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Striking out in America - 02/07/2004

John McGinlay will long be remembered for his stunning goal in the 1-0 victory against Sweden at Ibrox in late 1996 - a key strike in helping book Scotland's place at the World Cup finals in France 18 months later.

McGinlay is about to move to the United States with his wife and family, having founded a new club in Cincinnati, but he has fond memories of his early days in Lochaber.

Born in Inverness and raised with his brothers, David and Alisdair, in the village of Caol, near Fort William, the young McGinlay was a childhood friend of former Aberdeen stalwart Duncan Shearer.

He said: "I've always thought it ironic that Duncan Shearer and I not only made our Scottish debuts on the same night, in a 2-1 win in Austria, but he got his first cap coming off the bench to replace me. It was a great moment for both of us and really an amazing coincidence."

McGinlay's father, Arthur, was a lorry driver, while his mum, Ellen, stayed at home to raise the family.

He said: "Both of them died a couple of years ago. My mum passed away and, seven weeks after, my dad also died. My dad was a broken man and I'm sure he gave up the will to live."

McGinlay learned his football skills early, as he revealed: "As soon as we got off the school bus and did one or two wee jobs about the house to help mum, we were back out on the front green for a game of football.

"Like everyone else at the time, we didn't have much, but it was a really happy childhood.

"My mum and dad worked hard and gave us everything they could. They often went without to send me on football trips.

"I'll never forget that and it is a comfort to know that when I did get capped for Scotland, there was no one prouder than my mum and dad. Thankfully, they were able to see me play for my country on several occasions."

McGINLAY is one of the youngest players to play senior football, as he revealed: "At the age of 14, I made my Fort William debut in a North of Scotland Cup tie against Elgin City at Borough Briggs, coming off the bench in a 4-0 defeat.

"At that time, Fort William were not yet in the Highland League, but we played in the North Cup, the Scottish Qualifying Cup and the Inverness Cup.

"When I went to play for Fort at Nairn County in a pre-season friendly when I was 17, their manager Malcolm Cowie signed me after the game.

"I scored quite a few goals in my first season at Station Park. A year later, I got the chance to go to New Zealand and played for a year for an Auckland team called Northshore.

"I came back and re-signed for Nairn. After scoring a few goals, I was asked down to Sunderland for a month's trial in 1985.

"Len Ashurst was the manager at the time. I played a few reserve games and scored a few goals, but nothing came of it.

"I was a wee bit down when I came back from Roker Park, but, thankfully, a part-time coach at Sunderland, Cecil Irwin, a former Sunderland full back and ex-manager of Yeovil Town, had recommended me to Yeovil.

"I was at home in Fort William one day when I got a phone call from Yeovil boss Gerry Gow, a former Manchester City player and fellow Scot.

"He asked me down before the signing deadline, as Yeovil were struggling near the foot of the Conference. I went down for a month and ended up signing a contract and staying three years.

"Yeovil was great for me, not only from a football point of view, but because I met my wife, Lee. I got married and we had two kids there, so the town has fond memories for me.

"Yeovil Town were probably the biggest club in non-league football and were regularly attracting crowds of more than 2,500. I'm delighted to see they are now doing so well in the football league."

After three years with Yeovil, McGinlay packed his bags and headed to Elgin City to join his former Nairn County team-mate Steve Paterson, who was the manager at Borough Briggs.

He said: "My mum and dad came down and helped us move the whole family up to Elgin and, seven months later, I got the phone call from Ian McNeill at Shrewsbury."

HOWEVER, McGinlay's move to English League football was not as straightforward.

He said: "My old manager Gerry Gow was by now manager at non-league Weymouth. Just prior to Shrewsbury's interest, he came on the phone and made a bid of 20,000 to Elgin.

"City were going to accept the bid, but, in the meantime, Ian McNeill's son, also Ian, had told his father about me. His dad had never seen me play, but took a chance and offered City 25,000.

"I had picked Gerry Gow up at Inverness airport in the afternoon. He had a certified cheque for 20,000 sitting in the Borough Briggs boardroom waiting for the Elgin committee to seal the deal.

"I was called through to the secretary's office and told McNeill was on the phone for me - I thought it was Billy McNeill from Celtic. When he said that he was Ian McNeill of Shrewsbury Town, I didn't even know where Shrewsbury was.

"Minutes later, I phoned him back and told him that I would come to Gay Meadow, but I then had the rather unenviable task of going through to where Gerry Gow was still sitting with his 20,000 cheque.

"For a start, Gerry was understandably a bit miffed, but then he stood up, shook my hand, and got me to promise if things didn't work out for me at Shrewsbury, he would have first refusal on my signature.

"The next day, I headed for Shrewsbury, who were a decent side and playing in the old Second Division along with clubs like Chelsea and Leeds United.

"I was walking about with my mouth wide open, playing against guys like Gordon Strachan, who was with Leeds at the time. Thankfully, Davie Moyes, now the Everton manager, was playing for the Shrews and he made me feel very welcome.

"I signed for Shrewsbury on February 22, 1989, and scored five goals in the remaining 14 games that season.

"The following season, I was leading scorer. But Ian had departed to go to Millwall with Bruce Rioch, and Asa Hartford took over at Gay Meadow.

"My contract was about to expire, so I ended up moving to Bury, who were backed by a guy pouring money into the club like it was going out of fashion, and they signed me for 175,000.

"Unfortunately, eight months later, in 1991, the funding dried up. They had to sell six of us quite quickly or the club would have gone out of business.

"Bruce Rioch came back in for me and took me to Millwall, where I was more than delighted to join up with my old mentor Ian McNeill.

"Millwall were in the First Division and, that first season, we were beaten in the Premier League play-offs. The following season, Bruce Rioch went to Bolton and I was his first signing."

McGINLAY was about to reach the peak of his domestic career at Burnden Park.

He said: "Bolton Wanderers paid 125,000 for me and I suppose they got their money's worth.

"I signed for Bolton on September 30, 1992, at the age of 28. I must admit that before I went to Millwall to work with Bruce Rioch, I wasn't the most organised, devoted or most disciplined footballer in the country. But Rioch changed all that, turning me into a dedicated professional.

"My self-discipline improved, I trained harder than ever, and that brought its own rewards during my six seasons at Bolton.

"Burnden Park became a very special place, so much so that I never really felt quite at home when we moved to the Reebok.

"Burnden Park was an old, traditional football ground with loads of history. I was really sad to leave it.

"There was a wonderful atmosphere during a midweek game at Burnden Park, while it was a ground synonymous with the club's most famous player, Nat Lofthouse.

"Nat is still alive. He is a very humble man and an absolute gentleman who has done wonders for his club. As club president, he was at the ground every day and would always stop and have a chat."

Looking back at his international career, McGinlay said: "I made my Scotland debut in Austria and, of course, the night was made even more special when Duncan Shearer came off the bench to replace me for his own debut in the second half.

"We won 2-1 and I eventually went on to win another 12 Scottish caps. My sweetest memory is the afternoon I scored that goal in the World Cup qualifier against Sweden at Ibrox in 1996.

"That was the highlight of my career, as my mum and dad were there, along with the rest of my family. Playing for my country meant everything to me and when I was asked to play, I gave it my all."

Injuries played their part to hasten the end of McGinlay's playing career. He said: "I was struggling near the end of my playing career, as I had an Achilles problem and it was getting worse by the day.

"I was popping pain-killers like sweeties, but I wanted to keep going, as I still felt I had a chance of getting into the Scottish squad for the 1998 World Cup finals in France.

"However, it was not to be. Bolton had been promoted to the Premier League and had paid 3.5million to Wimbledon for Dean Holdsworth.

"The season before, myself and Nathan Blake scored 54 goals between us. I hit 30 and Nathan 24, so I felt we had done enough to retain our places.

"When Colin Todd told me I would only be a squad player, I was obviously a bit down, as I knew that I needed first-team football to have any chance of booking my place on that plane to France.

"Manchester City, Sunderland and Birmingham City showed interest, but Bradford City manager Chris Kamara acted swiftly to secure my services for 650,000 in season 1997-98.

"He was so keen, and Bradford were going well at the time, that I decided to give it a go, but, within a few months, I had to have an operation on the Achilles. I came back too quickly and it tore again.

"The surgeon said that it was too soon to operate on it again and that I should rest up for a whole year - something I couldn't afford to do at the age of 35.

"I left Bradford and rested for quite some time, until I got a phone call out of the blue from Andy Ritchie at Oldham Athletic. After playing a few games and scoring a few goals, they offered me a contract. But after three or four months, the old problem re-occurred and that was the end of that."

HOWEVER, McGinlay went out in a blaze of glory, as he recalled: "My last game was a live FA Cup match on Sky when we were drawn away to Brentford.

"I scored and got the man-of-the-match award, but was unable to walk for four days after the match. I walked away from my 15-month contract, as it wasn't fair to Oldham, and went out to America to coach for a wee while before returning to take over at Gresley Rovers in the Dr Martens West League and then moving on to Ilkeston Town."

Now for the American challenge, and McGinlay said: "The family are about to join me over in the States and we're all very excited about the move.

"My children are Amie-Lee, who will be eight in October, Craig, who was 10 earlier this week, Jamie will be 15 in August, Michael was 16 in December and John will be 18 in August.

"Michael will stay in the UK, as he has just signed a two-year contract with Manchester City. He has been with them as a striker for 18 months, so he has a chance. It really would be a dream come true to see another McGinlay one day pulling on the famous dark blue jersey of Scotland.

"I am more than happy with the cards that life has dealt me. I will never forget my roots and go back to Fort William as often as I can to see my old pals. I've been very privileged to have travelled the world doing something I've enjoyed."


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