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Meet the man who snubbed Manchester United to devote his life to Hearts
Published Date: 17 October 2008
By GINA DAVIDSON
LIFE could have been so different for Gary Mackay. He could have played for Manchester United alongside Norman Whiteside and Bryan Robson. He could have made a small fortune from the game he loves, rather than being paid at the most £39,000 a year.
And he could still be living in the bosom of his family rather than alone in a house somewhat bereft of personality.
It's easy to feel sorry for the player-turned-agent who seems to have spent his life in a ten-mile radius of Tynecastle. Especially when you read his new autobiography, Maroon Heart, out this week. He gave his all to Heart of Midlothian and some would say he has paid a heavy price.
Indeed in his book he admits: "My lifelong love affair with Hearts and my at-times over the top passion for the club probably cost me my marriage, something I will always live to regret.
"I have led most of my adult life with my heart worn not just on my sleeve but on my right breast, and I have no doubt that I have let that same heart and my feelings for the club rule my head on too many occasions. The one constant in my life, rightly or wrongly, is the ongoing relationship with my football team. A Jambo till I die."
Not that he suffers from any sorrow or bitterness at how things have turned out. He loved every minute of his 17 years with Hearts and he's still involved in football, unlike some others of that famous Hearts team of 1985-6, some of whom now deliver the post.
"I have never felt sad about any aspect of my footballing life," he says, settling back into the brown leather sofa of his magnolia-painted living room in Baberton. "Apart from maybe not winning any actual silverware, but I could have moved to Dundee United or Aberdeen. £500,000 was a lot of money in 1987, and I may be accused of a lack of ambition, but I don't think I could ever have played for another Scottish club. I just wanted to play for Hearts. If you have a passion for a football team, then it's through thick or thin."
It's a different matter when it comes to his private life though. You can tell from the lack of personal effects in his house that he lives alone. There are no family photos on display, no pictures on the walls, except a small canvas of the Heart of Midlothian cobbles in the High Street. His Scotland cap lies gathering dust on a sideboard, a framed Scotland shirt propped up against the wall.
The shirts and trousers on hangers suspended from his curtain rail are also testament to the fact that he's single.
He and his ex-wife Vicky, who married in 1988 and had two sons – Nicholas, now 25, and Ryan, 21 – divorced a few years ago. "I know that if I had allowed the same passion I had for Hearts to rule my private life in the same way, there wouldn't have been heartbreak for my ex-wife and sons," he says.
The split came years after he left the club, but perhaps his affair with Deborah King was just the straw that broke the camel's back.
In his book, he refers to infidelity without mentioning that's what finally ended his marriage. Instead, he says: "I can admit to many flaws in my married life, one of which was putting Hearts before my marriage. That flaw has only become evident with hindsight and I now realise my head was so far up my own a**e I thought the world revolved around me. The reason for (the marriage] breaking down in 2003 was because of me. It was due to my behaviour, which I am not proud of. I have nobody to blame but myself."
Even now he's uncomfortable talking about it. He says: "The chapter about my private life was the hardest one to write. But we have all moved on, she has moved on and I'm delighted for her. I'm single. I'm as happy as I can be."
Growing up in Eltringham, just off Gorgie Road, his grandparents lived at Hutchison – then Murieston. His grandad (on his mother's side) was a Hearts fan and took him to Hampden and the Scottish Cup Final of 1968 when he was just four. Hearts lost 3-1, but it left Mackay with an abiding love for the boys in maroon.
Attending Balgreen Primary and then Tynecastle High, he played for school teams and then Salvesen Boys Club. By the time he was 14, his skills had brought him to the attention of Burnley, Arsenal and Manchester United.
"I was ready to sign for Manchester United," he recalls. "I even had spent some time training with their boys, including Norman Whiteside, but my younger brother caught whooping cough and when my mum took him to the doctors she asked about a lump she'd discovered. At that time breast cancer was something people had hardly heard about. It was very worrying and meant that there was no way I was going to leave home.
"Then it looked like I might go to Hibs, but eventually Archie Martin, Hearts chairman at the time, signed me and John Robertson, Dave Bowman and Ian Westwater. He was putting his faith in youth as Hearts were going through a bad time and, in fact, were in the First Division."
That was 1980 and within just five years, and with a change of manager to Alex MacDonald and chairman to Wallace Mercer, Hearts were challenging for League and Scottish Cup glory. Unsurprisingly, the double defeat at the end of season 85-6 still hangs heavy on Mackay.
"Time is not a healer," he says. "That was the most momentous season of my career and those defeats still haunt me, as they do the other players and supporters who were there. But it's a roller-coaster ride being a Hearts supporter.
I felt I had let those people down – we all did and still do."
Indeed he believes it's the Hearts support which will ultimately ensure his beloved club's survival. "No matter what any Lithuanian might tell you, the fans are the most important thing," he grins.
Certainly it was as a fan that he took a full role in the Save Our Hearts campaign when former chairman Chris Robinson was drawing up plans to quit Tynecastle for Murrayfield.
"I hate Chris Robinson for what he did to Hearts," says Mackay. "We raised a lot of money through the campaign, but he wasn't interested in it. I don't think his interests were aligned with Hearts' fans.
"George Foulkes might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he stopped the sale of Tynecastle and he brought a new investor. People forget Romanov was the only one interested at the time.
As for the current Hearts set-up, he's non-committal. "My opinion will be made come the end of the season," he says. "I feel it's important that the new manager is allowed time to get things right.
"Campbell Ogilvie's is the one position I am watching carefully. If he steps down or is forced out then what the next step will be would be of great concern."
And for this weekend's derby game? "I want to come away from Easter Road undefeated. If (Hearts] think back to how they started the season and show the same form and belief in the manager's decision-making, then maybe I'll come away with as big a smile as I used to leave Easter Road with when I was fortunate enough to play and win there."
Mackay was also fortunate enough to be one of the first to be inducted into Hearts' hall of fame, and he says: "It was the greatest moment of my life in relation to Hearts. It was the culmination of my love affair with the club."
His award sits on a shelf in his hall, again the only decoration. "Bet you can't guess the colour of my bedroom," he asks with a laugh. "Three walls maroon, one white, and a maroon carpet. All that's missing is the club badge."
There's no denying Mackay is still at heart, that four-year-old Hearts fan.
Gary Mackay will be at Waterstone's, Ocean Terminal, this Sunday from 12-1pm, and next Saturday at Waterstone's, West End, Princes Street, 11-12pm.
A LIFETIME IN FOOTBALL
He scored 64 goals in competitive games and won four caps for Scotland between November 1987 and March 1988, scoring once.
After leaving Hearts he went on to play for Airdrieonians, later becoming their manager. He was only in charge for 41 matches, losing 23, before the club went into administration.
He launched his agency Kickstart 2000 with Bert Logan, and has represented players such as Garry O'Connor, Christophe Berra, Lee Wallace and Paul Hanlon.
He was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2002, and takes medication every day. He is a patron of the Enlighten charity, but also commentates for Hearts TV and Talk 107.
Taken from the Scotsman
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