JOHN ROBERTSON described Dave Mackay as a “standard-bearer” for every Hearts player as he paid tribute to a man whom he feels did more for the club’s proud reputation than any other who has pulled on the maroon jersey.
Mackay, who passed away earlier this week aged 80, was a prominent member of the Tynecastle side during the 1950s, when they kicked off the most glittering period in their history. He captained the side to the first of their two post-war league titles and also won two League Cups and a Scottish Cup before moving to Tottenham Hotspur, where he would also take on legendary status.
“Dave Mackay is THE man,” said Robertson, Hearts’ record goalscorer. “He is, without a doubt, the greatest Hearts player to ever wear a maroon jersey. You look at his captaincy of the team in the 50s – that’s when Hearts were winning everything: League Championships, League Cups, Scottish Cups and playing in Europe. He was iconic and legendary at three different clubs – here, Tottenham and Derby County. We have not only lost a great player, we have lost a great ambassador for these three cubs – a true gentleman.”
Robertson, pictured left, was born five years after Mackay departed Hearts for Tottenham, but he was made well aware by his own father, also John, just how influential a figure he was at Hearts. “Dave Mackay was one of my dad’s heroes, along with Willie Bauld and Freddy Glidden,” said Robertson. “My dad would wax lyrical about him being the ‘compete player’. Plenty of people have said he was world class – and he was. There was no doubt abut it. It is a mystery to everyone, particularly at Hearts, as to why he only got 22 caps.”
Robertson insists every player who dons a Hearts jersey needs to be aware of the standard Mackay and his illustrious peers reached in that golden era when they plundered such a high proportion of the club’s silverware.
“It was 48 years without a trophy then Dave Mackay came into the team and the titles arrived,” he said. “Is it a coincidence? Probably not. He was part of a truly wonderful team – they are the standard-bearers. When you join a club like Hearts, you are taught about McCrae’s Battalion and you are taught abut the team in the 50s and 60s which swept away everything before them, winning the league and scoring 132 goals – still a record – and only losing one game all season.
“Dave Mackay and the likes of Conn, Bauld, Wardhaugh, Glidden, Parker and Alex Young, all these wonderful players were the standard bearers for all future generations of Hearts players. Those players won the trophies. They gave Hearts its honour and standing in Scottish football. If it wasn’t for that team where would Hearts be trophy-wise?
“You look at the honours they won over a nine or ten-year period, it was incredible. And when you came here as a player that was the standard you had to try and reach, the standard you had to try and bring back. When I came here as a professional in 1981 that’s what I tried to do, to be a player who won a cup, who won a championship, to be a player who could stand up alongside these guys. These were the ones you looked up to. And Dave was the captain, the heartbeat of that team.”
As someone who would go on to become a Hearts great himself, Robertson got to cross paths with Mackay on various occasions. “I met him many times. I spoke at a testimonial dinner held in his honour at Hearts. I also met him at a Hall of Fame evening. He was an absolute gentleman and he loved talking about football and the Hearts. I couldn’t bring myself to call him by his first name – it was ‘Mr Mackay, Mr Mackay’. I just couldn’t get around the notion of calling him Dave.
“That was out of respect for my dad as well – he would have given me a clip round the ear! He was just a great guy, he always had time for people, always signing autographs and chatting away to people. He loved Heart of Midlothian. It was his dream to play for them and I don’t think there has been a better player to pull on this club’s jersey.”
Robertson hopes that the iconic image of Mackay grabbing Leeds United midfielder and fellow former Scotland internationalist Billy Bremner by the shirt does not cause him to be remembered as some kind of hardman. “I hope that’s not how he’s remembered because it is an image that he felt embarrassed him,” said Robertson. “He always felt it made him look like a bully, and he wasn’t a bully. He was tough, but he was fair. He was never sent off during his career and he always felt that was a sully on his reputation because he wasn’t that kind of player. I hope for Dave Mackay that he is not remembered for that, I hope not for the Mackay family. There’s a lot more for Dave to be remembered for than just that photograph.”