On May 28, Eartha Pond was celebrating promotion to the FA Women’s Super League with Tottenham Hotspur. Two and a half weeks later, she woke up to see Grenfell Tower ablaze in the distance and quickly got to work doing one of her other jobs.
Outside of football, Pond, 34, is the vice-chair of Queens Park Community Council and has been at the forefront of efforts to help people off the back of the disaster that has since seen dozens of people lose their lives.
Her work on that front continues, but this Sunday, Pond and her Tottenham team mates, who train three times a week, will walk out at Durham to make their bow in the FA WSL after beating Blackburn in May’s play-off final.
Like several Tottenham players, Pond has played in the FA WSL briefly before, but she spent much of her youth at clubs such as Arsenal and Chelsea, long before the introduction of women’s football first professional league in the UK.
“It’s an exciting period for Tottenham,” Pond says. “They’ve never been at this level or even seen as contenders, so the achievements were perhaps unexpected to some.
“We had a fantastic season which continued on from the end of the previous season. This season isn’t just about participating, but to demonstrate the quality we have – and we’ve made some great signings.”
Growing up in what Pond describes as a “deprived area”, the chances of pursuing her dream of becoming a footballer looked slim. Coming from a family of eight children looked after by a single parent, she experienced the same difficulties most young girls do in order to get to where they wanted.
“I wanted to play at school, but the boys said no, and I don’t take no for an answer,” she says. “I stood in the middle of the pitch and basically disrupted the whole game, so I convinced them to let me play.
“They only let me play in goal, but I actually got quite good and once they couldn’t score they let me play outfield.
“Once I got out there it was about how to get better. Having older brothers and knowing boys who played let me get involved with a local team that ran from under 12 to under 18 – I’d played for every age group team by the time I was 13
“Therefore when I was old enough to play women’s football I had that little bit extra in terms of strength, which was a bonus ball for me in a sense.”
• • • •
• • • •
Pond was snapped up as a teenager by Arsenal, the biggest club in the women’s game, before moving to London rivals Chelsea, but finances were a big issue.
“Coming from a single parent family, it wasn’t easy,” she says. “I used to travel with £2 pocket money to Arsenal, it was either buy lunch or save money for training.
“I admit, most of the time it would go on food and drink so I’d take a risk on sliding through the suitcase flap compartment or scurrying through behind someone else once they’d inserted their travel card – I was like a rucksack on their back!
“Living in a very deprived area meant there were only a couple of us who played football, but Rachel Yankey lived up the road and she paved the way for us, it showed there was an opportunity within the sport we loved that we could fulfil. Football is often the last priority for parents, but for a lot of us boys and girls it was an outlet.”
Pond’s career took her to Everton, Reading, QPR, Leeds, Barnet, Buffalo Flash and Charlton before she settled at Tottenham. She is now fast approaching the end of her playing days but is unlikely to struggle to keep busy once that time comes.
Pond, who has a full-time paid job as an assistant vice-principal at a school in London, admits her role with the Queens Park Community Council has been a “learning curve”, particularly since June when the Grenfell disaster occurred.
“I’m very community orientated,” she says. “I wanted to give something back if I could. Whether it be young people, the elderly, the vulnerable people in our society, I wanted to show there are opportunities for them.
“I’ve been doing a lot of fundraising for Grenfell, that’s gone to just over £100k and I’m a trustee at a local youth club. For me, it’s about how I continue to learn, not just in football, but in how I can help other people.”
On June 14, just a few miles from Pond’s home, Grenfell Tower set alight in the middle of the night, causing devastation to so many families who lived in the building.
Pond had called in sick for work that morning but admits the “adrenaline” of seeing what was happening in the distance kicked in on the day.
“I just looked out of the window and could see what was happening via the news channels. Even though I was physically sick, I headed to my local youth club so see what we could do. Could we make spaces available for relief?
“I was out there on the front line, finding clothes and getting donations, I think everything came out of my house and was donated bar the Christmas tree.”
Pond adds: “It hit really close to home, I can see the tower from my bedroom window. I’ve got friends who live there, family who live across the road.
“What we saw on the day in terms of the community response was amazing. The media highlight issues such as postcode wars and the gangs, but everyone was down there on the day pulling together. I haven’t seen anything like that in my life. When the going gets tough I know I live in a special community.”
Pond is still fundraising and doing what she can for her local community, but the 34-year-old believes the “boat has been missed” in the vast majority of over the past four months.
“Everything sort of stopped still,” she says. “When you see a national disaster, everyone rallies around, whether it be local or national governments. But with Grenfell the jigsaw doesn’t seem to have fallen into place.
“So many families still haven’t been rehoused; the public were fantastic in donating but getting those donations out has been difficult. The Manchester bombing donations were under one central fund so it got distributed quicker, but it’s been different with Grenfell.
“I can’t believe how many points of action haven’t been put in place as they should be, in regards to the funding and the government response locally. In the richest borough in the UK rated as outstanding, the apex of local government demonstrated incompetence on all possible levels before, during and after the disaster.
“But as a community all we can do is continue to support. Some volunteers haven’t gone back to work since June 14. It’s really hard and there are still a significant amount of victims, survivors, families and volunteers who still haven’t had time to stop and grieve.
“We think about the trauma that hasn’t even kicked in yet, when national celebrations such as birthdays, Eid, Christmas, Diwali, anniversaries comes around and family members aren’t there, that’s when it will hit them hard and support will be needed even more than ever.”
If anyone would like to support the current fundraising campaign, all donations are welcome and will go directly to the victims. https://www.gofundme.com/grenfell-tower-fire-fund
By Rich Laverty