Interview in today’s Sunday Times with SJM
https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/sport/john-mcginn-interview-5s97vcngd (pay wall)
John McGinn: ‘I feel I offer something different to other players’
September 22 2019, 12:01am,
Premier League | John McGinn Interview
Hard-working midfielder had to wait for a shot at the big time but will fancy his chances of hustling Arsenal today
Forward thinking: John McGinn is enjoying playing a more advanced role for Aston Villa this seasonADRIAN SHERRATT
The thing about Clydebank, says John McGinn, is it sits between Loch Lomond and Glasgow, and that means you can go one of two ways.
You go “posh,” he grins, if you travel west to the loch and the mountains and pretty villages there. Or you go real if you head east into Glasgow. In life, McGinn always goes real. No Louis Vuitton wash bag for him, but one he picked up in a Glasgow store. And his car? He used a Football League scheme for players to purchase his, a Mercedes 4x4 with a towbar. Aston Villa’s squad thinks it is hilarious. They call him Eddie Stobart but, McGinn shrugs, “I’d never drive anything my mum wouldn’t get in to.”
Mum Mary and Stephen, his dad, are teachers and the biggest influences upon a 24-year-old who reeks of hard work and humble values, but the rest of the McGinn clan have shaped him too. It’s a big one. He has “50 or 60 cousins”, all of whom would knock him back down to earth were he ever to say or do anything flash.
His grandad, Jack, was chairman of Celtic and president of the Scottish Football Association and is a patriarch from whom he gets solid guidance. Then there are Stephen and Paul, his professional footballer brothers, and twin sister Katie who “would slap me silly if I ever got carried away,” says a midfielder who interested Manchester United in the summer and is deemed “super” by Jurgen Klopp.
After an article where he was rated at £50m, he was asked how much he would pay for himself and “£5” was his reply. He has not forgotten the periods in his life where being here — a flourishing Premier League newcomer and Villa fans’ and players’ player of the year — was very far away. An early hurdle arose when his school, St Peter the Apostle High, had no teacher to take the football team. Mary, who taught there and coached ladies’ netball, stepped in: “It was murder!”
When an SFA rule forbade youngsters playing schools football and for a professional club youth team, and John was at St Mirren’s academy, Mary intervened again. “She gave St Mirren an ultimatum — he either plays for his school and nobody or his school and you. We won the Scottish Schools Cup that year.”
Clydebank itself “presents its own challenges,” he reflects. “There was loads of football played. It’s all you really know from there. It was a brilliant place but the temptations of drink are common.
Deep thinker: McGinn possesses a social conscienceNEVILLE WILLIAMS
“At 15, 16, I’d be street-walking with pals. We’d go up the hill and I’d have my Capri Sun — they’d have Mad Dog [nickname for a fortified wine popular in the west of Scotland]. I was always driven to be a player and had training three or four nights a week, nothing was going to stop me. I had good people round me — even if they were on the Mad Dog,” he laughs.
He has a social conscience and still supports initiatives in Edinburgh, where he played for Hibs, while being an enthusiastic participant in Villa’s community work, and Scotland’s problematic relationship with alcohol troubles him. “Don’t get me wrong, I like a beer from time to time,” he says, “but [at 15] that was a point where it’s easy to get sucked in. Everyone says, ‘Oh, if I hadnae turned to drink...’ It’s so easy in places like Clydebank. And there are a lot worse places in the Glasgow area where it’s even easier to get dragged in.” He hopes Scottish initiatives to tackle the problem work.
St Mirren was a testing but valuable breeding ground. McGinn captained the Under-19s and was charged by fellow players with asking youth head David Longwell to relent. “Everything was old school. We picked litter and cleaned the changing room,” McGinn recalls. “Two or three gym sessions a day. I’d have to ask [Longwell] can the boys go home and he’d say ‘go and do another session’.
“Looking back he was doing it for our benefit, making stuff up to keep us there after 5pm, and keep us out of trouble.” His progress took off when a coach, Tommy Craig, converted him to a midfielder. He helped St Mirren win the League Cup and was player of the year. The next campaign (2014-15) is the one he always reaches back to for perspective.
St Mirren changed managers, overhauled their squad, and he decided against extending his contract. He felt the pressure of being the young talisman, and the team struggled — ultimately going down. His future was uncertain, no top-flight Scottish club willing to pay the £250,000 compensation required.
Then, weeks before becoming a free agent, McGinn suffered serious injury in a training prank — St Mirren captain Steven Thompson speared him with a sharpened pole. It plunged into McGinn’s thigh. “It was a millimetre from the femoral artery. Mentally I struggled. It was a complete accident and there were no hard feelings but the fact I was so close to dying... the surgeon showed me the path of [the pole] and it was 7.7cm deep, somehow avoiding the artery. [Had it not] I’d have bled out in minutes, he said.”
That incident felt “like the icing on the cake. Getting relegated was hard early in my career and I thought the world was against me. Nobody — I mean nobody — would pay the compensation fee for me. And it got to the stage, even St Mirren supporters would agree, I was rubbish.”
He felt even sorrier for himself when red tape thwarted a move to Houston Dynamo in the MLS, then a transfer to Dundee United collapsed — United preferring to sign a Dutch nonentity, Rodney Sneijder, instead. His last option was Hibs, in the Scottish Championship, but moving there proved transformative — and look at him now, Villa’s best player this season, scorer of last year’s Championship Goal of the Season and the “£170m goal” that earned Villa promotion via the playoff final at Wembley.
Dean Smith, Villa’s manager, has unlocked creative and penetrative aspects of his game — moving him upfield to play as an attacking No 8 alongside Jack Grealish. “I feel I offer something different to other players,” he says. “I can hustle and bustle. [In Scotland] what frustrated me, and my dad and grandad, was the impression I was just a rat, a runner. Coming here I’ve proved I can play.”
Villa have big ambitions (“everywhere you look there’s building work”) but know their priority — survival. At games are a regular stream of McGinn guests — his parents, his pals and Mikey, a young leukaemia sufferer he befriended visiting Edinburgh Sick Children’s Hospital and who FaceTimes him daily.
Grealish is a close buddy. “We’re similar age and like similar things,” McGinn says. He considers Grealish’s pin-up boy status and is modest to the last. “We’re different looks-wise but I suppose we’re probably a 12 out of 20 together…”