The team had been off the pace all season in the North West Counties League First Division, had gone out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle after a replayed game at Workington and, after a promising FA Vase run, they had disappointingly exited in a fiery Fourth Round encounter at Brigg Town.
Owner/manager Mick Hoyle had stepped down as manager in March 2003 for personal and business reasons and former Fleetwood players Martin Eatough and Tony Greenwood took charge of playing affairs for the rest of the season.
One of Greenwood’s first acts had been to bring a raw 18-year-old called Nathan Pond to Highbury and the rest, as they say, is history.
Pond, now a vastly experienced 26-year-old, is still a first-team regular but four divisions higher and is set to make his 300th league appearance for Fleetwood against Mansfield Town who were a Second Division side when he made his debut.
He made his Fleetwood debut at St Helens Town in front of eighty-one spectators on 29th March 2003 and after playing in the following two games at Mossley and Congleton Town, he made his home debut against title chasing Clitheroe on Tuesday 15th April 2003.
The first three Town appearances had all ended in defeat. It was hardly the most glorious beginning to what has become a legendary career. Things were to get better, much better: “To be fair I don’t remember much about that first home game but I think we got a result.”
Fleetwood drew 1-1 against a Clitheroe side entertaining hopes of winning the division. A crowd of 158 saw Fleetwood score through Frank Cygal.
Pond’s career blossomed with Town and he became a key part of successive sides which gained four promotions. With forty-eight goals, he is set to achieve a significant goalscoring milestone as well. Within that total were some key strikes: “I remember having to go to Newcastle Town to gain promotion and scoring the first to set up our victory. There are many good memories to look back on and hopefully many more to come. The four promotions have all been memorable but a fifth would be so important as it would get us into the Football League.”
Twelve months ago, Pond was about to suffer an injury that would deprive him of a part in the season’s climax and play-offs: “I was gutted and certainly not in a good frame of mind. I just had to stay mentally strong, get over it, work my way back and hold my place down.”
The injury prevented a quick start to the new season and Pond’s first appearance was at Stockport County at the end of September. Since then, this remarkable footballer has come back ever-stronger with twenty-nine successive League and FA Cup appearances, forming a key partnership in central defence with Steve McNulty: “As long as I’m on the pitch I don’t mind midfield or defence. I’ve been playing on the left side of defence and would ideally prefer the right but it doesn’t bother me if I’m getting match time.”
Pond’s resurgence has been one of many success stories this season for Town and he has no doubt that he can take his form to a higher level: “Without a doubt I can perform in the Football League. I’ve proved myself at every level and done well against league opposition in the FA Cup.”
And so the modest and engaging hero to the many thousands in the Cod Army who have admired his football over the years will celebrate his 300th game in a Town shirt: “It’s a great achievement for me personally but hopefully we’ll get the right result on the day.”
Typically, Pond is ever-keen to concentrate on the result and the team, rather than himself. Nevertheless, his is a magnificent achievement and one that will place him even firmer in the annals of Fleetwood Town’s history - and who is to say that there won’t be more milestones to celebrate in the future!?