It’s been a strange year for Caitlin Foord. In January, Foord and her international strike partner Sam Kerr set a trend when they stepped off the NWSL / W-League treadmill and moved to the WSL. In Australia, the W-League season only lasts for three months, meaning top-class Australian players have been splitting their time between Australia’s W-League and the NWSL in the US, which run concurrently.
Since Foord and Kerr arrived in January, they have been followed by a further six Australian players in the WSL. Two of those have signed for Arsenal in the shape of left-back Steph Catley and goalkeeper Lydia Williams, who have played for manager Joe Montemurro at Melbourne City. Foord signed in January but couldn’t make her debut for the club until February as the Matildas finished their Olympic qualifiers.
Caitlin played twice for Arsenal, once in the FA Cup against Lewes, scoring on her debut and in the Conti Cup Final defeat to Chelsea. Foord then flew off to play for Australia in Vietnam. She arrived back in England just as the coronavirus crisis became a global affair. Foord was among the first people in the country asked to quarantine when she landed back in London.
Then lockdown kicked in and just two games into her European adventure, Foord found herself thousands of miles from home as a pandemic struck. So my obvious first question to Caitlin is whether, given everything that has happened in the past few months, she feels like she has been in London forever!
“If anything, I think the lockdown period gave me the opportunity to integrate into the team a bit more. Without being around the team, it definitely feels like I’m more involved now than I was before, which is strange, because we weren’t training. In a weird way it’s actually been a good outcome in the sense of feeling part of the group.”
A quirk of the lockdown period means that Foord will have played in the FA Cup, the Conti Cup and she will certainly play in the Champions League against PSG on Saturday- but she has yet to make her WSL debut. “Playing, the Cup games and now Champions League games and not making my debut in the league yet is a bit weird because that’s not normally the way things go and with the lockdown it’s a very unique situation!”
— The Women's FA Cup (@TheWomensFACup) August 14, 2020
Caitlin is relishing the Champions League ‘bubble’ tournament in the Basque country, starting [and hopefully not ending!] with a quarter-final tie against Paris Saint Germain on Saturday evening, “These are these are games that, as a club player, it’s highest level of competition you can play. For me, I’m just really looking forward to the to the challenge and just experiencing this with the team.”
Foord had never played under Joe Montemurro prior to signing for Arsenal nevertheless his accent was a familiar one. Montemurro’s assistant Aaron D’Antino is also from Down Under [as is the club’s General Manager, Lauren Chester]. She has now been joined by long-time international teammates Steph Catley and Lydia Williams, further boosting the Oz contingent in North London.
“It’s always great to have two familiar faces around and two Aussies more as well. It’s just nice to not be the only one anymore!” However, it is Foord’s friendship with Swiss midfielder Lia Wälti that came to define her experience of lockdown in a new country. “Lia has helped me massively coming into the team and I’m very fortunate and thankful. During the lockdown period she was living alone and I was living alone.
“She had a spare room and invited me to move in with her and that meant we could train together, because you could only train with your household. It was great to have someone to train with, then just to have company because that would have been a very, very long time to be by myself. I’ve got to know her and a lot of the girls more on a personal level through her as well.
“That definitely helped me integrate into the team and get to know a lot of the players more on a personal level, which can take a little bit longer in normal circumstances when you’re playing games.” On the subject of familiarity, the 25-year old insists homework is well underway for Saturday’s opponents PSG. In 2018, Montemurro hired compatriot Aaron D’Antino partly because of his background as a video analyst.
“Yeah, we’ve definitely started. With PSG having a recent game against Lyon [in the Coup de France Final] as well, it was it was a good game just to see. Joe has had a lot of time during lockdown of prepare for this game and then make us familiar with our game plan and where we think we can exploit them and where we have to be careful as well. We’ve definitely been working on that. It’s been like a prep school heading into the game.”
Come Saturday evening, Caitlin will hope her and her Gunners teammates will be top of the class in San Sebastian.