Once after an international game with Turkey there was a dinner for both the teams. Dennis Law bet Dave he would not climb on the table and walk along it. Dave quickly agreed, climbed up and did so.
It was only as he reached the top of the table he realized that the officials from the two FAs were sitting there watching him. Thinking quickly Dave told the Turkish guests that this was an old Scottish custom which the team captain did to honour their visitors.
Dave Mackay was once described as one of the best players ever to wear a Tottenham shirt, who said so? The club themselves. It’s hard to believe he was only 5ft 7inches tall as he strode the football field like a giant. A tough, but never dirty player, he was never sent off, a great leader of men, the Scottish FA calling him an “inspirational pillar”, he was a major factor behind the clubs glorious triumphs of the early 1960’s. He won everything including the admiration of his fellow professionals and the hearts of those of us lucky enough to see him play.
He was born in Edinburgh not far from his first love the Heart of Midlothian club and as a lad he would walk three miles to the Hearts ground and sneak under the turnstile as he did not have the admission fee. When he moved to Spurs he always had a maroon coloured car to show his Hearts connection. Later he would captain them to the Scottish title in 1958, to go with the Scottish Cup (1956) and the Scottish League Cup (1955 & 58). He was in the bath at the national team’s hotel in 1957 when the manager banged on the door and entered to tell him he would win his first cap the following day. The following year he was in the squad that went to the World Cup in Sweden. He would win 22 caps for his country, with four goals. This at a time when the ‘Anglos’ factor was still very much in evidence in Scottish football (1).
Dave played for the Scottish League and later became the first Scot to play for the Football League V the Scots. This at a time when these games were normally used as international trials for the England team. Before that he had played in the first ever schoolboy international played at Wembley. He was also the first Spurs player to win a full Scottish cap.
He was an immensely talented player and liked to (fairly) intimate opponents. As he emerged from the tunnel he would often kick the ball as high in the air as possible and the catch it on his instep, to a roar from the crowd. Other times when he ran out upon reaching the center spot he would back heal the ball into the opponents net. It had been known as the two captains met to toss up to pick the ball up and offer it to his opposite number saying ‘would you like the ball son?’ Then adding “Cos you won’t be seeing much of it latter.”
In March 1959 Bill Nicholson made him his first (and he said best) signing. The fee was £32,000 a British record for a wing half. Dave made his debut for Tottenham in a win over Manchester City on 21st March 1959.
He played 268 games for Spurs collecting 42 goals along the way. Tottenham became the first team in the twentieth century in 1960/61 to win the League and Cup Double.
This was followed by the FA Cup again in 1962 and in ’63 Tottenham became the first British side to win a major European honour, although he missed the final through injury.
An inspiring figure on the field, Bill Nicholson said of him “If he had served in a war, he would have been the first man into action; he would have won the Victoria Cross.” Cliff Jones put it simply, “when he played we thought we could beat anyone.” Such was his drive to win other players didn’t like being on the opposite team even in training. Bobby Smith (no shrinking violet himself) claimed that in the five a side games in the gym you needed body armour.
Whilst a lion at the Lane, his voice would boom out when the team needed lifting or be willing to run fifty yards to give an encouraging word to a young player, off the pitch he was quietly spoken. He also one of the jokers and with Jimmy Greaves they would win free drinks from people when they were sitting in a bar by asking people to bet which of them was taller. Despite Dave’s stature on the field Jimmy was the taller.
In late 1963 he had his leg broken in a European tie with Manchester United. Such was the character of the man that even with the bone visible he insisted on sitting up on the stretcher as he was carried off in case it was seen as weakness. This was the first time he had ever been carried on a pitch. Then as he returned to fitness he broke it again in a reserve match. At that time with no subs or squads reserve games were played at the same time as first team matches. The story is as he was carried off he said ‘don’t tell Bill until after the first game is finished he has enough to think about.’
Despite many thinking this must be the end of the iron man he was determined to prove them wrong and returned to the side and led Tottenham to FA Cup glory again in 1967 ( he was never on the losing side in any Cup Final throughout his career) and third place in the league.
The following year he felt he was not performing to his own impossible standards and asked for a move. He joined Derby County then in the second division. Under his inspired leadership the team won promotion and Dave would go on to be named Footballer of the Year to go with the Scottish Player of the Year award he won during his Hearts days.
He later went into management first at Swindon and then Nottingham Forest before returning to Derby where he won the First Division title. He later had spells with several other clubs and worked in the Middle East where amongst other trophies he won the Egyptian League title, twice.
How good was he? Amongst endless tributes, just two, when Alex Ferguson was asked to pick his all-time best Scottish side, he said Dave was the first name he wrote down. Jimmy Greaves claimed he was “the most complete professional footballer I have ever known”.
He was an inaugural inductee into Halls of Fame for the England, Scotland, Tottenham and Hearts. Then in 2013 he was one of eleven players chosen to be featured on a set of stamps by the Royal Mail to mark the FA’s 150th anniversary.
His passion for the game and the determination to win can overshadow the talent he processed but for one young lad growing up on the shelf he is in my mind the greatest player I’ve ever seen play.
t- Keith 16024542
f- peter shearman (old non de plume)
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