This weekend should have portended optimism and pride for women's football in England.
Manchester City, featuring the world's best player in Carli Lloyd, took on Lyon in the semi-finals of the Champions League on the opening weekend of the Women's Super League. Instead, it was eclipsed by disgrace, as time unfolded pleated shame with outrageous timing.
Two days their scheduled game with Arsenal on the opening weekend of the season, it was announced that Notts County Ladies were folding. Previously known as Lincoln Ladies prior to relocation in 2014, the squad followed an FA Cup final appearance a year later with a sixth-placed league finish last season. They did so against the background of a club beset by financial difficulty. Alan Hardy purchased the men's' and women's clubs in December, vowing to clear the club's debts. But facing a million pound bill to keep the club afloat, Hardy announced on Friday that the women's club would fold.
The players were told fifteen minutes before that announcement. Among the players suddenly unemployed is Irish international Louise Quinn, who was among the Irish squad who held a press conference in Liberty Hall earlier this month to demand better treatment by the FAI.
She spoke to Balls.ie about the circumstances in which the players were told:
It's been a rough few days. On Thursday night, we got a text at 9pm at night to say that our training session the next morning was cancelled, and that there was a meeting at Meadow Lane at 11am. So there was a little bit of cause for concern there, you don't often cancel your last training session before your first game.
So it was known previously that the club were in a small bit of financial trouble, but as far as we were led to believe, things were going ok. We went in on the Friday morning. Our captains went in ahead and spoke to a couple of people on the borad. Then they came out and told us the news. It's really, really hard to take, and there was a lot of emotion there. They simply said that the club is going into liquidation, and there was no longer a Notts County women's team.
The club did not provide answers to any of the players' questions regarding where this leaves them and what happens next, or whether they are being paid. The purpose of the meeting was solely to break the news; that was the only thing said.
Goalkeeper Carly Telford told the BBC that the players felt "abandoned" by the club, as Hardy told the media that he was "absolutely devastated and gutted that we have to say goodbye to the club, but I can't afford it". That was the extent of the direct communication the players had from him.
The chairman himself didn't come in to break the news. We've never actually met the chairman, he's never made the effort to come see us at anything, and then he wouldn't come himself to deliver the news. It was really cowardly on his part, we think.
Along with being unemployed, many of the players face the prospect of losing their homes, as they had been staying in club-organised accommodation. Quinn is one of those who finds themselves in such a terrible quandary:
I'm one of those players that has the accommodation. At the moment we are still in them, but we're unsure as to what will happen with them, or when. Apparently, he [the chairman] has said on one of the news shows that the houses will all be paid for, and will be taken care of. But where he's going to get that money I don't know, because apparently, he doesn't have any.
At the moment everyone has somewhere to live but we are trying to find somewhere else quickly, and trying to find new teams, if there are any. For my teammates, it was awful. A lot of them are very settled in Nottingham, some have part-time jobs, and are studying. Some have put money towards their houses and apartments, so it was just....awful. To see them in that situation, it was just horrible.
Quinn only joined the club a few months ago from Eskilstuna United in Sweden, around the time that Hardy arrived, and while she was aware that the club were in financial trouble, they were assured of the club's future, with another new signing given a two-year contract.
The indignities of the weekend did not end with the announcement on Friday.
One of the girls went back to the training ground to pick up some of our belongings, and they are not there anymore. Some of the girls don't have their football boots. Our training round is also used for schools, universities and Sunday League, so we don't know what's happened there. We're hoping some of the staff took them, but at the moment some of the girls don't even have their football boots, so that's an extra kick in the teeth.
As the players try their best to digest the news, Quinn - a Liverpool supporter - took a trip to Anfield to take in a defeat to Crystal Palace while her game against Arsenal should have been going ahead. With this appalling revelation following just weeks after the strains of having to go public over the Irish squad's differences with the FAI, I ask Quinn is football worth all of this stress?
For me, it is worth it. It's been my dream to play football, to play professionally with great clubs and with my country. So that's obviously a tough question, but I wouldn't give it up as long as things can work out. We fought hard with the Irish team, we're very proud of what we achieved there. I was so proud to be part of that with the girls, and everything seems to have worked out there.
This is just another setback that I've had, and hopefully I can sort it out and keep going. I'm not going to give up, but this leaves a sour taste. I've no salary or income now at all. It's a very, very tough time.