As Plymouth Argyle midfielder Zoe Cunningham struck her penalty, St James Park held its breath, and at full stretch low to her right side, Abbi Bond pounced to keep the ball out. cue pandemonium. 10 players in red and white sprinted across the turf to leap on their heroine keeper.
It could have been a very different career path for Abbi, who describes her youth career as a goalscoring midfielder. “I played in a mixed boys’ and girls’ team for Ilminster youth and scored a few. I then went to Avishayes before reaching an age when I needed to find a girls’ team.”
Bond’s transition from midfielder to Goalkeeper is testament to the individual, a more generous person you will struggle to meet, and so fate was to play its part. “I was playing at Bishops Lydeard and the ‘keeper dislocated her shoulder; I was happy to help out for a few weeks, but she didn’t come back and I was then the permanent ‘keeper!”
At 16, a move to Senior football meant a return to Ilminster, the opportunity to play and affection for the Club resulting in an eight-year stay. With managerial upheaval at the Recreation Ground it was a spell at Exeter City next, although this was not the Grecians of 2022, with a lack of players amid mass retirements resulting in the team almost folding and Bond moving on.
Buckland Athletic was to be the place that Abbi would call home for the next five years; winning league titles, County Cups and also meeting the affable George Hamill. “Geo (Hamill) has been massively important to my development. He knows me in and out of football and understands me as a player and person. He is a very technical coach and tidies up what I do, he has overseen a massive improvement in my game and I would not be at the level I currently am without his input.”
The Summer of 2021 saw numerous offers come in for a player of her talent, but it would be a phone call from City Manager Abbie Britton that peaked the most interest. “Abbie spoke of the intent behind the scenes to grow the team and to develop players and I felt it was the right move for me, I had achieved everything at Buckland and the captaincy had been a big thing for me there. I just wanted to get back to enjoying football.”
With a focus on fitness, nutrition and with the continued help of Hamill, Abbi quickly bought into the Britton-Wakley set up and saw immediate benefits. “The girls were great in helping me settle and over the course of last season I really felt I hit new heights in my game. The management, those who work behind the scenes, the involvement with the men’s team, you really do feel part of the football club.”
And so, to St James Park, that crowd, that game, that penalty save. “I still talk about the day now; I will never forget it. To win a derby game in that manner, we couldn’t have written a better script.”
Sunday’s return to the Park is set to see an even bigger attendance and that brings back fond memories for Abbi. “The buildup was so special, that mixture of nerves and excitement. When we walked out onto the pitch and fully heard the roar of the crowd for the first time, it gave me goosebumps. You just felt, this is real, this is what all the hard work is for, what an opportunity we have.”
With sister Becci part of the sports therapy team, parents Mike and Helen regular on refreshments duty at the Exwick Hub and, of course, the sagacious Geo, Abbi and the Bond Family have been an integral part of the feel-good factor around the Women’s team at Exeter City. Should it be another match winning performance from City’s number one on Sunday, few would begrudge the moment in the spotlight for one of the team’s most personable members.