On Monday night, Aberdeen midfielder Niall McGinn attended the Kilmarnock v Celtic game at Rugby Park with former Celtic team mate Anthony Stokes. McGinn, who plays for Celtic’s closest title rival Aberdeen, has been criticised for his decision to attend the match, considering the rivalry that has intensified as the Dons have overtaken the reigning Champions at the top of the SPFL Premiership.
It is no surprising that McGinn may still support the team where he spent two seasons – his first in Scottish football. Whilst it may be understandable that Aberdeen fans could hold reservations about one of their key players supporting their championship rivals, there surely has to be a level of understanding that players will not always support the team that they play for. It is entirely possible for players to separate their emotional allegiance with their professional commitments.
Football is rife with examples of players who grew up supporting one team and played for their rivals – either a competitive rivalry, or one born from proximity. Everyone knows that Wayne Rooney is still an Everton supporter, but that doesn’t stop him from performing to a very high level for Manchester United, nor does it mean he is in any way a ‘traitor’ – he’s just doing his job. Much in the same way that the likes of Virgil van Dijk and Emilio Izaguirre are most likely not Celtic supporters. This doesn’t take anything away from their ability to perform for Celtic to the level required of them. They will maintain an affection for the club and embrace the club as if their own, but it’s just a job and people should be able to separate the two.
Down in Merseyside, there is a slew of players who grew up on the blue side of the divide, but would then go on to represent the red half to great success. Jamie Carragher, Steve McManaman, Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler all great up as Everton fans but would go on to win FA Cups, League Cups, UEFA Cups and Champions Leagues between them with Liverpool. That certainly hasn’t stopped all four of these players reaching legend or near-legend status at Anfield.
Whilst it is understandable that Aberdeen and Derek McInnes would rather McGinn not appear supporting a rival club at this stage of a title race, surely common sense can prevail amongst supporters and media outlets. The concept of supporting one team and sticking to them regardless of circumstance is what separates football fans as unique and admirable; something that should also extend to players.
As Derek McInnes said, rather a player spend his day off watching football than at the pub!