Darren Mackie: Cult Hero

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Every fan base has them– the Cult Heroes; separate from the pantheon of club greats, revered instead for more enigmatic reasons. For some players it’s their never say die attitude, for others a knack for coming up with goals on big occasions, others their bizarre off the field antics, or for simply being able to hang around a club for ages despite being a bit shite.

Aberdeen’s own band of Cult Heroes – the likes of Lee Richardson, Davie Robb and Derek McKay – tend to be elevated to iconic status by fulfilling one of those definitions, but very few players can justifiably stake a claim to all of them. Step forward Darren Mackie.

A product of the Don’s youth system, the striker managed 14 years at Pittodrie despite a fairly paltry return of 68 goals from 365 appearances.  Mackie’s endurance, despite his obvious limitations, allayed with a tireless commitment that comes from turning out for your boyhood team, should be enough to seal his Cult Hero status. But to leave it there would be a massive disservice; Mackie’s story is one of a journeyman striker whose career was punctuated with some genuinely surreal moments.  This is a light-hearted look at a few of my favourite Darren Mackie memories. They’ll bring a smile to the face of anyone who remembers them and, in amongst the heartbreak and occasional ecstasy, what else is football for?

That Goal

Everyone loves a Football’s Greatest Bloopers programme, hidden away on Dave+2 at 4am; a suspiciously amped-up Danny Baker taking drunks, insomniacs and Sevco accountants on a tour of the best footballing fuck ups the world has to offer.

A master of chasing down and embarrassing goalies, like an annoying Jack Russell who’ll barely let you get a touch in the back garden and will hump your leg in the process just for a laugh, a few of Mackie’s goals can be classed as bloopers. But there is one goal in particular, a different type of goal, a goal that is solid blooper gold.

Aberdeen were taking on Kilmarnock in a crucial end of season match at Pittodrie. In goal that day for the Ayrshire side was Alan Combe. After collecting a fairly routine shot, Combe decided to spring a quick counter and attempted to fire the ball out to the Killie right back. However, no doubt bamboozled by the frankly ridiculous I’d rather be a Brush than a Combe chants from the home support, the keeper’s overarm throw cannoned off the back of Mackie’s head, over the stricken keeper and into the back of the net. Ever the marksman, Mackie even had the audacity to celebrate.

One can only hope he gets a share of the royalties every time someone asks What Happened Next?

That Other Goal

From the ridiculous to the sublime: undoubtedly Mackie’s most important goal for the Dons – the diving header against Dnipro in the 2007/08 Uefa Cup.

Having come through the first leg of the qualification play-off with a creditable 0-0 draw at Pittodrie, Aberdeen had survived an absolute doing from the crack Ukrainian outfit in the second leg before the Garioch Galactico struck in spectacular fashion. The goal was enough to secure a 1-1 draw which propelled the club into the uncharted territory of the group stages and beyond, including memorable glamour ties against the likes of Atletico Madrid and Bayern Munich. The significance of the goal would ensure Mackie’s name is forever etched into Don’s folklore. But the manner of the goal was almost as extraordinary.

A perfect cross slung in by the wrong foot of the much maligned Ricky Richard Foster was met by the forehead of Mackie, body contorted into a backslash, akin to a randy salmon flinging himself upstream in a moment of life-defining desperation, straining every sinew to finally get his fishy end away.

The contrast between his normally workmanlike finishing and this thing of beauty on such a big stage guarantees Mackie’s will be remembered by generations of Dandies. Under normal circumstances Foster’s contribution would have afforded him similar status but ultimately the closest he got to any sort of cult was his cameo during the end days of the Mk I Rangers suicide pact.

Darren Mackie: Reading Champion

Picture the scene. An awkward teenager finds himself in the midst of an Ibizan Club 18-30 sweatbox, as a coked-up Rep relentlessly harangues him to join in with the Mime as Many Sex Positions As You Can in a Minute Game. Our geeky protagonist knows he should resist the peer pressure, knows his status as the staunchest of virgins will be blatantly obvious to the assembled hordes of Top Shaggers. There is no way this ends well. And yet, there he is, doing his best impression of a rutting mongoose in front of the aghast onlookers.

You have to imagine that Darren Mackie went through a similar inner torment when asked to participate in a local primary school’s campaign to promote the merits of reading. That he ultimately chose to eschew the path of good sense is something we should be very grateful for.

No doubt confident that his contribution would never find its way into the public consciousness, Mackie decided to go full disclosure; firstly admitting he doesn’t really read before urging kids just completely fuck off books and watch films instead.

The American Dream

Season 2011-12 marked Mackie’s last at Pittodrie and buoyed by the proceeds of a glamour testimonial against Villarreal, he officially confirmed his retirement by signing for Phoenix FC in the third tier of USA fitba.  The fledgling club were managed by former Aberdeen and Rangers player Davie Robertson and having only formed a few months previously, Mackie became the club’s first ever signing. Big things were expected of the star import. In a squad made up mostly of young Americans supplemented by a mix of Brazilian, Mexican and African journeymen, Mackie was given the Number 10 shirt – and with it a whole lot of hype.

An extract from a press release at time spoke of Mackie’s addition to the starting lineup being “highly anticipated both in Phoenix and in international circles, where “The Dazzler” has a substantial following of devoted fans.”

No single moment sums up the buzz around Mackie’s signing better than the video of him and his family being welcomed at Phoenix International Airport by the Red Fury supporters club.

Who wouldn’t want to step off an arduous transatlantic flight spent with two little kids right into an expectant throng of fans; ready to festoon you with plastic flowers and sing a fitba/christmas mash-up right into your face from only a few feet away?

The Mackie clan look bemused, the Red Fury equally so when they realise Mackie isn’t emitting the stellar aura they’d expected. The whole thing makes for very uncomfortable viewing. It’s glorious.

Altogether now: There’s only one Darren Mackie. We’re walking along, singing a song, walking in a winter wonderland.

The Moat (not that one)

The history of Scottish football is illuminated by water-based japes: Jimmy Johnstone try to row to Ireland in search of another pint, Gary Mackay-Steven’s River Kelvin adventure and Leigh Griffiths being canvassed by Flat Earthers for his views on bendy water. Another of the many comedic interludes from Mackie’s American odyssey deserves its place in that line-up.

By the end of their inaugural season Phoenix FC had managed to lose 90% of their fan base and due to a series of administrative blunders had taken to playing their home games on whichever local high school pitches were available that week. It was in these inauspicious surroundings that Mackie, making one of only a handful of appearances in an injury-ravaged season, had the funniest moat-related football moment since Gazza turned up with a fishing rod and some cans offering to help out his mate Raoul.

Tasked with spot kick duties, the veteran striker would’ve been expected to stick it away with consummate ease given his fame within international circles. However, the combination of a pitch that looks like it’s been recently used for a neep harvest, the sight of a random rowing boat bobbing around in the background and the nagging realisation that he’s not been able to score in a sub-Highland League level of football clearly has a catastrophic effect on The Dazzler’s psyche during his run up. Only a man undergoing a full existential crisis could produce an attempt so woeful it was described by the American commentator as “One of the most shocking penalty attempts I’ve seen at pro-level!”.

You can’t help but feel the sight of the errant ball bobbing around in the moat, awaiting rescue by whichever poor bastard has been tasked with manning the rowing boat, is the perfect metaphor for Mackie’s ill-fated stateside adventure. He returned to the North East after one season in the US, having made ten appearances and scoring one goal, which ended up in the back of his own net…

Whichever you look at it, Mackie had a remarkable career. Enough that in years to come old mannies will inhale sharply and say “Ayyyye, yon Mackie, some boy” and that is the very least he deserves.