Persistence pays off for Bond
Any player in the world would have been delighted to have claimed the goal scored by Colchester's Andy Bond in the League One clash with Sheffield Wednesday on 14 August.
It was a beautiful, technically brilliant strike from the 24-year-old, who smashed the ball beyond Owls keeper Nicky Weaver from 25 yards with the outside of his right boot.
The goal had extra significance for Bond because it was the first of his Football League career and, in many ways, vindicated his decision not to give up on his dream after being released by Crewe in 2006.
"If you stick at it and work hard, then you don't know what will happen," Bond told me. "The hunger has always been there."
Bond had been at Crewe since the age of 12 and, in his final season, was a regular in the reserves without ever really threatening to break into the first team. He had enjoyed his time at Gresty Road. It was close to his home in Wigan and, if he wasn't driving, easy to reach by train, with the stadium just around the corner from the station.
I know of a few footballers who have failed to recover from a rejection similar to Bond's. Having failed to cut it as a professional, they have swiftly become disillusioned with the game and have stopped playing completely. Yet Bond remained positive, joining non-league Barrow and setting himself a target of returning to the pro ranks by the age of 25.
Barrow were a part-time club playing in the Conference North when Bond signed for them in the summer of 2006, so he supplemented his income with building work. Then, after his second season with the club ended with a 1-0 victory over Stalybridge Celtic and promotion to the Conference, they decided to ditch their part-time status, training on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings instead of only two evenings a week.
"When the club went full-time, I jumped at the chance," said Bond. "Training every day makes you a better player and I definitely think that has happened to me."
It wasn't until the back end of last year that things really started happening for Bond, with Barrow manager David Bayliss inviting him into his office shortly before Christmas.
But when Bayliss offered the player a new contract, Bond's suspicions were raised. "I thought it was strange, they never normally offered me a new deal until the back end of the season," he told me. "So I said 'no'.
"They improved the offer five times after that meeting so I knew that something was happening - that I had been watched or the club had received an enquiry. I was playing well at the time and, given my age, I could leave for free at the end of the season."
Bond's instincts proved correct. Several clubs had been monitoring his progress and, shortly after the turn of the year, he spent a week on trial at Leicester City. "I could not believe it, that I was training with a Championship club," he said. "I had to pinch myself but I thought I held my own."
A permanent move to Leicester did not materialise but he continued to enjoy success with Barrow, helping the team beat Stevenage to win the FA Trophy on 8 May. A few days later, Bond left for his summer holiday in relaxed mood. When he returned, his agent told him he had received offers from Macclesfield, Tranmere, Carlisle and Luton.
But then Bond received a call from Colchester boss John Ward, who impressed him with his enthusiasm, and he ended up penning a two-year deal with the U's at the end of June, becoming Ward's first signing since succeeding Aidy Boothroyd as manager. Ward described Bond as a marauding midfielder with a great work rate and concluded that his arrival was "something of a coup".
Helped in part by the presence of goalkeeper Ben Williams, an ex-team-mate at Crewe and his best mate in football, Bond, who had lived in Wigan all his life, settled quickly in Colchester and tore into pre-season training, determined to grab his opportunity.
He did not expect to make the starting line-up for Colchester's opening fixture of the League One season against Exeter on 7 August, though. But he did and has started every league game this season. So instrumental has he been for Colchester that Ward chose to rest him for the Carling Cup match at Sunderland on 24 August to keep him fresh for the league campaign.
So far, Bond has scored four goals from midfield and was on the scoresheet again on Saturday as his team drew with Plymouth.
"It is hard to explain but it is like I have been given a second chance," said Bond. "I was always confident in my ability to make the step up but needed the chance. Hopefully I will repay the manager."
It appears he is doing just that at the moment.