A tribute to Dave Mackay: A thoughtful man behind a tough image

Former Rovers boss Dave Mackay died on Monday, aged 80

Former Rovers boss Dave Mackay died on Monday, aged 80

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Dave Mackay was appointed as Rovers manager in December 1987 on a whim as much as anything.

I received a telephone call at home one Sunday afternoon from club chairman Bernie Boldry to tell me that player-boss Dave Cusack had been relieved of his managerial duties and Mackay would be taking charge with Joe Kinnear as his assistant.

Mackay had a habit of wearing black leather gloves and I felt there was a pair of iron fists just waiting inside.

Peter Catt

Minutes after I had put the phone down it rang again.

This time it was Cusack.

“I’ve been sacked,” he said.

“I know,” I stupidly replied, and it took me some time to calm him down as he thought I’d been told before him.

That was the prelude to me saying goodbye to a hardworking and honest manager I’d had a close working relationship with and saying hello to a footballing legend who had made history by doing the double with Tottenham as a player before managing Derby to the First Division title.

It later emerged that the managerial changeover had been prompted by a Sunday newspaper article about Mackay, who had been working in the Middle East and had managed a leading club in Kuwait to the league title in five of the eight seasons he had been there.

Mackay was looking to return to Britain.

Rovers director and chief financial backer Peter Wetzel read the article and the wheels were set in motion.

I came to have just as good a working relationship with Mackay who was quietly spoken and thoughtful despite having a reputation as a hard man in his playing days, epitomised by the iconic picture of him grabbing the shirt of a young Billy Bremner in a Spurs v Leeds clash in the Sixties.

However, you were always aware of a steely core inside the easy-going exterior.

The former Scotland star had a habit of wearing black leather gloves and I felt at the time there was a pair of iron fists just waiting inside.

Mackay was at Rovers during difficult cash-strapped times and was unable to keep the first team up the season he took over although his reign was notable for bringing fans favourite Colin Douglas back to the club and for the bargain signing of Les Robinson, who was later sold for a six-figure fee.

But they had a brilliant junior team, coached by Steve Beaglehole, and his proudest moment was returning to his old stamping ground to watch them defeat Tottenham at White Hart Lane in the FA Youth Cup semi-final in 1988.

When he was told he would have to sell young stars like Paul Raven, Mark Rankine and Rufus Brevett to balance the books Mackay resigned in March 1989.

But a man like Mackay could never go out as a loser and Rovers triumphed in his last match in charge with a comfortable win over Colchester.