‘One of the best things I had ever done’ - Mackay on leaving Celtic for Norwich
- Credit: PA
Malky Mackay was a rock in the centre of Norwich City’s defence – and the place left its mark on the Scottish braveheart
Glasgow to Norwich was a culture shock for Malky Mackay – but the big central defender came to love life in Norfolk, and the players he shared a dressing room with.
The love affair began in 1998 and ended six years later – it included heartbreak in the First Division play-off final, a place in local folklore for goals against Ipswich and the glory of helping lead City into the Premier League in 2004.
That he never pulled on the yellow and green in the top flight hurt him personally, but time heals – helped by Mackay’s own managerial experience.
Mackay is Glasgow born and bred and after emerging from the youth ranks at Queen’s Park, joined Celtic in the summer of 1993, making 46 appearances in five years before City called.
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“It’s possibly just one of the best things I had ever done,” said Mackay, who was eager for regular first team football.
“I was 26, and I had come back out of the team again, so you get a point that as much as you love the club you really desperately want to play football every weekend and I made the move down to Norfolk.
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“Quickly you realise that it is a fabulously warm club. Delia Smith is a most wonderful person and her husband Michael Wynn Jones and her 90-year-old mother Etty. Great people, good people that are around the club and run the club.”
Rioch and then Bryan Hamilton departed with Nigel Worthington moving into the managerial hot seat, leading to the first big highlight of Mackay’s City career, the 2002 First Division play-off final against Birmingham at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium - which they had secured after a vital Mackay headed goal in the play-off semi-finals against Wolves.
“I remember Nigel taking over – Nigel was coach at the time and got the interim job – I thought he galvanised the team with all the things he was seeing, but the manager was not seeing.
He spoke to some of the senior players, he pulled us in and asked our thoughts and he kind of galvanised the club at that point and really had everyone working hard for him. He was very honest and very transparent with the players and a dedicated man.
“He pulled us all together and we went on that run to the play-off final, which we weren’t expected to do.
“That semi-final, I remember it as if it was yesterday - Clint Easton - and we all remember Clint for his left foot and his dancing, always claimed that he put it right on my left eyebrow to score the goal.”
The final saw City lose after a penalty shoot-out.
“We were sitting there on the pitch gutted as Birmingham City scored the final penalty and ran away ... I always talk to people about this... come the summer you are waiting on the fixture list coming out and you look at it and see that Birmingham City are starting at Highbury, starting their new season against Arsenal and a couple of days later we were starting at Cleethorpes against Grimsby and it kind of puts it all into perspective.”
Two years later the promotion dream did come true – helped in no small part to Mackay’s two goals in a 3-1 home win over Ipswich in March 2004. It was on May 4 that City secured promotion – they lost at Sunderland but the same night, Stoke’s 4-1 win over West Brom proved vital – and the Canaries were in the Premier League. Worthington had found that unity.
“What a good group of players – playing staff, manager, the directors.
“I have been fortunate because I have had that experience again at other clubs where the whole club and everything about the club was moving in the one direction and that year we got promoted at Norwich everyone was pushing in the one direction, there were no side objectives, there were no people trying to do different thing. Everybody was pushing.”
The downside came the following September when Mackay was deemed surplus to requirements and allowed to leave City, and joined West Ham, helping them to promotion but then moved to Watford, where he finally featured in the top flight. Mackay eventually moved into management at Vicarage Road and then Cardiff and Wigan and is now performance director with the Scottish FA. Norwich, though, will always hold a place in his heart.
“I think a lot of players go to Norwich and they end up living there for the rest of their life with their families,” he said. “ Norfolk is certainly such a lovely part of the world, the people are good - my boy Callum was born in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital – thankfully they got him out before they got the accent into him – but it was a fabulous time in my career and my life and when I am invited back I am always up for going back to see them.”
Malky Mackay was talking to Paul McVeigh’s podcast McVeigh Meets where the former City player is raising funds for NHS Charities Together – go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/paul-mcveigh77 to make a contribution.