Louise Quinn is no stranger to leaving clubs in strange and sometimes tumultuous circumstances. The Irish centre-half signed for Arsenal in spring 2017. Her previous club, Notts County, took the dramatic decision to fold their women’s team suddenly, one day before the start of the Spring Series. (The Spring Series was an interim league competition held from April to July 2017 as the WSL transitioned from a summer to a winter season).
The entire Notts County squad and staff were suddenly unemployed. Knowing that young centre-halves Lotte Wubben-Moy and Anna Patten were to head off to the US on scholarships, Arsenal jumped at the chance to sign Quinn on a short-term contract and her performances meant that the club continued to renew her terms.
Last summer, Quinn’s Gunners contract expired and with plans to re-sign Wubben-Moy and Patten, the club took the decision not to renew Louise’s deal. Quinn moved to Serie A club Fiorentina where she has become a mainstay of the Viola defence. She was a mainstay of the Arsenal defence that won the WSL title in 2018-19 but during the summer of 2019, the Gunners moved to sign centre-half Jen Beattie from Manchester City.
The 30-year old insists that she accepted Beattie’s arrival as a challenge to her place and it didn’t unduly perturb her. “I just thought, ‘here we go, more competition, let’s keep fighting for my position.’ That was a constant at Arsenal, I was always fighting for my position. I knew Joe had managed Beats before and she’s a fantastic centre-half, we knew that from her time at City and then I got to know her as a person and she’s an even better person.”
Beattie picked up a calf injury in December 2019 shortly before the winter break and Quinn stepped in. “I started getting game time again and I felt like I was finding my feet because you always need that run of games but then the pandemic hit.” Quinn’s final game for the Gunners was a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat to Chelsea in the Conti Cup Final at the City Ground, with Beth England scoring a stoppage time winner.
“It’s tough to take to think that was my last game for Arsenal,” she admits ruefully. The next couple of months were a time of limbo with football suspended and the increasing likelihood that the WSL season would be cancelled. Louise had the additional uncertainty of a contract close to expiry. “Everything was unknown, what was happening with the league, contract talks, I didn’t know if the season would continue beyond the end of my contract.
“Probably by April it became clear the season wasn’t going to restart and that’s when I started to think more about my contract and whether I would be staying at Arsenal. My gut feeling was that I wasn’t going to get a contract. I probably would have liked to get into discussions earlier because I was in limbo; but we finally had a conversation and I wasn’t surprised to be told I wasn’t going to get another contract and obviously I was really disappointed because I loved playing for Arsenal.”
A great hip mobility class with Nala from @PBClinic this morning! Keeping these hips moving during lock down and bringing out my inner Shakira! 💃 #perfectbalanceclinic #pbc360 #integratedhealth pic.twitter.com/X90yxBCZPa
— Louise Quinn (@louise_quinn4) May 5, 2020
Just as disappointing for Louise was not getting the chance to say goodbye, “I didn’t get to finish this crazy journey I started with Arsenal. It was a rollercoaster but all for the best, so it was difficult to leave without getting a chance to say goodbye to my teammates or to the fans. It was a bit like someone breaking up with you over the phone! It was a tough, Arsenal was a club where I was able to really improve myself on and off the pitch.”
That spring period became even more surreal for Quinn when her teammate and housemate Pauline Peyraud-Magnin caught covid in March, leaving her bed ridden and barely able to summon up the strength to walk from her bedroom to the kitchen. “It was really scary because it was the start of the pandemic and not much was known about the virus. We were sharing the kitchen but thankfully I didn’t get any symptoms.
“It was a blur when I think back to it now but it was a really stressful time, I had my family in Ireland and I didn’t know whether I could go home or not. Can I go to the shop and go out and exercise? But once Pauline got over the virus, it was really good to have each other.” Attentions turned to the next move for Louise with many Arsenal fans expecting a queue of WSL clubs vying for her signature.
“There were options in England but they didn’t work out,” she explains. “I was open to staying in England and I would be open to playing in the WSL again but when I assessed all of my options, Fiorentina was the best move for me. I needed to play and Fiorentina have Champions League football as well. Arsenal played Fiorentina in the Champions League last season and they were a really exciting team. There was also the opportunity to get to know Italian football and play huge teams like Roma, Milan, Juventus and to live in a beautiful city like Florence.”
— ACF Fiorentina Femminile (@ACF_Womens) November 17, 2020
It’s not the first time Quinn has played outside of Ireland and England, she spent three years at Eskilstuna United in Sweden prior to joining Notts County. However, she admits this move pushed her “further out of the comfort zone,” especially during a global pandemic moving to a country that had been especially hard hit.
“It meant moving further away from my family. In England, I knew I could get home to Ireland more easily, I lived 20 minutes from Luton Airport so sometimes I could go home just for 24 hours. Now because of the situation I haven’t been able to have friends and family come visit this beautiful place where I live has been tough, but I have grown a lot from this experience.”
Louise lives alone in an apartment just outside of the city centre. “I was happy to have my own space and especially given the pandemic. I think living alone also pushes you to get out of your comfort zone, to get out of your apartment and be more social. A couple of days ago I just cycled around the city for three hours and obviously there are no tourists around at the moment, so I was just cycling around these empty streets next to the river and around some of the most historic monuments in Europe.
“They’ve dropped some restrictions around the city lately so you can sit inside cafes and I got brunch with some of the girls for the first time in months the other day.” Louise already had one familiar face when she joined Fiorentina, ex-Gunner Janni Arnth joined the club in the summer of 2019. “I spoke to Janni when I had the offer from Fiorentina to get a sense of the club and the league. The league here isn’t fully professional yet but the contracts are basically professional and Janni told me this was a club really on the up and that was the sense I got from the manager too.”
I ask Louise whether she planned to have a nomadic career and to play in different countries at the outset of her career- she explained that it’s still difficult for a female footballer to fully plan a career path. “It’s mainly just circumstances, I have learned that you never really have a clue what’s coming. Sweden was the best thing that could’ve happened to me really because I worked my way up with a second division club that ended up qualifying for the Champions League.
“I felt really settled in England but things changed and I just had to think, ‘Ok, let’s go to Italy and pick things back up.’ I have learned that I can’t plan anything, friends will often tell me they have a wedding and I will have to say, ‘sounds great, stick me on the list but I can’t make any promises!’ It’s an unpredictable life and that’s really exciting but sometimes it can be really tough because you miss out on a lot of things with friends and family.”
The last time I tackled her on the edge of the box I got a red card 🔴 … so I'm happy this worked out quite well 😂 https://t.co/yffyobF1Rc
— Louise Quinn (@louise_quinn4) January 16, 2021
Quinn says the move to Italy was easier than expected however, in the circumstances. “It was the summer when I got here and it was 35 degrees, so everything was done outside anyway and doors and windows were all open. From the pandemic perspective, it was easier and Italy has dealt with things pretty well. We were getting tested every four days and that puts players in a really privileged position and gives you reassurance.”
Louise is yet to play in front of a crowd in Florence but says that she has still experienced the passion for the team around the city. “It’s something I’ve missed out on so far because they’re so passionate about their football here. Sometimes I’ll just be cycling around the city and someone will shout “FORZA VIOLA!” at me and it’s just really nice that they know who I am and they know about the women’s team. All of our games are either on Sky Italia, TIM vision or the Fiorentina website so my parents have still been able to watch- I still get the text from my mam after games with her thoughts on the games!”
I ask Louise how her Italian is coming along, “It is ok,” she answers hesitantly. “The players think I’m getting worse but I don’t think they know that I understand more than they think I do,” she jokes. “I’m really getting a good understanding of the football vocab as well so when the manager gives a team talk I understand it.”
In Italian verbs are conjugated according to tense which makes it difficult to pick up for an English speaker and she admits to struggling with that at times. “My speaking is still terrible!” she laughs. “Verbs are a nightmare, everything is in the tense that I can remember at the time and that’s that. The other day I ordered a sandwich in Italian and I thought I did it really well but the waiter answered me in English. It’s a touristy place so I think they can just tell by looking at you sometimes!”
— Vitality Women's FA Cup (@VitalityWFACup) April 15, 2018
Reflecting on her time at Arsenal, the defender has some standout memories. “There was the last minute winner in the FA Cup semi-final against Everton (in 2018),” she recalls. “Right at the start of my time at the club I scored twice against Birmingham. It was 2-2 and I came on as a sub and scored twice. It was a huge buzz, especially because they were important goals.
“It was one of the most exciting things to happen to me on a pitch. Scoring twice doesn’t happen often for a centre-back! I was brand new and had only just joined the club and after all the uncertainty and how things ended at Notts County, to win a game for Arsenal was such a buzz and I felt like I had arrived and could do a job for this massive club.”
2️⃣ @louise_quinn4 headers
1️⃣ highlights package – check out the best of the action 👇 pic.twitter.com/EzrUre54v1
— Arsenal Women (@ArsenalWFC) May 20, 2017
Reflecting further, Quinn is also proud to continue the club’s strong Irish legacy. “Of course, there was also winning the league at Brighton and one of my favourite ever pictures of me and Katie (McCabe) celebrating and keeping that Irish buzz around Arsenal after all the great Irish players that had been here before us. That was a really special moment.”
Louise certainly left her mark at Arsenal, winning a league title and a Conti Cup in her two full seasons at the club. Her fascinating and nomadic career is a reminder that even at the elite level of women’s football, uncertainty and instability are part and parcel of a player’s career. On and off the pitch, Louise Quinn is a player that is never shy of a challenge.