Great and legend are two adjectives that are cast freely at footballers these days, many of whom are no more than mediocre. However, Dave Mackay, who passed away this week, the day after his beloved Tottenham Hotspur lost the Capital One Cup Final, was both, and more. He was an icon among icons in his heyday which stretched from the 1950s, when he started his career in Scotland, to the 1970s where he became the venerated leader of Brian Clough’s Derby County, aged 34.
As a player, and yes he could play, who won four honours in Scotland and went on to ‘Glory Glory’ at Tottenham, becoming part of the Spurs team that won the first ‘Double’ of the 20th century, he is perhaps best remembered for one of the most famous images in football history.
We’ve all seen it, in plain black and white. Dave, grasping Leeds United’s firebrand skipper Billy Bremner, warmly by the throat and raising him off the ground. Actually it was by the shirt and Billy remained grounded, but why let the facts get in the way of legend.
That was in 1966 and many years later I had the great privilege of talking to both Dave and Billy, separately I hasten to add, about that famous image. I also had a third party, though hardly neutral, perspective from Norman Hunter who was nearby, witness to that historic moment, but out of camera shot.
I asked Billy why Dave had taken offence, what had he said to him. The Scot, who was manager of Doncaster Rovers at the time I interviewed him replied.
I can’t really remember too clearly but it was something along the lines of, “if you say it’s Tuesday Dave, then f*****g Tuesday it is.”
Somewhat different from Dave’s recollection. I met Dave after I had written his bio piece as an inaugural inductee into the National Football Museum Hall of Fame in 2002. He must have been asked about that picture a million times. However he looked at me and in answer to my asking what had Billy done to upset him he calmly replied.
“I had just come back from injury and was pointing out to Billy that he should be more careful in his tackling.”
Thanks to Norman Hunter there is a third version of events that day when Spurs met Leeds and Billy Bremner more than met his match.
Norman was very close to the lifting of Billy and what occurred to cause it.
‘Bites yer legs’, who was not averse himself to agricultural tackling, said, after I gave him the two versions, from Billy and Dave, said.
“It was quite simple really. Dave had just come back from a bad broken leg and Billy kicked him on the injury. Dave just took exception.”
Dave would spend another two years at Tottenham before leaving to join Derby County for £5,000. The following season, aged 35, he was voted Footballer of the Year, jointly, with Manchester City’s Tony Book, thus marking Derby’s promotion to Division One. It is the only instance in the history of the Footballer of the Year Award the award has been shared. Legend has it that although the votes for the two players were tied one vote did arrive, after the count and public announcement. Only one person, at the Football Writers Association knew who the extra vote was for. It was never divulged.
Dave finished his playing career as player/manager at Swindon. He went on to manage a number of English clubs, his longest spell was back at Derby between 1973 and 1976. In his first season, County finished third before winning the League Championship in 1975.
Dave Mackay was a giant of a man, yet stood just five feet seven inches tall. That says it all about a true great, a proper legend.