Dave Mackay’s legend will live on forever at Tynecastle given his achievements there as a player.
What fans won’t know is that he was also staunchly supportive of Foundation of Hearts’ takeover plans, even to the point of attending one of their meetings in Edinburgh.
Late in 2010, Mackay was ushered into the boardroom of a sandy coloured office building on Dean Path, just off Queensferry Road, as the Foundation were meeting to press ahead with plans for fan ownership at their club. Then 75, the former left-half who won the Scottish League, Scottish Cup and League Cup in the celebrated 1950s Hearts side, was shown documents and given details on how the Foundation hoped to gain control of the club from owner Vladimir Romanov.
Mackay threw his full weight behind the proposals, believing that a fan-led takeover would be in Hearts’ best interests. At the time, the Romanov regime was showing signs of cracking and the subsequent financial collapse would ultimately lead to Hearts into administration three years later with debts approaching £30million.
Mackay passed away at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham last week aged 80.
Five years on from that meeting and the Foundation funds Hearts through monthly cash pledges from more than 8000 supporters. Their backing, allied to a £2.5m input from Ann Budge, helped take the club out of administration last June. Budge is the owner but plans to hand over control to the Foundation within five years, and they will then run Hearts on behalf of supporters.
For those Foundation members involved, both past and present, it is some small consolation that Mackay died with the club he adored in safe hands. Alex Mackie, a founding member of Foundation of Hearts, recalled the meeting of Wednesday, October 13, 2010 at his office and the reaction when the iconic Dave Mackay entered the room.
“Jamie Bryant [also a founding member of the Foundation] has a friend, Ninian Cassidy, who is related to Dave Mackay. We were trying to get a number of people involved with the Foundation at that time,” explained Mackie. “Donald Ford was one of them. We wanted people with big names who had been involved with Hearts to be supportive of the Foundation’s development.
“Our meeting that night hadn’t gone on any more than ten minutes when, all of a sudden, in walks Dave Mackay to this very office. Ninian brought him in and we sat and chatted through some of the ideas of the Foundation. We knew he was just starting to become slightly unwell at that time and I think that was one of the reasons Ninian brought him in.
“Because Dave Mackay had arrived, everybody was like: ‘Wow. It’s Dave Mackay.’ If you’re a Hearts fan and someone of his stature arrives in your office to support Foundation of Hearts, it’s a huge thing.”
Mackay perused paperwork detailing the Foundation’s plans to harness the Hearts support and mount a takeover bid to oust Romanov and his eastern European associates. A groundswell of discontent was building in Gorgie as the Russian banker’s empire began crumbling and he became an absentee owner, much to the disgruntlement of the Hearts fans.
Mackay liked the idea of local Hearts-supporting businessmen taking control of their club and ensuring the business was run within its means. Like everyone else in the room that night, he could never have envisaged what the next few years would involve.
The lurch into administration was a bitter blow in the club’s long history, resulting in job cuts, a squad cull, a 15-point deduction in the league and eventually relegation out of Scottish football’s top flight. However, the administration period was brought to an end in joyous fashion outside Tynecastle, with Budge handed the stadium keys and more than 8000 fans donating monthly cash to the Foundation.
“We showed him our ideas, what our long-term plans were to have the club run by fans. He read through our Q&A document and actually signed one of the copies for us,” continued Mackie. “I said to him: ‘Are you supportive of these ideas?’ He said he thought they were fantastic. I remember his words being: ‘Anything that helps Hearts, then I’m happy.’
“This meeting went on for ages. We had earmarked a couple of hours for the Foundation meeting but Dave Mackay was in here for more than an hour. He was a gentleman and was telling us some of his stories and anecdotes. As people are reading now in the media, he was quite upset about that famous picture with Billy Bremner because he didn’t see himself as a hard man.
“He was supportive of the Foundation’s ideas and was interested in what we had in mind. We were really inspired by that. It pushed us on. At the end of the day, if Dave Mackay is on board with our plans then it’s terrific.”
Mackay was apparently keen to see Hearts functioning as a community club, as it had been when he first signed professional forms at Tynecastle way back in 1952. There was a sense that Hearts had lost their identity under Romanov and the Lithuanian regime, despite obvious successes like Scottish Cup wins and reaching the qualifying rounds of the Champions League.
“I don’t think he [Dave Mackay] was happy with the owners at that time. There were words said to that effect,” said Mackie. “He looked through our Q&A and told us he would support us. I think he was more concerned about who the people were behind the Foundation as much as what we were actually proposing. Gary Mackay had been introduced to me at that time and was very supportive of the Foundation. He was in at a number of meetings as well.”
With both Gary Mackay and eventually Donald Ford on board, the Foundation of Hearts movement was gathering pace and momentum late in 2010. The inclusion of the great Dave Mackay, even for that one night, was truly something special.