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Louise Hutton is ready to put a six-year long injury nightmare behind her as she prepares for the new season with Keynsham Town.
The 24-year-old central defender saw a highly promising career disrupted by a cruel series of injuries but she is bubbling with enthusiasm about her imminent return with her new club, whom she has joined from Bristol Academy.
"It's been brilliant," she told Women's Soccer Scene. "I haven't played since I was 19 so to come back and just kick a ball and be in a competitive game is really good.
"I can't wait to get playing again. We've just been on tour to Ireland and it was great for the team to play together as a few of us have come in this season and they [Keynsham] have got a lot of foreign players, so you have to get us to different languages flying around."
Louise began her career with Bristol City before moving on to local rivals Bristol Rovers (later Bristol Academy) in 2001. She helped Rovers into the top flight two years later and has remained there ever since, but is not concerned about having to play in the division below with Keynsham.
"I think it's a step down if you were playing but for me, in many respects, it's a step up. Just for me to play is more than enough - I've been coaching but you can't beat playing and I honestly believe that, with the squad we've got, we could be good enough to play in the top division."
Louise played in four F.A.Women's Cup semi finals with Rovers/Academy and her form saw her capped for England at Under-19 level, becoming the first local player to play for her country whilst with a local club. However as her career looked set to blossom, fate dealt her a severe blow.
"We were doing pre-season training and the pitch was quite hard and we were doing sprints with [manager] Gary Green," she recalled. "The only way I can describe it is like having someone stick a knife in your knee - it was a really sharp and intense pain.
"It was an inflammation [in my knee] and it was one of those things that just wouldn't go. I saw three or four different physios but it wouldn't settle down so eventually I had keyhole surgery and then an operation to lengthen it. The crazy thing is, they only lengthened it by about a millimetre but it doesn't hurt any more.
"I came back playing when I was 22 but picked up little injuries, probably where I wasn't fit and arguably came back too soon, before I had built up a good fitness base. Then, last season, I played for Bristol Academy against Sunderland but broke my hand in the first five minutes, so I think I'm one of those players who picks up injuries quite easily.
"The only thing I can be thankful for is that it wasn't an injury that stopped me playing. I got into coaching, which I think has made me a better player because of the understanding that you learn from doing your badges. I learnt a lot of things about myself and I think its made me a better person.
"I think you get to the stage where you wonder 'am I ever going to come back' but, because I had a hand in with coaching, it was as if I had never left. I came back in dribs and drabs but I'd get another niggling injury.
"I never lost hope and always thought I will get back and today's the day I guess."
Although rarely in action on the pitch, Louise was always prominent at Bristol Academy matches and regularly popped up in different roles during her time out. "I stepped in as manager once because Gary Green had a college game, I even played in goal a couple of times - which was interesting because I'm not really a goalkeeper! I think when you're involved with a club for so long, you do these little jobs. I was a water girl, physio, anything to help out the team."
Now Louise can look forward to just playing again and she is really looking forward to the task of helping Keynsham towards a potential promotion challenge from the Southern Division. "It was a hard decision to leave as I joined the club when I was 15 and was one of the longest serving players," she admitted, "but to step away from all that and come to a new club is a big challenge.
"I truly believe that Keynsham have brought in some really good players this season. I'm really positive about the season as we will have a strong squad with plenty of competition for places which you need to drive you forward."
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