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Defender has reached another cup final . . . and at no extra cost

TO suffer one insolvency event in football may be considered a misfortune; to suffer two …well, double the misfortune.

At 33, St Johnstone captain Dave Mackay could now be just one game away from winning the first piece of silverware in an occasionally traumatic and storied football career. Picture: Steve Welsh
At 33, St Johnstone captain Dave Mackay could now be just one game away from winning the first piece of silverware in an occasionally traumatic and storied football career. Picture: Steve Welsh

However the William Hill Scottish Cup final unfolds for Dave Mackay on Saturday, the St Johnstone captain deserves his moment. He could be taking home a cup winner's medal, the first major prize of the 33-year-old's career. There have been times when he took home nothing, not even his wage.

Mackay was with Dundee when that club were living high on the hog. Claudio Caniggia, Temuri Ketsbaia, Georgi Nemsadze: they were heady days. But Dundee weren't only living beyond their means back then, they weren't even in the same time zone to their means. Mackay was among the victims. He played in the 2003 Scottish Cup final against Rangers but the club were competing at an artificial level. With £23m of debt they crashed into administration.

"It was my first full season as a first-team player at Dundee and the club were spending a lot of money at the time," said Mackay. "Which we now know they never had."

As Dundee's squad dispersed Mackay moved to Oxford United for one enjoyable season and was then attracted back to Scotland by the then Livingston manager, Paul Lambert. In July 2009, that club sunk into administration too when legal action was taken by West Lothian council to reclaim about £300,000 in underpaid rent under chairman Angelo Massone.

No wonder St Johnstone feels like a sanctuary to Mackay, who moved there from Livingston in 2009. He is at a club who have reached a Scottish Cup final - the first in their 130-year history - without compromising on paying the bills. St Johnstone are one of the most well-run clubs in the country.

"At Dens Park things appeared to be going great and then the truth came out," said the defender. "I experienced the same at Livingston where things were also done the wrong way. That's why it is great for a club like ourselves where things are done the right way. We have no debt and live within our means. We don't go chasing the dream like plenty of other teams have done and suffered for it.

"As in any walk of life you want to be paid as much as you can but you know our club will not put itself in financial trouble. At Livingston you could go two to three weeks at a time without being paid. There were young boys there, not getting much, who couldn't afford the money for petrol to come to training. They were dire times. They were denying everything and claiming we were being paid when we weren't. We had to get the PFA on our side and I tried to be a voice for the young players.

"I'm sure it was hard for my missus when I came home from training complaining I hadn't been paid again. It is never an easy time when you have a young family to look after. You don't ever want to go through it, but there is nothing you can do in that situation. You just try to play and hope it resolves itself."

Mackay's career and earnings are stable now. He is well aware it could be "an amazing day for me, the club and the fans" at the cup final. Everyone involved would become "legends" if they win, he said. But he is guarded, especially against the risk of reading too much into the fact St Johnstone have won the last three games against Dundee United this season. United, after all, won the opening meeting 4-0.

"I don't think we can feel that we have their number. I'm sure Aberdeen thought they had our number before the semi-final but then we managed to beat them [by 2-1] for the first time this season.

"I don't think past results will count for much. It's about who turns up on the day, whether anyone freezes, whether anyone doesn't rise to the occasion. You can't get that far ahead of yourself because football can be a cruel game at times. If you think ahead it comes back to bite you on the bum. I have had that on many occasions."

Mackay's partner, Laura, has been with him through it all, since he was 18. Children Louise and Calum will be in his extended group of followers at the cup final too. This time he promises not to forget his guests. At the 2003 final - his first, when he was 22 - he forgot to collect his complimentary tickets at Hampden. Without them, his friends and family could not get in. Only when he was doing the pre-match warm-up did the penny drop.

"That was the only stupid thing I remember doing from the 2003 final." he added. "I was looking for them in the crowd and then remembered the tickets hadn't been handed out! I'll make sure the tickets are handed out well before this one."

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