Big Interview: Outgoing Preston Grasshoppers head coach Paul Arnold talks to Craig Salmon about his five years in charge

Paul Arnold is hoping to bring the curtain down on his Preston Grasshoppers reign by securing promotion.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 18th March 2022, 9:27 am

The 53-year-old will step down from his position of head coach at Lightfoot Lane at the end of this season.

His departure will signal the end of a five-year stint in charge of the club after he took over from Garth Dew in the summer of 2017.

It has certainly been an eventful time for Arnoldand Hoppers – with plentyof ups and one or two downs as promotion, consolidation, relegation and the Covid19 pandemic would testify. However after a lifetime in the sport as a player and coach, Arnold has optedto take a break from the game and devote more time to his family, in particular caring for his disabled son Kobi.

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Preston Grasshoppers coach Paul Arnold in the dug out at Lightfoot Lane (photos: Mike Craig)

"My lad is 16 this year but he’s fully disabled,” said Arnold. “He doesn’t walk and doesn’t talk.

"I have joint custody of him and on the nights that I have him it coincides with trainings and also on Saturdays for games.

"If we get promoted then next season we will have the longer away games, I just thought it would be the best decision all around to finish at the end of this season.

"I was working in a private school before and I had to quit that for the same reasons. I was just not seeing the kids enough and family is important.”

Preston Grasshoppers outgoing coach Paul Arnolds

While disappointed that his time at Lightfoot Green is coming to an end, Arnold looks back on his time at the club with a great deal of pride.

Tasked with reinvigorating the club after the previous season’s sorry relegation from National League Two North Two (NL2N), the 6ft 6in former Barbarian – enticed from neighbours Fylde – insisted that nothing but promotion would do in his first full season at the helm.

Having heaped pressure on himself, Arnold was as good as his word as Hoppers powered to the title – winning 23 of 26 league fixtures, losing only twice, to consign Hull and Harrogate to second and third place respectively.

Buoyed by the winning mentality and the confidence that breeds, Hoppers performed superbly back at NL2N level the following season.

They flirted with the top end of the division at various times before eventually securing a highly respectable seventh-placed finish.

After such a bright opening campaign in the fourth tier of rugby union in England, the wheels fell off for Arnold and his men the following year.

Bedevilled by long-term injuries to key players, Hoppers found themselves fighting for their lives at the wrong end of the table.

And when the Covid-19 pandemic struck causing an early curtailment of the 2019-20 season, Arnold’s men were stuck second from bottom of the table and ultimately relegated via a points-per-game ratio with five games remaining.

With the pandemic forcing the 2020-21 season to be scrapped before an oval ball was kicked or thrown in anger, the Hoppers hierarchy turned their focus on this season.

Back in the North Premier, promotion has been the aim all season and with four games to go, it is looking a distinct possibility.

The team sits in second spot in the table, three points behind leaders Otley and more importantly seven points clear of Blackburn in third with four games of the season to go.

Arnold said: "I have been thinking about finishing around Christmas but I wanted to make sure that we were in with a good shout of winning promotion before letting anyone know.

"It looks like it’s all down to us now to lose that second spot.

“I have really enjoyed this season, it’s been a good one.

"Obviously we got promoted from this division in my first full season in charge which was good.

"The thing about that year was we were fully expected to go up.

"Whereas this season has been different.

"We got rid of quite a few players and it’s a lot younger squad.

"I don’t think there was probably as much pressure this season as we know that Otley and Blackburn are good sides.

"I think we have shown a lot of character. You look at our pack, we are probably smaller by about five or six inches compared to every other pack.

"I think we are called the Preston Hyenas this year but everybody works so hard for each other and that’s a credit to the boys."

Hoppers’ next match is next Saturday against Wirral at home, which is followed by a trip to Alnwick in the first week of April.

Their final two games sees them host Burnage and then to Northwich on the final day of the campaign.

Arnold said: "We have been on a great run and won our last 10 games.

"Our next is against Wirral and then we’ve also got Alnwick, who were the last team to beat us in December.

"We are probably kicking ourselves with that defeat because if we hadn’t of lost that, we would probably be in top spot now.”