KEITH MACKENZIE talks to Donald “Hibs” MacKenzie about football, politics and West Highland life…
Like fans the world over, Plockton man Donald MacKenzie is currently savouring the festival of football taking place in Brazil.
But when it comes to the World Cup, Donald can surely consider himself unique in being able to say he was there to witness, in person, two of the most iconic moments in the history of the competition.
They are two matches which tend to provoke contrasting emotions in Scottish fans — but Donald can put the “I was there” stamp on both.
Because in 1966 Donald was at Wembley to see England lift the Jules Rimet trophy. And 12 years later, in Mendoza, Argentina, he stood mesmerised as Archie Gemmill waltzed past a string of Dutch defenders to score Scotland’s most famous goal ever.
DONALD had joined the civil service as a 17-year-old school leaver in 1965, and his first posting was to London where he worked as a clerical officer at the Treasury.
It proved to be good timing as far as a mad-keen football follower like him was concerned. He snapped up tickets for all of the 1966 matches to take place at Wembley, including the final — for which terracing tickets cost 10 shillings.
He remembers the tournament, and the England team, as being slow to grip the public’s imagination in an era relatively free from the media-driven hype we know today.
“The group games were poor, and there weren’t many goals,” he recalls. “England’s quarter-final tie against Argentina — famous for their captain Rattin being red-carded — was the first game shown on television. I missed that one, as on a wage of £6.50 a week it was expensive to travel.
“I was at the England v Portugal semi-final, and then for the final itself my brother Iain had come down and he also got a ticket.”
And what of his allegiance? Donald, probably like the majority of Scots at the time, got behind England.
“I’m not going to duck that question — you got wrapped up in the occasion,” he said. “It was strange, because at the time the country didn’t really unite behind England as a national team. You never saw a St George’s Cross — it was all Union Jacks that were flown.
“It was a privilege to have been there, and England had a great team — the Charlton brothers, Gordon Banks the goalkeeper, and Bobby Moore, who I also saw play for West Ham on numerous occasions.”
THE THREE-AND-A-HALF YEARS Donald spent in London were happy ones — an exciting place not only for football but also for another of his main interests, politics.
He recalls: “The Labour government was on a knife-edge in 65. Then in 66 Wilson got a bit of a landslide. At that time you could wander up and down Downing Street, and watch the comings and goings of George Brown, Shirley Williams, Barbara Castle and the likes.”
His own political leanings were quite different from those he holds today, as he reveals from a letter he once wrote to the now-defunct ‘Weekly Scotsman’ newspaper.
“I used to write these daft letters — and this one in 1967 I wrote saying that London was subsidising Scotland. I wasn’t always on the ‘Yes’ side.
“A guy from Birmingham wrote back and called me ‘Londonised MacKenzie’ — I think after that I decided it was probably time to get back north of the border!”
A MOVE to Scotland took Donald first to Glasgow for a spell with the National Savings Bank, before a shift east to Edinburgh and a position at the Register of Sasines.
It had been as a Plockton Primary School youngster that Donald first acquired his “Hibs” nickname — so called for his love of the Easter Road club, and for the green and white jumper knitted for him by his sister and worn religiously throughout his school days.
Naturally, every second Saturday in the mid to late 70s was spent following a fondly-remembered Hibs team led by Eddie Turnbull.
AND SO TO ARGENTINA, and Donald’s second World Cup experience — this time as part of Ally MacLeod’s Tartan Army.
“This is maybe a lesson to the Free Press — don’t offer any prizes like a trip to the World Cup,” he warns. “In a local paper called the Leith Gazette I won an all-expenses-paid trip to Argentina. The following year, the paper went bust!”
The transatlantic trip was Donald’s first time abroad, and he remembers the plane journey to Buenos Aries passing quickly — as he was seated next to the highly-respected football journalist and author Brian Glanville.
In Argentina Donald saw Scotland endure a fabled footballing rollercoaster which began with calamity against Peru and ended — via an ignominious draw with Iran and a positive drugs test — in glorious failure against Holland.
“I can still see Archie Gemmill yet — beating two or three men and then firing it home,” he said. “My flight back was due the following day, but when he scored I remember saying there is no way I’m going if we make this. Another goal and we were through — but that euphoria lasted four minutes, I think.” A Johnny Rep thunderbolt ultimately shattered our World Cup dream — although Donald says he never seriously considered Scotland as contenders for the trophy.
“The exuberance of Ally MacLeod rubbed off — he was a character, but I don’t think he deserved to be besmirched so much as he was after 78.
“I think our chances were over-hyped. There were a lot of great teams at that time so I can’t say I went out thinking Scotland were going to come home winning the cup.”
Nevertheless, Donald still laughs at being captured — in a TV clip still replayed to this day — among a group of fans jeering MacLeod and his team off the pitch.
“My mate in Edinburgh did tease me a bit for being caught on TV singing ‘we want
our money back’, after going out on an
In Argentina the bad results didn’t just come on the football pitch, Donald remembers. By now he had become a sterling SNP supporter and was involved in campaigning for Margo MacDonald in the Hamilton by-election, which coincided with the World Cup. Donald recalls being told by an enthusiastic BBC journalist in the lobby of a Buenos Aires hotel that “she got thumped”.
HAVING long hankered after a move back to Plockton — the place where he grew up along with brothers Calum, Edmund and Iain and sisters Catherine and Sandra — Donald returned north in 1980.
He initially helped his father Eddie run the caravan and campsite, and in turn it was through this job he met wife Susan — an American who was over on holiday — in 1983. They went on to have two sons — Gordon a Gaelic research student based in Glasgow, and Iain, whose architectural career has taken him to Oregon, USA.
Donald served as an independent councillor for 12 years between 1984 and 1996, and has been on the board of the Lochalsh and Skye Housing Association for some two decades.
Both these roles brought him into working contact with two figures who he feels are due enormous praise for their contribution to the West Highlands — David Noble, the chief executive of the former Skye and Lochalsh District Council, and Lachie Macdonald, the CEO at the housing association.
Local sporting interests have centred on bowling and football — and Donald was secretary of the Skye and Lochalsh FA for over 10 years, following the administrative example set by his own father who was a founder of Plockton FC in the 1950s.
As for politics, a visit to Donald’s house wouldn’t be complete without a word on the impending referendum.
“Obviously I hope it’s a Yes vote — I have campaigned for a greater degree of home rule for 40-odd years,” he said. “But I would have been happy if a ‘devo max’ position had been put on the ballot paper. I think if the Liberal Democrats had pursued that they would be in a better position than they are now.
“All I would say is that I think it’s going to be closer than some opinion polls are suggesting — there is still a lot to play for.”
Who knows — perhaps the Yes campaign’s best hope could yet lie with an England victory in Brazil…