How the stars aligned for Niall Quinn to make a memorable Arsenal debut

Ireland legend recounts his early start with the Gunners in 1985

Niall Quinn, Arsenal

Niall Quinn with Arsenal in 1986. S&G/S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport

In football, stars sometimes align to give young players a chance to dip their toes into the waters of first team action.

It was the case for Ireland legend Niall Quinn when he made his debut for Arsenal - a goalscoring one at that - against Liverpool in December 1985. 

He joined Kevin Kilbane on Off The Ball to discuss his early career, which also included moments when GAA and Australian Rules could have opened up other paths, and how he broke into the Arsenal team at a point when he was about to be sent out on loan to Portsmouth.

"I was to go on loan to Portsmouth on the Thursday. I was brought into the travel office, they gave me the tickets to go to the station at King's Cross," Quinn recalled.

"When I got to the station, there was a message 'Niall Quinn, make yourself known to one of the staff'. They said, 'You've got to go back to Arsenal'. There was an injury in training.

"So I went back in. Don Howe was the manager by then and he said, 'Listen, you can't go till Monday. Tony Woodcock has got injured in training, you're not involved with the first team tomorrow but we'll just keep you nearby'".

His name had been pencilled in at the bottom of the teamsheet on the Friday but it appeared a debut wasn't in the offing.

Quinn continued: "I trained with the reserves the next day, then went home, thought nothing of it. Turned out Paul Mariner got injured on the Friday and I came in on the Saturday morning, got a train then into Finsbury Park and on the Saturday morning, you get the Irish newspaper. I looked at the back of it and all over it 'Hurling Star To Make Debut For Arsenal' and I thought, 'Oh God, they've got it so wrong'. And I walked up there and [it turned out to be true], I was playing and Don Howe picked me."    

Paul Merson and Niall Quinn trade tales from their Arsenal friendship