He may now be playing for Brentford, but as Niall McGinn and club mate Marcel Eger joined the Hayes Bhoys CSC for a Celtic/St Pauli double, they told Gerard Donaghy they still hold their former clubs dear
Off the pitch, footballers are more likely to make the headlines staggering from an exclusive Soho nightclub at 3am into a crowd of paparazzi.
So it was refreshing to see two players sitting relaxed and humble, supping soft drinks and chatting with locals in the more sedate surrounds of Captain Morgan’s pub in unglamorous Hayes. Yet that’s where former Bundesliga player Marcel Eger and Northern Ireland international Niall McGinn found themselves after a Sunday morning training session with their current club, Brentford.
The club mates were there as guests of the Hayes Bhoys CSC to watch their former sides in action – Eger’s St Pauli and McGinn’s Celtic. That the pair have ended up playing together is a happy piece of synchronicity, given the close relationship between the two clubs. That they were invited as guests of honour for the day, long after having played their last game for the clubs in the Glasgow-Hamburg link-up, shows players always remain a part of that unique footballing family.
So under the watchful gaze of Jock Stein on one wall and the iconic St Pauli skull on the other, the German side got us under way in Saxony as they faced Erzgebirge Aue with the venue awash with green and white (and St Pauli brown). It didn’t take long for the affable German guest to raise a cheer as former team mate Florian Bruns put the visitors in front. However eyes were rolling when, in injury time, Enrico Kern scrambled in a late winner after Ronny Konig’s second half equaliser. The result leaves St Pauli in fourth place, five points off an automatic promotion spot back to the German top flight, and a point off a playoff place.
However Eger was optimistic despite the result, with the possibility of a playoff against fierce rivals and struggling Bundesliga side Hamburg still on the cards. “Apart from the result, today was a great experience,” said Eger. “It’s great that here in London, a long way from St Pauli, there are people who love the club. It’s great to have this connection [between Celtic and St Pauli] and I’ve said to Niall I would love to go to Celtic Park to watch a game.
“The last games were not that great but I hope St Pauli come back and earn some points. It’s very tight at the top and perhaps there is the relegation game against the other Hamburg team – that would be a great thing! But I wish them all the best and I stay in contact with a lot of players.”
Perhaps the St Pauli result was a portent as Celtic also fell to a shock defeat a few hours later in the League Cup final against Kilmarnock. Although less exuberant than his German club mate, the unassuming McGinn was clearly as disappointed as every other fan as Celtic missed the chance to secure the first part of a historic treble. While his German club mate happily partook of the trademark tongue-in-cheek Hayes Bhoys craic – tucking into the jelly and ice-cream sweets and setting off party poppers – the Tyrone native had his head in his hands as Gary Hooper, Anthony Stokes and Scott Brown spurned chances to put Celtic ahead.
Speaking after Kilmarnock’s victory, McGinn said: “It’s obviously a disappointing result but Celtic just have to go now and win the double.
“I thought Kilmarnock played very well. The big turning point was obviously Gary Hooper’s miss. In the first 10 or 15 minutes Celtic were the better side and after that Kilmarnock came into the game and created a few chances.”
McGinn, who is still contracted to the Parkhead club, expressed his disappointment not only at the result but at missing the opportunity to play in the big occasions. “You sit there and you want to be playing,” he said. “You obviously think you can do a job, but it is frustrating when you’re not playing, especially on a cup final day when it’s always a nice experience to be involved. But whether I was involved or not I’d always be cheering the team on anyway.”
There is still a chance though that McGinn and Eger can propel Brentford to promotion this season. The Bees started the season in decent form under new boss Uwe Rosler but have since dropped off the pace, winning just four of their last 16 League One games and Saturday saw them fall 2-0 away to London rivals Leyton Orient.
“It’s a disappointing result,” said McGinn. “It’s been an okay season. At the start our home form wasn’t the best but our away form was very good – now our home form’s been very good and our away form’s been poor. We’ve just got to keep kicking on, see every game out and try to win as many as possible. We’re sitting in 10th but if we keep losing we could risk drifting down the table and we don’t deserve to be there. We have had a good season and I think the only thing that’s been missing is a bit of consistency.”
Despite the disappointment of the results in Germany and Glasgow, and Brentford’s current struggles, modest McGinn was happy to spend the day with fellow fans, even seeming embarrassed at the reverence he was held in by fellow Bhoys.
“It just shows how big of a club it is,” said McGinn of being invited as guest of honour. “I grew up supporting Celtic and getting the opportunity to play with them was just unbelievable. I’m not playing with them but I’m still contracted to them and that just shows the interest people take in you. Being invited to events like this always shows people like to keep an eye on you and see how you’re doing. Even sitting here with people talking to you and asking questions is always nice. Outside the world of football there’s a lot of good things and I like to take time out for the fans.”
Whether he remains in Brentford or returns to Glasgow at the end of the season is unclear, but McGinn clearly still has a passion for his parent club. “I’m still contracted and obviously I’d love to get back to Celtic,” he said, “but whether that’ll happen or not, we’ll wait and see.”
Their playing futures could lie on the banks of the Thames, the Clyde or even the Elbe, but at least McGinn and Eger know they’ll always be assured of a warm welcome by the Grand Union Canal in Hayes.