The Case of John McGinn’s Tackle – Faux Outrage for Clicks

The Outrage Clickbait Formula

Is it that time already? Two sets of tribal supporters at each other’s throats? Old scars reopened and the ceasefire broken?

With the help of social media, even a routine preseason game thousands of miles away from England, seemingly cannot escape…especially when it’s given some prompting.

With Aston Villa and Leeds United facing off in Australia, the football writers of various tabloids must have been primed to get their engagement figures up when they saw this fixture scheduled. Not that you need to be a writer, an AI could have done the same job.

Let’s look at the formula.


Aston Villa and Leeds United, have a shared turbulent history in the Championship in recent seasons, before both teams were promoted to the Premier League. There’s an online hostility between the fans, so that’s a hundred words of your article written for you, pointlessly regurgitating this.


Because there have been a few years of rivalry, you know that any piece you put out will have plenty of fans, using a few seasons’ worth of examples of whataboutery.

What about when Patrick Bamford faked injury against El Ghazi? What about when Leeds played on when Kodjia was injured? Leeds literally gifting Villa a goal? What about when Villa made them look like relegation fodder at Elland Road, winning 3-0?

With this library of gifs and old articles to link to, you are already ninety per cent done with your ‘opinion piece.’

Lastly – Pick a Side

This is the simple bit, pick a side to wind up. You know you will have an equal amount of backers on the other side behind you, so it’s a simple case of cosying up to one side with zero objectivity.

Once you’ve pinned your colours to the mast, you can say whatever you want, fact or fiction, all under the banner of ‘opinion,’ because you know the tribal nature of football fans means you’ll have plenty of backup online.

And don’t forget if it gets a bit heated, you can highlight how nasty the other sides fans are for a follow-up piece.

The John McGinn Angle

The formula was used to full effect after a strong tackle by John McGinn, led to Leeds’ Archie Gray being taken off with an ankle injury. McGinn was booked, and the match carried on.

A few years ago, this would’ve been the end of the matter, but not now, when click’s are there to be harvested.

Case 1

First, out of the blocks, we had James Marshment, a Teamtalk editor and according to his bio, ‘a lifelong fan of @LUFC and Marcelo Bielsa devotee’.

I’m not expecting objectivity here, there’s nothing wrong with being honest about which side you support.

But you are at least expecting a bit of reality.

The tackle wasn’t great. The wrong referee on VAR could have sent McGinn off, equally, they may have decided to overturn a red if it had been given. Incidents like this happen every game.

He purposely highlights the age of the supposed victim Archie Gray to immediately place a negatively impact on McGinn, rather than focusing on the facts of the tackle.

Should players tackle other players differently on the pitch depending on their circumstances? Do players tackle Christian Eriksen differently after his cardiac arrest? Or maybe players should go easy on Zlatan Ibrahimovic, now that he’s 40-years-old?

As many have pointed out, Gray put a forceful tackle in on Emi Buendia moments before. It was also a yellow card and would have been looked at by VAR in the Premier League. Would VAR not look at this because he’s only 16?

The point is, if players are on the pitch, they are to be treated and scrutinised equally.

Case 2

Then the Daily Mail’s David Coverdale (not the White Snake singer), having waited a few hours, put the whole clickbait formula to work, with his opinion piece titled

‘McGinn tackle on Leeds Starlet Gray was cowardly and barbaric.’

From the headline, you can tell this is a hatchet job on McGinn.

I won’t go into the whole piece but language like – ‘Cowardly’, ‘barbaric’, ‘premeditated’, and ‘screw loose’, set the tone.

Again the tackle is being made out to be worse than it was.

Again, the age of Gray is used to make the Villa player seem worse and with a new twist, his footballing heritage is added into the mix.

Being the great-nephew of Eddie, the grandson of former Leeds defender Frank and the son of ex-forward Andy, must be another reason to go easy on him.


Of course, both these examples got the intended result. Leeds fans shared it so they felt vindicated someone was taking their side in the matter, and Villa fans shared it as an example of overreaction from a fan base that prides themselves on being ‘dirty Leeds’.

As fans, you need to look at these incidents objectively and not get sucked into the trap of engagement wars, as all they want are your clicks.


Follow Phil on Twitter here – @prsgame