Watford Career: 42 games (29 starts), 2 goals
Going to: Sheffield United (free transfer)
At the end of the day, the footballing gods were against Stephen McGinn’s stay at Watford.
Though he only just topped 40 appearances for the club, he’s been at Vicarage Road for a long time. On the 15th January 2010, a slight Scottish lad signed the deal that completed his transfer from St Mirren to the bright lights of the Championship. The 21 year-old had gained attention north of the border when he scored the winner in the Buddies’ win over Rangers that year and had scored on debut for his country’s under-21 side, but Malky Mackay stated upon his arrival that he was a player for the future and that he would have to learn to cope with the physical demands of English football before we saw too much of him.
The nine glimpses we caught of him during the remainder of that campaign confirmed as much. For the most part he was put into games as a late sub; getting ten minutes here, half an hour there – not the best situation in which to strut your stuff and impose yourself on a game. But he looked frail. Deployed as a central midfielder, he didn’t have the presence to get on and stay on the ball.
A pre-season later, and things were very much heading in the right direction. McGinn wasn’t going to be stacking many Atlas Balls, but his slight physique was starting to put itself around more, and he seemed to be more confident with his place on a football pitch.
When it fell to Watford to draw open the curtain on the 2010/11 season on a Friday night in Norwich, Mackay opted to start McGinn alongside John Eustace in the centre of midfield. The Hornets upset the division’s eventual runners-up to win 3-2, and from that day on McGinn was a regular fixture in the Watford midfield.
Operating in a central three with Eustace and Jordon Mutch, with Don Cowie and Will Buckley on the wing, McGinn and Watford were heading in the right direction. With Mutch pushing on and Eustace providing the backbone, McGinn was able to float around and play his impactful game. It was another Friday night, this one a cold December evening at Loftus Road, that McGinn had his greatest game in yellow.
Danny Graham, the undisputed hero of that season, would grab the headlines with his brace against the previously undefeated QPR, but McGinn and Mutch combined to play though the hitherto staunch Rangers defence. With Buckley and Cowie keeping Kyle Walker and Clint Hill busy, the two went to work on Matthew Connolly and Kaspars Gorkss, stretching them all over the place and freeing up space for Graham to work his prolific magic.
At the turn of the year, Watford were flirting with the play-offs. Then it all went wrong. By the time they travelled to Doncaster on the 26th February, they were winless in seven games and had fallen to 12th in the league. In the 37th minute, with Watford 1-0 up through Graham’s header, McGinn stretched for a loose ball along with Adam Thompson and Rovers’ Jason Euell. The three came together in an innocuous tangle. The latter two got up, but McGinn did not. He was stretchered off. His cruciate ligaments had snapped. That was 28 months ago. He would never set foot on a competitive pitch for Watford again.
It was not until the end of the following season that McGinn was able to return to reserve team action. He was given short bursts in informal friendlies, mirroring his first year at the club, but by the end of the season, it looked as if he might be able to give his Watford career another go. Despite being out of action for over a year, he was offered a new one-year deal, a sign that the club saw a future for the midfielder. There was a delay in the Scot signing the deal, and by the time it was confirmed, his next roadblock had presented itself: the Pozzos.
We have a lot to be thankful for to the Pozzos. Mackay’s Watford side overachieved in toying with the play-offs before falling away, Dyche’s lot did well just to avoid a relegation battle; Gianfranco Zola, under the watchful eye of the Pozzo family, has already taken us to Wembley, a feat that feels like just the beginning in an exciting footballing journey.
But for Stephen McGinn, tentatively coming out the other side of a lengthy injury hell, to see players like Almen Abdi and Nathaniel Chalobah turning up at the training ground would not have been exciting. From the moment that the August 31st batch of loans were announced, there was never any chance of McGinn donning the yellow again. He went out on loan to Shrewsbury and finally returned to professional football, playing in 18 games to reasonable acclaim. It was during this period that he admitted that his Watford career was over, telling the Watford Ob that “Watford are going down a totally different path from the club I signed for.”
Since his contract expired, McGinn has been snapped up by Sheffield United, a team with aspirations of promotion form League One. Whether the influence of United CEO Julian Winter or Academy manager Nick Cox, both former Hornet staff members, had anything to do with the signing is unknown. McGinn will just be happy to be back playing football, and will be glad to be past his Watford nightmare.
We wish him all the best with getting his career back on track.