Despite being under contract for a further year, there was an increasing air of inevitability about Nathan Arnold’s departure from Sincil Bank this summer. The cancellation of his contract by mutual consent is a disappointing end to something very special, but the majority of fans will rightly reflect on his achievements from 2016-17 in preference to his exit. Indeed, any discussion of that iconic season in future years must inevitably include Nathan Arnold in a prominent role.
Arnold was one of the last players to join the Cowley revolution when he signed from Grimsby on 29 July 2016, just a week prior to the start of the National League season. It seemed a strange decision to leave a side just promoted to the Football League, but we were delighted to be the beneficiaries of it. Arnold was a National League specialist with two promotions in the last three years and had scored at Wembley a couple of months earlier. His first interview online revealed an intelligent individual far removed from the monosyllabic mould of the traditional footballer. He represented an exciting use of the Crowdfunder money, but could lightning strike for the third time?
We found the answer to that very quickly as City overwhelmed Woking on the opening day. His pace and skill were clearly going to be an asset, as evidenced by his first goal for the club in the 6-1 hammering of North Ferriby three days later. One of the first names on the team sheet, Arnold went on to start 43 of the first 44 league games which culminated in the National League championship. He also played a starring role in the wonderful FA Cup run that captured the imagination of the football world. His stoppage-time winner at home to Ipswich, played out live in front of a global audience on the BBC, has become an iconic moment in the club’s history. And had he scored in the first half at Arsenal, who knows what may have happened?
In spite of his high-energy style, Arnold played 54 times in a draining 61-game season and looked dead on his feet as the run-in approached. But then came the moment that many people believe won the championship: that fabulous goal at Gateshead. Although we are greedy people and would have liked more, it is entirely fitting that the goal proved to be the last one Nathan Arnold would score for City. Has there ever been a better one? Watch the YouTube video online, watch the reaction of the City fans, and see whether you agree. Five days later, City were back in the Football League. Arnold had been one of the key components in perhaps the greatest season in the club’s history, and all was well with the world.
Unfortunately, all was not as well as we believed. It was clear in the immediate aftermath of the Macclesfield game that something was not quite right with Nathan. Many fans noticed how withdrawn he appeared as the likes of Paul Farman capered around him, preferring to stroll around the pitch in quiet contemplation. All was revealed in a brave interview with the Echo in July when Arnold discussed his ongoing battle with mental health issues and how he had suffered an anxiety attack on the morning of that Macclesfield game. Worse still, he estimated that he had been in a similar state for around twenty games that season.
Somehow he managed to score 13 goals, win the National League, reach the semi-final of the FA Trophy and be part of the first non-league side for 103 years to reach the quarter-final of the FA Cup whilst dealing with everything else. It made his outstanding achievements appear extraordinary.
Nonetheless, we still expected him to return in August and set League Two on fire, but that was never more than an unrealistic dream. Despite appearing regularly throughout the first half of the season, it was not the same Nathan Arnold taking the field. The loan move to Salford was never going to resolve anything, and the way it ended can only have caused more anxiety. Photographs of Nathan in Nepal supporting Lincs2Nepal gave a clear indication that the end was nigh, confirmed this week by the mutual cancellation of his contract. It is entirely possible that he has already moved on from football in his own mind, and it would come as no surprise to see him move forward with various initiatives outside the game.
If he does choose to end his playing days soon, he can be very proud of his career. But there is a suspicion that what comes next will define Nathan Arnold more than anything he has ever done on a football pitch. His intelligence and genuine concern for other people make him capable of great things and changing lives in exactly the way he helped to change ours. Whatever he chooses to do, we will be right behind him. Thanks, Nathan, we are proud of you.
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) June 2, 2018