Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Dave Mackay

Of course, this is and will always be a blog on Derbyshire cricket, but I cannot allow the night to pass without acknowledging the passing of one of my childhood heroes, Dave Mackay.

A couple of years ago, when Derbyshire signed Shivnarine Chanderpaul, I wrote on these pages that it gave me similar shivers to when Derby County signed Mackay for the (even then) piffling amount of £5000.

At 33 and after broken legs he was past his prime. He wasn't especially fast, but Brian Clough sat him alongside young players in Ron Webster, Roy McFarland and John Robson and they did his running for him. In turn, Mackay told them when and where to run, arranging the back line like no one else in my lifetime, with the possible exception of Igor Stimac.

I got his autograph once, standing outside the old player entrance at the Baseball Ground. It took pride of place in my autograph book and I still recall him smiling at me as he said 'There you go, son' and handed it back. I lived off those words for weeks.

I will always remember him, barrel chest jutting out, as he led the Rams onto the mud bath we laughingly called a pitch. They came out at a fair pace and Mackay looked like a man with no time to waste. On the pitch he exuded calm and control. I remember him 'flipping' a ball to Ron Webster in a crowded goal mouth on one occasion, effectively saying to the opposition 'you might be attacking, but you're going nowhere'. There was a back heel pass another time, the confidence it showed almost tangible. He shouted and cajoled his young charges, his example making McFarland one of the country's greatest-ever centre-backs and Webster and Robson far better players than ever looked likely.

Mackay was simply fantastic and I still recall a tackle on the former Aston Villa winger, Willie Anderson, as the George Best lookalike burst towards the penalty box. Mackay hurtled across like a runaway train and took the ball off his toe as he prepared to cross, albeit taking the player too. It was the only time I ever heard a player squeal on a football pitch and there were plenty of laughs in the old Osmaston Stand as the Villa man picked himself up off the floor.

Signing him for Derby County was akin to picking up a 33-year old Beckham, except Mackay was better at most of football's disciplines. He didn't take many free kicks or set pieces, but at everything else he was a master. To watch him play was a privilege. He could spray passes, tackle harder than anyone, head the ball and organise a side. Whatever Brian Clough did off the pitch, Mackay did on it. Like Clough, he was better than most.

As a manager he showed bravery in his handling of the fall out over Brian Clough's departure, then set about building a side that was arguably more exciting than his predecessor's. How could it fail to be, with players like Charlie George, Bruce Rioch and Francis Lee, alongside Kevin Hector, Archie Gemmill and Alan Hinton?

He won the league and was sacked when we were subsequently far higher in the table than we have ever been since. It was silly and unnecessary, the only people suffering being the fans, who never saw their side reach such heights again. It was a team of all the talents, with footballing defenders like Todd, McFarland and the graceful David Nish. Mackay managed a team in his own image, perhaps a little gung-ho at times but wonderful to watch.

The word 'legend' is bandied about unnecessarily today. You acquire such 'status' by scoring a goal against a local rival, or playing for more than two seasons for your club. Dave Mackay won the lot at Hearts, then did the same at Tottenham Hotspur. At a time when most players are winding down their careers, he perhaps climbed his highest mountains at Derby, turning a rag, tag and bobtail outfit into an established and good First Division side inside three golden seasons.

They are years that will live long in the memory for those lucky enough to see them.

Just like Dave Mackay. He is up there tonight in the football pantheon and would be in my all-time team every single time.

Rest in Peace Dave. And thank you for the golden memories.

It truly was a privilege.


Pete Kobryn said...

A very evocative and well written tribute to a great man

Peakfan said...

Thanks Pete I really appreciate that!