“If netball decide to make a men’s league, I’m up for it. Scottish Thistles – I’m in.”

Those are the words of Scotland midfielder John McGinn, and if you think it sounds like nothing more than a fiercely proud Scot who would relish representing his country at anything, think again.

McGinn loves netball and has played it a lot, a legacy of his upbringing on the outskirts of Glasgow in a sports-mad family where everyone joined in.

“My sister Katie used to be good at netball, and my mum also used to play. I used to go watch them at St Stephen’s,” the Aston Villa midfielder told the BBC.

“If someone asked who I was watching, I’d say ‘my mum is in goals, Katie is goal defence, my girlfriend [now fiancee] is wing defence, my cousin is centre.

“I like it. We went as a family to the Commonwealth final, Jamaica v England, in Birmingham. It’s a sport I’ve always kept an eye on and believe it or not, me and my brothers used to play.

“We weren’t good at footwork, but mum used to encourage us to play against my aunties and stuff. I was a centre. I wasn’t good at finishing but I ran about daft. The games were good, we were very ill-disciplined, probably a bit too rough!”

Those netball games were a brief change of scenery in a childhood otherwise dominated by football.

McGinn’s older brothers Stephen and Paul are both long-time professionals – currently with Falkirk and Motherwell respectively – and his grandfather Jack is a well-known former chairman of Celtic and president of the Scottish FA.

“My first memory is being three or four and managing to get a game for my brother’s team. I was tiny, just running about. The pitch was called John Brown’s. I just fell in love with football there,” recalls the 28-year-old.

“It was intense, tough, competitive. Stephen and Paul have been brilliant for me and my career. I don’t think I’ve ever hugged them, but I remember fighting them all the time.

“I had to compete with their pals early on. Paul hated it when I came to five-a-side with his mates – I used to be this annoying wee guy, but I got stuck in. It helped me physically, there were tough games.

“One of the women’s players at Villa, Ruesha [Littlejohn], used to play in those games. If they were short of numbers, I was there with my boots on.”

John (left) and Paul McGinn celebrate after Scotland's win against Austria

Two decades on from being a pest to his brother on the pitches of Clydebank, the tables were turned a little in Ernst-Happel-Stadion in Vienna in September 2021.

With Scotland suffering an defensive injury crisis, manager Steve Clarke called up Paul – and in the 77th minute, he joined his little brother, by now one of the team’s key players, on the pitch as Scotland beat Austria 1-0.

“I’ve never been so nervous in 20 minutes of football. I saw him at the side of the pitch and I thought ‘oh no, it’s only 1-0’ – I didn’t want him to make a mistake or it to be 1-1 and people to think it was his fault.

“He came on against [David] Alaba and he was different class. I was so proud. To be able to play for your country with your brother is special.

“It was a ‘ha-ha’ to everyone who thought he wasn’t good enough to play in the Scottish top flight, never mind his country.”

McGinn’s takes on…

Henrik Larsson

“He was, in my era, God in Scotland – in one half of Glasgow. A phenomenal player. I cried my eyes out at his farewell. The boys at Villa wind me up, they ask me ‘why do you wear seven? you don’t play like a seven?’ At St Mirren when I got the chance for seven, grabbed it. Hibs, grabbed it. Villa, grabbed it.”

Jack Grealish

“We keep in touch all the time. He used to wind me up. He said I’d be dead aggressive to everyone that’s not Scottish. Then a Scottish boy comes along and you’re all nice, letting them go past you.”

Favourite stadium

“My best memories are at Hampden. I love playing at Wembley. I quite like Tottenham. You want to enjoy the experience and you go to Tottenham, they’ve got the Molton & Brown handwash, the pitch is amazing, it’s always a sell out.”

His grandad Jack’s connections

“We got easier access to tickets. I was lucky enough to see the Zidane goal at Hampden in the Champions League final behind the goal.”

Henrik Larsson in a Celtic shirt

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