It’s getting harder than ever these days for Irish players to make an impact in England, but that wasn’t the case in times past and one man who made a big splash across the water was Niall Quinn. The Dubliner made close to 500 league appearances in English football during his spells at Arsenal, Man City and Sunderland, as well as lining out for his country on 92 occasions in a stellar career that lasted 19 years.
We were lucky enough to have Quinn as our guest on honour on our From The Horse’s Mouth podcast this week and he was more than willing to share the ins-and-outs of his fascinating time in the game with hosts Paddy Power and Ruby Walsh. As a talented sportsman in multiple codes, Quinn had quite a decision on his hands as a 16-year-old with professional contracts for Aussie Rules and football on the table, as well as the opportunity to stay in Ireland and play hurling for Dublin.
Quinn chose to head for England and signed with Arsenal in 1983, he would go on to spend seven years in North London and scored on his debut against Liverpool in the 1985-86 season. However, the signing of Alan Smith pushed Quinn to substitutes bench at Highbury and left him having to make do with very limited cameos.
While his frustration at lack of playing time grew, Quinn revealed to Paddy and Ruby that it was an incident with the Arsenal chairman at the awards ceremony for the 1988-89 title win that made his mind to head north to Manchester.
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“We had this big do and they invited 1000 fans to the Dorchester hotel for the presentation of the medals to the players who’d won the title,” said Quinn.
“As the names were being called out for a medal, one of our players who hadn’t played enough games was called up for his medal, but he was coming out of contract and they wanted him to sign a new one.”
I thought, ‘That’s great. If he’s got one, I’ll get one’. My name didn’t get called out.
“Later on in the night the chairman came over to our table and he handed me this silver tray. Mr Peter Hill-Wood was ever so old Etonian and he went, “Young man, delighted that you gave an impact”. It was great. What position did you play?”
“I didn’t get the medal. Then JVC, who were our sponsors, gave me a CD player. I just picked up the two pieces and left. I went home on the N29 night bus. That’s how much they were paying me at the time. I couldn’t afford a taxi home. I wasn’t in the team, so I wasn’t getting bonuses and appearance money.”
It was that lonely, late night journey home that made up Quinn’s mind that the time had come for a change of clubs for the Irish international striker.
“I thought several times of just chucking it on the bus home. I was gone very soon afterwards and I went to City,” Niall told Paddy and Ruby.
I never really felt like an Arsenal player after that night.
“That was even though I’d been there six years, I’d played 90-odd games for them, I’d scored 20 goals. It’s a part of my career that was a great learning curve. To be at Arsenal and to get the breaks I did under Done Howe initially, and George Graham for the first 18 months – I was in the team all the time.
“But, then you’re the number two and eventually everyone cracks and says, ‘right, I’ve got to go somewhere else’. It was a tough station for three years. Alan Smith was brilliant, and I’m not giving out about it. Smith was one of the great centre-forwards Arsenal have had, but he never got injured and he never got booked.
“We didn’t have seven subs like you have now. You’d two at the most. So, it was just difficult, but I’ll always be grateful to Arsenal for giving me the break, but I was glad to get out of there. I went up to Man City and my career changed.”
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