I first saw Matt Pond in 2011 at Surakul Stadium. One of the most loyal blokes to ever sport Phuket FC colors, he was hard to miss, but will be forever missed.
As the new Contributing Editor of the Phuket Gazette, I started covering weekly Phuket FC matches. I had been curious about the local footy club, which had only been incorporated in 2009 and was quickly growing in popularity.
Though I wasn’t paid extra or given time in lieu, I attended off-hours because I enjoyed and saw it as a great opportunity to meet locals, and apprentice as an action photographer, sideline-reporter.
Having that season just been promoted to the first division, a tier below the Thai Premier League, Phuket FC were enjoying record turnouts, regularly exceeding 10,000.
The crowd was by-and-large local, Southern Thais with perhaps only a hundred westerners at most — expats and curious tourists alike — in the crowd any given week.
Most of the ‘farang’ fans then tended to group with or near the ‘Mushy Peas’ and loud-but -friendly ‘Hulk’ supporters’ sections of the northwest stands, close to the north gate parking lot and sheltered west stands that offered refuge from storm surges, common during the football season in Phuket.
Matt was one of the only, and sometimes only Westerner occupying the more-densely packed and intimidating east stands.
A thin, 40-something balding Englishman with glasses, usually nursing a big brown bottle of Leo, and always sporting the home team colors (then green, later blue, then yellow), he was usually accompanied by his Thai wife and young, curly-haired boy — right smack in the middle of some of the Island’s most passionate, vocal and vulgar groups of supporters.
Usually squinting if not smiling and rarely showing emotion beyond that, Matt had an unbreakable focus on the pitch, and could offer commentary and critique on every pass, play and player.
He never missed a beat, and clearly loved his football. Rain or shine, win or lose, promotion or relagation, Matt was always there in the east stands toughing it out with the toughest of them.
Matt’s passion and loyalty, for and to the home team, and his family and final home, Phuket, was contageous.
Under no particular obligation, I continued to cover matches over the next few years and take pride in Phuket, like Matt, who I wouldn’t actually become directly acquainted till later.
A regular commentor on our online reports, Matt Pond was a true footy and Phuket enthusiast, who had been working for local lifestyle content website that, for whatever reason didn’t cover much of the local football.
But Matt certainly was active on our coverage of it. I remember how, on one report, he suggested the word ‘plummet’ was perhaps a bit sensational for dropping two places from top-of-the-table. Well noted!
Fast forward to 2015, when I was the Managing Editor at the Phuket News. At one of our weekly head-of-department meetings, General Manager Jason Beavan, then Executive Editor Alasdair Forbes and Novosti Phuketa Managing Editor, Anton Makhrov and I were reviewing potential candidates for a news editor vacancy.
All the applicants we had were either underqualified backpackers looking for a vacation extension, or overqualified career journalists waiting for an all-expenses-paid golden-ticket expat-package job offer.
“Do we know anybody already in Phuket, who has experience in media? Someone dependable who will stick around long-term, anyone?” Jason asked.
“There is one guy who comes to mind… he’s got a young kid, works for [a local gush website], but can’t be happy writing fluffy restaurant reviews there…And he’s a die-hard Phuket FC fan. Let me reach out,” I said, chancing it.
Perhaps it was the better offer and opportunity for a long-term expat to officially be an authority on all aspects Phuket, or the fact that our paper was official media sponsors of Phuket FC, Matt was eager to join.
The rest is history. Matt proved to be the most loyal and dependable colleague one could ask for. Not only football, he had a knack for all sport on the island, and it wasn’t long before he was effectively running the news desk with deep insight into issues affecting island life. He certainly was a passionate and creative critic when it came to his round to write editorials; it was hard to find flaws in his reasoning because he truly did understand the nature and motives of the people here and those around him.
A family man, humble and down-to-earth gentleman with an eclectic taste in music, Matt will be sorely missed by friends, colleagues and family. Our hearts go out to his surviving wife, Marisa, and young son, Joshua, who himself is a talented footballer playing for a local academy club.
We are all deeply saddened and shocked by Matt’s unexpected departure.
Lung cancer got him at 47.
But his final years in Phuket were not in vain.
His legacy of passion, dedication and loyalty lives on in all of us. A staunch supporter of not only Phuket FC, but his first home team of Crystal Palace, Matt’s demonstration of heart here extends beyond football: never abandon your side — through thick and thin, rain and shine, win and lose, stand strong untill the end.
Thank You ‘Pondy’ for the good years and lessons on and off the pitch, and may you Rest In Peace and enjoy your long-awaited reunion with your brother upstairs.