‘If We Want the Game to Grow, We Have to Stand Up For Ourselves.’ Arseblog Exclusive Interview With Louise Quinn

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Louise Quinn has built a reputation as one of the finest all-round defenders in the WSL. She has a splash of the old school about her in her no-nonsense approach, she is, simply put, a defender who loves defending. Yet there is more to her repertoire than blood and thunder. The Irish international has become a mainstay of Arsenal sides managed by Pedro Losa and Joe Montemurro, coaches that strongly favour a possession based style built from the back.

But it’s not just on the pitch that Quinn blends commitment to the cause with a thoughtful, studious approach. She has lent her voice to campaigns covering subjects such as domestic violence, pro-choice on abortion and recently she became one of the faces of the 20×20 campaign in Ireland, an all-inclusive movement to shift Ireland’s cultural perception of women’s sport with 20% increases in participation, media coverage and attendances in women’s sport by 2020.

“We want to raise the participation and media coverage of women’s sports in Ireland,” Quinn explains. “I just think it’s so important to create some momentum around this. Current Irish sportswomen might not reap all the benefits and it’s an ambitious target, but we know that this is about 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 years in the future and creating a great environment for young girls in Ireland to play sport. We want to create a pathway and it’s something I am very proud to be a part of.”

Quinn’s own pathway in professional football has been colourful and hard fought. She spent 3 years of her career with Swedish club Eskilstuna United, who went from playing in the second tier to the Champions League in just 3 seasons. Louise secured the move after creating and editing her own highlights video at Carlow College and sending it on to an agent. But it wasn’t just Eskilstuna’s rise on the pitch that made an impression on the Ireland centre-half.

Eskilstuna quickly built up a regular crowd and 300 spectators soon morphed into 6,000. Quinn, whose resourceful piece of self-marketing earned her the move, was impressed by the Swedes’ innovative approach to promoting their team. “They really know what to do with small resources,” she reflects. “The club didn’t have a lot of money to market itself, but they gave their time to the local community. They spent a lot of time in local schools.

“It was written into our schedules that we would spend time with the community every week. Sometimes I would be going into a school and taking a PE lesson or an English lesson. By giving that kind of time, we got the community on our side. Arsenal is a great club with a good local reach and we want people in Hertfordshire and North London to know that we play in Boreham Wood, it’d be great to really build that local support in the same way. It’s important for players to have that common touch and become comfortable as role-models.”

Louise says her time in Sweden helped her to grow as a player and as a person, “We achieved a lot at Eskilstuna and it was a very special time in my career. It was great to play a different type of football. The game is a bit more tactical in Sweden, whereas here it’s a bit more physical. I’ve been able to take both sides into my game and become more balanced I think. I loved my football out there, but it’s more intense here and I love that side of the game too.”

Quinn is a proud Irish woman with nearly 50 caps for her country. Last spring Ireland held a referendum regarding Eighth Amendment of the Constitution Act, 1983. The vote gave the Irish people a choice on a woman’s legal right to abortion. Quinn had no compunction about voicing her pro-choice views.

“It’s been a big issue in Ireland for a long time and I was and am very much in support of repealing the 8th. As far as I know, it’s an issue that has not directly affected anyone in my life, but there are plenty of stories of women who have died over this in Ireland. It’s just my view, but I think that a woman should absolutely have a choice.”

Louise was part of the Ireland squad who, in 2017, presented a united front and decided to go public on their inadequate working conditions. 13 players, supported by players’ union the PFAI, called a press conference in Dublin, fronted by Arsenal legend Emma Byrne to complain over their treatment.

The team were forced to share tracksuits with the youth teams and sometimes had to change in airport toilets on international duty. Quinn says the decision to go public was difficult, but necessary, “It was upsetting, it was sad that we had to go that far with the association because at that time, they weren’t listening to our concerns,” the defender reflects.

“Again, we won’t reap all of the benefits of that. It’s about building that pathway for others in the future as well. Emma Byrne was a huge part of this and she retired shortly afterwards. It wasn’t the nicest thing to have to do, but it created solidarity between us in the squad too, it showed that we have a good bond and we draw on that a lot.”

It’s clear throughout the interview that Louise is someone who believes in standing her ground and it’s evident again, as she concludes her thoughts on the incident, “Our conditions with Ireland weren’t absolutely terrible, but they weren’t good enough and they hadn’t changed for years. If we want the game to grow, we have to stand up for ourselves. It was worth it too, now our conditions and the facilities are much better.”

Louise is measured, forthright and eloquent. Not a word is wasted. She forged herself a move to Sweden using her initiative and resolved to leave home to pursue her dream. Quinn came to England to play for Notts County in 2016, but she was suddenly left unemployed when Notts owner Alan Hardy decided to fold the club at short notice, on the eve of the 2017 Spring Series.

Arsenal quickly pounced to offer her a three month contract. Her performances were such that she earned a long term deal in the summer of 2017, before signing another extension back in May. The 28-year old is nothing if not resolute. But she has her sources of support too, notably her friendship with 13 year old Freya Fitzpatrick. Freya is the captain and centre half for Dublin based side Larkview U-13s. Larkview is one of the clubs enrolled in Arsenal’s sister club programme.

Last April, Freya was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumour. Louise and Freya had met before, through the Sister Club Programme, but upon receiving the news, Quinn wanted to do more than sign a shirt for young Freya. “The club asked me to sign a shirt and I asked where it was going. They told me it was for Freya and about her diagnosis and I asked for her details so I could get in touch.”

Quinn did get in touch and visited Freya and her family regularly. Young Freya even led the Ireland team out alongside Louise for their international fixture against Norway last June. The two fostered an instant connection, “We’re very similar,” Quinn explains, “She’s a centre back, like me, pretty tall like me too!

“She’s a real leader on the pitch. She’s pretty quiet, but she can really get going when she wants to and I really identify with that. We made a connection very easily, I’m good friends with her parents too. We keep in touch on a weekly basis and not just to talk about Freya’s health either. Freya and her family are friends to me.”

Louise talks a lot about the importance of role modelling in women’s sport and Freya has proved to be a source of inspiration for the Arsenal defender, “It was an honour to have her lead us out on the pitch against Norway recently. She’s a role-model to me, I look to her and her determination. All she wants is to be on the pitch playing football and it makes me appreciate every moment that I can play. I look forward to seeing her play again soon.”

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Adam Turtle
Adam Turtle

Is it mad that we try and start a mixed EPL by going for under 23s and women’s teams mixing?

Jeff
Jeff

Brilliant interview, what a woman. Thanks Tim!

TH14
TH14

Doing the Irish Proud.

Ed H
Ed H

Great piece

Fun Gunner
Fun Gunner

Amazing, brave and resourceful lady. So proud that she is one of ours.

Chris Humphrey
Chris Humphrey

What a lovely intelligent lady our Louise Quinn is.
I’ve read the Arseblog interview a couple of times now and it’s really inspiring stuff. Good luck to you Louise both on and off the pitch. Far more interesting than all that Premiership twaddle.