Dave Mackay’s Derby County debut by Moz Curtin

Dave Mackay’s Derby County debut by Moz Curtin

This article first appeared in issue 21, the final edition, of Derby County Memories. If you enjoyed reading it, why not buy copies of the magazine? See the About section for further details.

There were a number of key events at Derby County in the mid to late 1960s that paved the way for the incredible success that followed. The signing of Kevin Hector in September 1966 was a major development for a club that had been in the doldrums for a number of years. Clearly the arrival of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor in the summer of 1967 was the start of a great adventure for the club and its supporters. The signing of Roy McFarland a month later was a huge step forward while the arrival of Willie Carlin in August 1968 was seen by many as the final piece in the jigsaw for the promotion winning team of 1968-69. But the one signing around this time which truly took the breath away and made us think that we really seeing the start of something special was the arrival of Dave Mackay in July 1968.

The capture of Mackay from under the noses of Heart of Midlothian has gone into folklore as one of Brian Clough’s many spontaneous signings. One of a number of instances where he decided what he wanted to do, and went out and did it, despite the odds being stacked against him. The exact detail of how he signed Dave Mackay varies depending on who tells the story. Clough, Peter Taylor and Mackay himself have all told the story since in their autobiographies but all three versions vary slightly, as does the version in the film ‘The Damned United’. The key facts that appear to be agreed upon are as follows. Mackay was due to return to Scotland as manager of Heart of Midlothian, who had been his first professional club. It was thought that this was a done deal, but Clough heard, maybe through Peter Taylor’s contacts, that Mackay was not 100% sure about the deal. Cloughie phoned Dave at his tie shop to try to persuade him to join Derby.  Later he went down in person to White Hart Lane on an impulse hoping to convince Mackay to join the Rams. He was met by Spurs manager Bill Nicholson and later met Mackay in person. They apparently walked around the Tottenham pitch while he persuaded the Spurs captain to sign for The Rams.

The signing was truly sensational. Dave Mackay had been one of the top players in both Scotland and England over the previous 10 years or so. He had won the Scottish League, Cup and League Cup for Hearts before moving to Spurs in 1959. There he was a key member of the Spurs double winning team of 1960-61 and won the FA Cup again in 1967. On 23 July 1968 Derby signed Dave Mackay for £5,000, surely pound for pound the greatest signing in our history. He became one of the highest paid footballers in Britain when he joined The Rams.

Mackay’s debut came just over a week later in a pre-season friendly away at Muirton Park, Perth against St Johnstone on Thursday 1 August. Derby were not impressive and lost 1-0. Mackay wore the number 6 shirt and played in the sweeper role that Clough and Taylor always had in mind for him in a 4-2-4 line up. The report in the Derby Evening Telegraph says that ‘Mackay had plenty of advice for his new colleagues directing operations with a quick word of command, and was content to remain in defence except for one sortie. He dashed up field to collect a pass from Alan Durban that put him through unchallenged, but with only the goalkeeper to beat he unaccountably flicked the ball straight at Robertson when it seemed easier to score’.

The programme is a simple 8 page issue, two A4 pages folded in half with no staple. The cover has a drawing of a goalkeeper saving a shot from an advancing forward across the centre of the programme. The same design can be seen on a number of club’s programmes in the 1950s and 1960s, in particular in lower leagues. Unusually for pre-season friendlies a return game took place against St Johnstone at the Baseball Ground the following Monday. The programme for this game was a joint issue with a friendly against Sunderland.

Dave Mackay’s league debut for Derby was on 10 August 1968 away at Blackburn Rovers. The game ended in a 1-1 draw with Roy McFarland scoring from a header following an Alan Hinton corner. The star man for Derby that day was another debutant, goalkeeper Les Green, as the team was still looking for the form that would propel them up the league later that season. The programme had a neat front cover design based on the distinctive blue and white quarters of their shirt.

Dave Mackay was exactly what our young team needed and it was his leadership that kick started our rise that later led to two League Championships. Supporters around at that time will recall Mackay leading the team out at the Baseball Ground, chest stuck out confidently striding out and volleying the ball across the pitch as he left the tunnel. He had a truly inspirational presence about him. We haven’t seen a captain like him since.

The last time I saw Dave Mackay was on 28 May 2007. I was walking up Wembley Way before the Play-off Final against West Bromwich Albion. The weather that day was grim – cold and wet. I recall being nervous about the game. West Brom were a better side than us and I did not really expect us to win. As we meandered along Dave Mackay appeared, striding out towards the ground where he once had lifted the FA Cup for Spurs. The sight of our captain lifted my spirits. The great Dave Mackay was here to support the Rams. Perhaps it would work out OK after all.


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