Former Celtic captain and Scotland full-back

Born:July 14, 1937;

Died: December 23, 2019.

IT IS a long way from Maryhill to Melbourne, but in his 82 years that was the journey made by the esteemed former Celtic and Scotland full-back Dunky Mackay.

Like many before him, Duncan’s father, also Duncan, had left the West Highlands for the city, where he worked at several jobs to keep a roof over his family’s head. He insisted the young Duncan wore his Mackay tartan kilt every day. But getting into schoolyard scrapes when responding to taunts of “Kiltie, kiltie cauld-bum” began to wear thin with the youngster, and he persuaded his parents to get him into long trousers.

At St Columba’s High his exceptional skill with a football got him noticed. He moved to St Mary’s Boys' Guild, where Celtic signed him on a provisional form, farming him out to juniors, Maryhill Harp. By now the teenaged Mackay had seen the great Hungarian side of Ferenc Puskas and the sort of attacking football he wanted to play. He had left school and started an apprenticeship as a marine engineer.

He turned full-time at Celtic after completing his apprenticeship. During the 1958-59 campaign he made the first of his 236 first-team appearances in a League Cup tie against Clyde. By season's end he was first choice, and an Under-23 cap. On April 11, 1959, aged 21, he made the first of an eventual 14 appearances for Scotland, against England at Wembley.

His full-back partner that day was Rangers’ Eric Caldow and the pair hit it off immediately. Indeed, they played together 12 times for Scotland, making Mackay Caldow’s most frequent international partner. Caldow would relate how, as Scotland captain, he once distributed ‘fan mail’ when the national squad was training at Largs; finding one addressed to “Donkey Mackay’ he quipped, “This lassie must have seen you playing, Dunky”. In reality, Caldow, rated his Celtic friend very highly as a player.

But, if things were going well with Scotland, all was not well at Celtic Park, where, following the 1957 League Cup win, the side struggled to compete with Rangers, Kilmarnock and Hearts, then the top teams. Bertie Peacock left the club and Mackay was appointed team captain in 1960, leading them to the Scottish Cup final of 1961, where they lost to Dunfermline after a replay. Indeed, along with 1940s goalkeeper Willie Miller, Mackay shares the "distinction” of having won more Scotland caps than medals as a Celtic player.

In 1963 he lost the captaincy to Billy McNeill, then, after injury he lost his first-team place, partly because, it is rumoured, manager Jimmy McGrory and chairman Bob Kelly, who picked the side, did not like Mackay’s attacking sorties up the wing.

In November, 1964, he left Celtic for Third Lanark. This is one of Scottish football’s great “what-ifs”; maybe, had he hung on until Jock Stein returned in February, 1965, he would have regained his place. Stein certainly preferred attacking full-backs. But Thirds were starting to implode and at the end of that season, Mackay joined Melbourne Croatia, who were spending big in a bid to become the top side in the Victoria League.

He was an instant success, being appointed captain and winning the Player of the Year title in his first season. He led Croatia to several trophies, including a league-and-two-cups treble in 1972, but the club fell foul of Australian Soccer financial rules and collapsed. Mackay returned to Scotland for two seasons, working as a bookbinder and coaching junior outfit St Anthony’s.

His first marriage, when a young man, had failed. But while, back home, he married his second wife, Marilyn, before, in 1974, Perth Azzurri, in Western Australia, offered him a player-coach role.

He led the Azzurri to back-to-back league titles, then returned to Melbourne, to Essendon Lions, as Croatia had now become. Here he found success as a league-winning coach, before winding down his active involvement in football with South Melbourne Hellas.

Melbourne clearly suited Mackay. In his first spell with Croatia, he turned down the chance to join Pele at New York Cosmos. His non-football working life turned full circle when he joined Transfeld Ship Builders as a Senior Procurement Buyer – the post he filled until his retirement.

He and Marilyn, who survives him, had two daughters, Shone and Elissa. He is also survived by son Duncan Junior, from his first marriage, who also lives in Australia. Paul, another son from that first marriage predeceased his father. In retirement, Mackay enjoyed listening to the Beatles, Barbra Streisand and Tony Bennett.

Dunky Mackay was a very good full-back. He was Celtic's Player of the Year in 1963, and Man of the Match when they played Real Madrid at Parkhead in a friendly. Sadly, he never had the medals to show for playing at a low point in the club's history, but on the other side of the world he finally won a few medals, forged a good reputation as a coach, and perhaps showed Scottish football what it lost when it allowed him to leave.