Tomorrow night we face off against Ipswich Town in our FA Cup First Round replay. It might be a round or two earlier than our last meeting, but a win would almost be as important.
The Imps are struggling for form at the moment and a win would just help lift spirits on and off the field. Saturday aside, we’ve felt close to clicking and perhaps just need a catalyst. What better catalyst than a cup tie under the lights at Sincil Bank.
However we do tomorrow night, it is going to have to be a big victory to replicate the emotions felt in January 2017. Back then, as a National League club out of the eye of the watching world, we announced ourselves as being on the way back. Three seasons later, here we are, on a level playing field with Ipswich Town.
It could be argued the renaissance started around the time of the Oldham game and in this week’s club programme you can read all about that and more from one of the players right at the hear of it all; Nathan Arnold. I’m happy to count Nathan as a friend and he gave up half an hour of his time for a catch up this week, where we discussed that great FA Cup night.
“The replay was probably the most special night I’ve ever had as a footballer,” said Nathan, who also helped lift us to promotion with a goal against Gateshead later in the season.
“Just walking out at Sincil Bank that night with the banner celebrating the life of Graham Taylor, just the whole feeling was such a special occasion. We looked around at each other in the dressing room beforehand and it felt special; if we were going to beat a Championship side at home then it felt like this was the night to do it. Everything went for us, everyone got behind us and we knew the longer we held on in the game the more chance we had.”
He goes on to talk about the goal and the quirky little bits he remembers from it, but what happened after is as much a part of Imps’ folklore now as 1976 and 1988. A hard-fought campaign in which we finished top of the division; something that is now history and I think can be looked back upon fondly without living in the past.
“The Forest Green win in November was a defining game in the season,” added Nathan. “That was such a great experience, coming from 2-0 down to win 3-2. We knew we were on to something after we lost to Dover away from home. That was a pivotal moment too; we changed the way we pressed from the front and the dynamics which really helped us going through the rest of the season.
“Gateshead, Macclesfield and games like that were big for us too. It was just big games, every week. We were on TV more, getting more exposure and it was such an exciting time to be a part of the club. We were a well-oiled machine, we just kept chalking them off. We wouldn’t win some games until right up to the death, against Torquay we were losing in the 88th minute and still won.
“We never felt like we were going to get beat and being a part of a group like that is really special. It takes such a long time to get to those levels as a group. A lot of hard work went into getting to that point and reaching those levels. Tranmere, Dagenham, Forest Green were all on our tale and for us to keep the momentum with the cup run as well it was such an achievement to win the league as well. I couldn’t single one game out because there were too many which showed exactly what we were about.”
That success helped spark the revival which continues to this day, bumper crowds and a newfound belief in the side from across the city.
“From when I first signed, there were around 3,000 fans at Sincil Bank. My last game in a Lincoln shirt was the next season against Notts County and there was 10,000 there. That was the effect it had.”
Nathan Arnold is not your typical footballer and in the programme piece, he explains in greater detail what he’s done since leaving the professional game. I had seen some criticism of him leaving it at 30-years-old, but his journey since has not been typical at all of a retiring player. He’s putting his experiences as a person to good use by helping those with mental health issues and he insists whilst che could have played on and claimed a wage, he didn’t want to do football that disservice.
“I’ve moved away from full-time football now; whatever I did after Lincoln was going to be challenging, I went to Salford and Boston and going to part-time is very different. The reason I decided to come away from full-time football was because I felt fulfilled. If I was being honest, I didn’t want to be one of those players playing into my late thirties. As fortunate as I was to be a footballer I didn’t want to be that guy clinging on, legs gone a little bit but just picking up money. I could never do football that disservice.”
You can read all about Nathan’s experiences in more depth in tomorrow night’s programme, with some great stuff around the two matches against Ipswich and how his current role gave him a bit of a culture shock. Be sure to find a seller around the ground for this special, one-off interview.
Next Page – Ipswich Town 2017 FA Cup Gallery – Graham Burrell
It would be rude not to