographs, PA Images
  • photographs, Getty Images
  • photographs, Rex Features
  • photographs, Alamy
  • obituary photographs
birth certificate
death certificate
marriage certificate