Dramatic footage of tornado-devastated Nashville
“When I went outside it just looked like a war zone. You could smell gas, electricity poles were down and sparking fires, trees everywhere, debris everywhere, a real mess.”
Just a couple of days after one of the proudest moments of his life, Ally Mackay suffered one of the worst.
Only 48 hours earlier, at the end of February, the assistant general manager at Nashville SC had been at their debut Major League Soccer game against Atlanta United. He was joined by his family, including his parents, Calum and Cathy, who had travelled from the Isle of Lewis to be with their son on his big day.
But here he was looking at his house with the windows blown out, some of the roof missing, and water pouring in after a tornado tore through Nashville.
“I woke up about 11:30pm and the weather had really taken a turn for the worse,” explains Mackay, who had spent an evening at the hockey with his parents with his wife out of town. “I had my eldest son, who’s about to turn four, in bed with me and my parents were in the guest bedroom right next to my one-year-old.
“I had some texts from folks saying ‘stay safe’ and within 15 minutes, the tornado really came in. When I walked out of the bedroom there was glass everywhere, rain was pouring in and that’s when it hits you that this is pretty serious.
“One of my neighbours is a retired marine and he came running in the door to check on us. That’s when I knew I had to get myself together and go to help. One of our next door neighbours lost the entire second floor of their house. It was just a really unpleasant experience.”
‘My mum was straight in cleaning’
Mackay’s journey to joining the backroom team at a top American club has included a football scholarship as a player in the States, a sports business management degree at Stirling University, and a spell with Stellar Group in Florida as a football agent.
After eight years in Florida, he joined Nashville in January 2019 as the club prepared for life in the top flight of US football as – alongside David Beckham’s Inter Miami CF – one of the MLS expansion sides for 2020.
Nashville’s league bow was the culmination of years of hard work, a day to make his parents proud. And while he would have preferred them to have never experienced a tornado, he was glad to have them around in the aftermath.
Nashville SC played their first MLS game against Atlanta on 29 February 2020
“Our house was damaged but other people were far worse off,” he says. “We moved in two months ago, so there was no phenomenal attachment to the place.
“My mother is just like a lot of Scottish mums, she was straight in there cleaning everything, picking up all the shards of glass, getting pans and buckets out for the leaks. One of the guys from the insurance company came round and my mum had cleaned up so much that he said, ‘Looks like you don’t have that much damage’.
“They were quite relieved that they were here with me. They wouldn’t have wanted to be so far away and feeling helpless. Though I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get them back to Nashville anytime soon.”
‘You just get on with it, it’s the Scottish mentality’
The Tennessee tornados claimed 24 lives and visited enormous damage, and while Nashville was trying to get back on track, America went into lockdown in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
Mackay, wife Ashley and sons, Jackson (three) and Lucas (one), have jumped from hotel to hotel before finding rental accommodation on a monthly basis. It is likely to be July or August before they can return home. But he is not a man to indulge in self-pity.
“I don’t know if it’s a Scottish mentality, but I feel you can either sit around and sulk and think ‘we’ve been hit by a tornado’ or you just get on with it,” he says. “It’s important to go with that mindset that you just carry on.”
And there is plenty to be getting on with as Nashville look to become an established MLS club. The league season is only two games old, and two defeats outlines the “huge” jump and how quickly they need to improve to compete when they are allowed to play again.
“MLS is postponed until 8 June but it’s going to be a game of just being patient,” he says. “Our season has just started so we’re in a different position from England and Scotland in that we don’t need to rush back into things.”