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Five years on David Mackay reflects


Five years on David Mackay looks back after he lost the battle but won the war in Scotland rugby’s revolution

Five years on, David Mackay has one main regret Photograph: Steve Cox
Alasdair Reid

Published on 17 Jan 2010
There are many more pressing demands on Scottish Rugby’s resources right now, but if the big cheeses of the SRU’s administration ever wanted to scrape the bottom of the shortbread tin for funds for a work of public art they could do worse than raise a statue in honour of the 14 gentlemen who sat on their own general committee at the dawn of 2005.

The only drawback is it would take a sculptor of uncommon dexterity and craft to capture the myopia that characterised the actions of those indiv-
iduals at the time. A handful – four, to be exact – came out of the administrative meltdown they had provoked with reputations intact, but the others could still serve, quite literally, as monuments to vainglorious stupidity.

Five years have now passed since the old committee unwittingly signed their own death warrants with a vote of no confidence in David Mackay, the much-respected businessman who had been called in as chairman a year earlier to steady a Union ship that had been holed below the financial waterline by the bungling of previous managements.

One of Mackay’s first actions had been to promote Phil Anderton, the marketing guru who had already restored some respectability to Murrayfield’s gate takings. The two then plotted a new and more imaginative course for the governing body, but they foundered on the rock of those committee members whose determination to hold on to a few old privileges was of greater concern than the modernisation of the sport as a whole. Mackay was forced from office, and Anderton soon followed.

On the fifth anniversary of the outbreak of Scottish rugby’s civil war, Mackay recalls those days with wry detachment. He was the first casualty of a battle, but his vision eventually won the war. Before the season was over, Scotland’s clubs rose up against the committee, ushering in the management style and structure that Mackay had mapped out in the first place.

I kept saying to Phil, ‘This stinks, there’s something going on here’
“I was the sacrificial lamb, and sometimes you need one of those,” Mackay says. “I wasn’t in Scottish rugby for the roar of the crowd or for fame and fortune. The workload was enormous and the salary was pretty minuscule. I was there because I loved Scottish rugby. I had seen two Grand Slams in my time and I wanted the game to succeed at international and club level again. It couldn’t do that by living in the dark ages. We had to drive change, and quite frankly the committee structure was an obstacle to that.”

All of which would have made for a dry and dusty yarn, save for the fact that the ramifications of the changes Mackay and Anderton wanted to
implement were far-reaching. In 
anticipation of which, the under-threat committee members began scheming on a scale that was staggering even by their own Machiavellian standards. Mackay could smell a rat.

“We had been moving very quickly,” he remembers. “Thinking back now, for about two months before this happened we were having regular meetings with sub-committees of the general committee and making almost miraculous progress in the things we were trying to do. I kept saying to Phil, ‘This stinks, there’s something going on here’.

“He had the same feeling. But 
irrespective, we decided to press on and go as hard as we could because what we were trying to do was all positive for Scottish rugby. But my instincts still told me that there was a plot.

“I was still surprised by how it happened. I had just come back from a holiday in Portugal when I got the royal summons and was then told to resign or else. Gordon [Dixon, then SRU pres-ident] phoned me and said they wanted an urgent meeting. I explained that I was just back, and he said it had to be that day, as soon as possible. I knew what was coming.

“I decided to go to the meeting. When I got there, the caucus was there. I felt a bit sorry for Gordon actually. He was president so he had the job to do, but there were some tough guys around him who were certainly not friends of mine.”

Mackay’s resignation was a bombshell for the sport. The man charged with the task of dragging Scottish rugby into the 21st century had been undone by those who wanted it to remain in the 19th. Yet while they still wielded the power, they had lost the hearts and minds of the wider rugby community.

Mackay resigned on January 10. On January 11, the SRU’s three non-
executive directors stood down too. On January 12, Anderton announced his resignation. The committee members had cited the disquiet of Scotland’s clubs as the reason for their actions, but soundings throughout the sport suggested the clubs’ sympathies were overwhelmingly on the side of those who had fallen on their swords.

It was a catastrophic misjudgment that would see most of the committee cabal swept out of Murrayfield for good, their reputations shattered by their ruinous mismanagement of Scottish rugby and their conspicuous reluctance to remove their snouts from its trough. A new system of governance – not perfect, but with the transparency and all the checks and balances the previous regime had opposed – was implemented a few months later.

So a victory for Mackay in the end? Not quite. Scottish rugby got the 
administrative structures it needed, but lost the visionary that was Anderton.

“The magic element was Phil,” Mackay says. “He was a creative thinker, not a linear thinker. Like all good chief executives he needed an anchor at times, but he had so much more to offer than Scottish rugby got from him.

“He was an incredibly talented chief executive. I think he would have contributed an awful lot more in terms of marketing prowess and imagination had he stayed. I wanted him to stay. But when the three non-executive directors resigned in support of me he started to feel exposed. He was subjected to 
absolute nonsense from certain people. I’ve been told faithfully on several occasions that they weren’t really after Mackay, they were after Anderton.”

These days, Mackay is chairman of both Lothian Buses and Transport Initiatives Edinburgh, which is managing the installation of the city’s tram system. In rugby terms, he is also chairman of Glasgow Hawks, but his passion is watching Scotland and he is still a Murrayfield debenture holder.

He is also associated with the Friends of Scottish Rugby, the loose gathering of well-off Scots which has channelled funds into London Scottish, and will probably do so again if the club can continue their climb towards the top tier of the English game. For the SRU that would be too good an opportunity to miss.

“In a matter of time, a short time, a third pro team will emerge in London,” he says. “London Scottish have some very sensible and well-heeled investors who are all of one mind about Scottish rugby. If London Scottish continue to do well this season and next the SRU would be crazy not to offer support as well.”

This article was originally posted on 17-Jan-2010, 13:02 by Hugh Barrow.
Last updated by Hugh Barrow on 17-Jan-2010, 13:03.

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