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Don of Spanish football forged Caithness link

By Matt Leslie

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Dr William Alexander Mackay was born in Lybster on July 10, 1860.

He was the youngest of nine children fathered by the Rev John Mackay who was the village’s Free Church pastor.

Following his primary school days in Lybster, Mackay went to Edinburgh’s Royal High School in 1874 and then Edinburgh University four years later to read medicine.

During his time away from his studies, he represented Edinburgh University AFC. In 1883 they won the East of Scotland Shield after Hibs had pulled out of the final having been unable to raise a team.

After qualifying as a doctor, he was hired by the Rio Tinto mining company to be the head of medical at its operation in Huelva, Spain.

Aside from his official duties, Dr Mackay would offer every Thursday to treat free all the sick and injured who arrived at the Spanish port. In order to keep the Rio Tinto workforce physically fit, and provide quality leisure time, Mackay organised football and cricket events. But it would be the former that caught the Spanish eye. With a large number of Spanish miners keen to set up a team, Mackay on December 23, 1889 – along with a fellow Scot, Charles Adam – established the first football club in Spain, Recreativo de Huelva.

Adam was the club’s first president but Mackay would take over in 1896.

Away from football was tragedy. Mackay’s five children all died young thanks to a hereditary disease from his wife who herself passed away. However, Mackay threw himself towards his work as a doctor and a football club owner as Recreativo’s profile began to grow in the nation.

In 1909, King Alfonso XIII of Spain bestowed the award of the Great White Cross upon Mackay for his services to medicine. Six years later, Mackay offered the king the title of Recreativo’s honorary president.

Mackay (right) was an idealist who believed in the pure amateur form of sport. Unfortunately for his club, other teams in Spain were becoming professional outfits and Recreativo, like Queen’s Park in Scotland, could not keep up with the big spenders.

Huelva city council appointed him as an Adoptive Son of the City in July 1923. In 1926, Mackay took ill and moved back to Scotland to Heathmount Farm, near Tain. He died on July 14, 1927. He is forever known in Spain as the don of Spanish football.

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