The story of Fleetwood Town over the last fifteen years has also been Nathan Pond's story.
In that time he has grown from young colt to champion racehorse. His has been a remarkable rise. From struggling to find a place in Tony Greenwood's North West Counties side he ultimately rubbed shoulders with household names in League One and secured a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Pondy's background was amateur football in the Preston area. He made his debut for Fleetwood as an eighteen year-old on 29th March 2003 at St Helens Town. He played in defence alongside the experienced Frank Cygal. Fleetwood lost 3-0 in front of 81 spectators. Two other away games followed, both resulting in defeat. Despite a hesitant start, Greenwood backed his new charge. He pushed Pond forward into a holding midfield role and it was to prove a success. He made more tackles, won more headers and started to score goals. His partnership with Jamie Milligan was to be at the heart of Fleetwood's success through the non-league days. Pond was the iron fist to Milligan's velvet glove and frequently claimed he did all the hard work while Milly took the glory! He was one of the first to embrace full-time football after a part-time existence. Gone were the days of travelling to play an evening game after being up early for the 'day job'.
Several hundred players will have come and gone through the club during his time at Fleetwood. Competition for the shirt has always been met head-on. He has come back from injury and the disappointment of missing out on Fleetwood's start in the Football League, when he went to Grimsby Town on loan. He played just 26 times for the Mariners but it was enough for the fans at Blundell Park to take him to their hearts and he became a legend in two ports! He had returned to a defensive role by then and was brought back to Highbury by Graham Alexander who had identified a lack of pace at the back. Pondy's long-awaited Football League debut came at home against Bristol Rovers in January 2013. He went on to make a further 162 EFL appearances.
He has always gone out of his way to make the fans feel special. He will leave many memories imprinted on their minds. The day he played in goal after Danny Hurst had been sent off. After failing to save the penalty conceded by Hurst, Pondy kept a clean sheet. The time a frustrated Pond finally came off the bench, upended a player immediately and was walking off before the referee had time to pull out his red card. Goals that he scored to win promotion at Newcastle Town in 2005, the Northern Premier League Challenge Cup in 2007 and the Conference North play-off in 2010. There have been six promotions, four play-offs, a half century of goals and a club record number of appearances. The only thing missing has been a recent goal. Given his record, it is surprising that he has not hit the net since a late equaliser at Bradford City in March 2015.
In 2014, he experienced the winning feeling at Wembley in the League Two play-off final against Burton Albion, claiming he played a part in the goal! At the start of Fleetwood's League One existence, it was Nathan Pond who led the team out. There was no more fitting way to begin his seventh level of football with one club. It was an achievement not based on sentiment and it earned him that place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
He will be characterised by the extendable leg, the courageous block, the powerful header out of defence. He usually gave instruction quietly and unobtrusively, the right arm raised slightly, but colleagues could be the subject of a verbal barrage if deserved. Pondy was a warrior and a leader. He was intolerant of injustice and supported his team mates through thick and thin. Younger players spoke volumes of the help he gave them. Latterly, there have been jokes about how he was old enough to be their father but he has always taken the jibes in good spirit. Make no mistake, Nathan Pond can give out as much as he receives. Humour-wise he is not in the Jon Parkin or Jamie Vardy mould but he has a wonderfully dry wit.
In the season just finished, he made thirty EFL appearances. The permanence of his place in the starting line-up had become more vulnerable. His last appearance, number 498, was from the bench, against Walsall on the last day of the season. Walsall the team against who he made his club record appearance in 2016. The consummate professional came on in the seventieth minute, pulled the captain's band up his arm, took up that oh-so-familiar place on the Highbury turf and marshalled his troops for the last time. It wasn't the heat of battle that he has encountered so many times before but Nathan Pond was not going to let his standards drop.
He has set records that will never be broken at Fleetwood Town and, doubtless, in football full stop. His many admirers will be saddened to see him move on but will wish him well as he deservedly extends his career with a new challenge.