Tottenham Hotspur legends: Dave Mackay

To say that Dave Mackay was a warrior both on and off the football pitch would be something of an understatement.

The former Scotland international enjoyed a stellar career at club level that was punctuated by two broken legs in quick succession when he should have been in his prime, yet he returned to the field unbowed by the gruelling recovery process to cement his place as one of Tottenham Hotspur’s all-time greatest players.

Mackay joined Spurs in 1959 as a 24-year-old and by the time he left in 1968 the club had enjoyed the finest spell in its history, with the combative midfielder instrumental in that success.

During that period, he picked up the First Division title, three FA Cups, a European Cup Winners’ Cup and two FA Charity Shields, plus another which was shared with Manchester United.

Despite being so synonymous with Tottenham, his footballing journey in fact began in his native country with Hearts, where he signed as a professional in 1952 whilst still working part-time as a joiner.

Breaking into the setup during the 1954-55 season, Mackay ultimately went on to complete a full collection of domestic titles north of the border before the Lilywhites came calling.

It was not all rosy from the off, however; the new signing took time to acclimatise to life in England and his performances were slightly underwhelming during those first couple of campaigns.

Nonetheless, he eventually found his groove and was undoubtedly helped by a strong partnership down the spine of the side with fellow icon Danny Blanchflower.

The Northern Irishman shaded the Scot with his ability on the ball but was perfectly complemented by his team-mate’s iron will and determination.

If Blanchflower was the technician of that Spurs outfit, then Mackay was the engine room and both players were hugely significant cogs in what was, under the management of Bill Nicholson, a well-oiled machine.

Tottenham did the double in 1960-61 and followed that up with another FA Cup triumph the following term.

In 1963 they secured the Cup Winners’ Cup with a 5-1 victory over Atletico Madrid, although their left-half, who scored in the semi-final victory over OFK Beograd, did not play in the final after suffering an abdominal strain.

Then, disaster struck for Mackay.

In a December 1963 clash with Manchester United in the same competition, he went in for a challenge with Noel Cantwell and emerged with a broken left leg.

In a further stroke of bad fortune, Mackay made his comeback in a reserve fixture with Shrewsbury Town nine months later and suffered the same injury again, which would keep him out until the start of the 1965-66 season.

Keen to protect his left side, one of the sport’s most iconic photos from that period saw him grab Leeds United’s Billy Bremner by the front of his shirt after what he deemed a cynical challenge that targeted his weaker leg.

Mackay hated the image as it portrayed him as a bully, rather than the fair competitor that he truly was.

He went on to help Tottenham to more FA Cup glory in 1967 and departed a year later as a White Hart Lane hero to join Brian Clough’s emerging Derby County side.

The charismatic coach added another facet to Mackay’s game by converting him to a sweeper for the Rams, a move designed to utilise his passing ability and aid transitions from defence to attack.

The Edinburgh-born star flourished in the role and was named Footballer of the Year in his first season at the club, alongside Manchester City’s Tony Book, as Derby secured promotion to the top flight.

He left the old Baseball Ground in 1971 to take up a player-manager role at Swindon Town and eventually hung up his boots for good in 1972.

Returning to Derby in 1973, he led them to a league title in 1975 in what was otherwise a relatively undistinguished career in the dugout on these shores.

When analysing Mackay’s impact on the game and on Tottenham specifically, it is perhaps best to reflect on the thoughts of those who played against him or worked alongside him.

The great George Best described him as the hardest and bravest opponent that he ever faced, whilst Clough, arguably the greatest manager in the history of English football, went further in claiming that he was in fact the finest in the Lilywhites’ history.

A natural winner, Mackay was the driving force of that incredible Spurs side and constantly challenged his colleagues to raise their games and match his own supreme levels.

More than that, he was gifted on the ball, an asset which is often overlooked in the face of his gritty determination, whilst it is important to note that the North Londoners failed to win anything in the two seasons affected by his horrendous injury struggles.

Mackay was a giant of a man in all walks of life, a true sportsman who commanded the respect of those who he came into contact with.

His battles on the pitch left him walking bow-legged in later life and he died in Nottingham in 2015 at the age of 80.

All in all, Mackay made 268 appearances for Tottenham across nine years and will always be remembered as a White Hart Lane great.