Saturday, 3 February 2018

FISHER FC (St Paul's Sports Ground)


Before I start, a confession. This was not my first choice of game, it wasn't even my second but as the rain teemed down en-route to London I began to get nervous about postponements. As the other passengers in the car were heading to the Arsenal vs Everton game I decided to join them in London, play it safe and head for a game on a 3G surface.

Looking through the fixtures, I saw that Fisher FC were home to K Sports. This Southern Counties East League Division One clash pitted 3rd versus 1st and it promised to be an enthralling encounter. Decision made. I made my way via tube and bus to Rotherhithe, where Fisher are now back playing.

Fisher FC are a supporters funded club that was formed from the ashes of the old Fisher Athletic club, which was wound up in 2009 with debts reported to be around £250,000. The original club was founded in 1908 by the John Fisher Catholic Society whose aim was to provide football facilities for under privileged children in the London district of Bermondsey. The club was named after the Catholic martyr, John Fisher therefore Fisher were one of the few football clubs in the world to take their name from a person rather than a place.

After many years playing in various amateur leagues, the club progressed up the pyramid after moving into the Surrey Docks Stadium in 1982. The club reached the Conference in 1987 and remained in the top flight of non-league football for four seasons before relegation to the Southern League. After being moved across to the Isthmian League the club gained back to back promotions in 2005 and 2006 before coming close to returning to the top flight in 2007, losing to Hampton and Richmond Borough, on penalties, in the Conference South play-off semi-final.

The site of Fisher Athletic's old ground as it is today

By this time the club had moved out of the Surrey Docks Stadium, whilst it was supposedly undergoing redevelopment, and were groundsharing at Dulwich Hamlet but the debts were growing and in November 2008 the club stopped paying players and a winding-up order for unpaid income tax issued by the High Court, leading to the club ceasing to exist on 13th May 2009. Despite dreams of a return, the old stadium has subsequently been built on and is now housing and a communal park.

The 'reformed' Fisher FC joined the Kent League in 2009 and were elected to the Premier Division. The league was revamped and renamed the Southern Counties East League in 2016 but Fisher finished bottom of the Premier Division and were relegated to the first division (step 6 of the pyramid).

Like Fisher Athletic, the new club played at Dulwich but since 2016 they have returned to Rotherhithe and home is now the St Paul's Sports Ground. The ground, like their old home, is on Salter Road and is about 200 yards across the road from where the Surrey Docks Stadium once stood. St Paul's is also home to Millwall Lionesses as the ground is managed by the Millwall Community trust on behalf of Southwark council. Like the old Surrey Docks Stadium there are the views of Canary Wharf behind the goal opposite the terraced stand.

The rain which had followed me all the way south continued to fall throughout the game but the match itself certainly raised my spirits, as did a pre-match snifter in and around London's Borough Market.

The game was everything you would expect from a top of the table clash. There was good attacking play and plenty of chances for both sides, however by the same token there were large periods when they simply cancelled each other out.

As the home side, it was Fisher started on the front foot, with K-Sports happy to play on the counter attack. It was one of these counter attacks that led to the first goal for the visitors from Aylesford. A ball into the Fisher box was headed clear but it dropped to Richard Butler (37) who hit a first time volley into the bottom corner, giving Fisher goalkeeper Nic Taylor no chance.

Right on half time Fisher were level. Top scorer Mathieu Ramsamy weaved his into the box before slotting home.  Ramsamy should have gave Fisher the lead early in the second half when he raced through with only the goalkeeper to beat but he shot tamely and the 'keeper was able to comfortably smother the ball.

Fisher continued to press forward throughout the remainder of the game and in the 90th minute they scored what they thought was the winning goal. A cross was whipped into the box and waiting at the back post to fire home was that man Ramsamy. The whole team celebrated with the vociferous Fish fans in the 'Dockers End' including 'keeper Taylor who ran the length of the pitch to join in.

However Fisher's joy was to be shortlived. Somehow the referee found seven minutes of stoppage time and in the final minute K-Sports were awarded a penalty after an inexplicable handball from a Fisher defender. Caine Smith duly despatched the spot kick.

There could have been no arguments if Fisher had held on for the win as they had the better of the second period but ultimately they will see this as two points dropped. This result, along with (the now leaders) Punjab United's win, sees K Sports drop to second with Fisher a further six points behind in 3rd. There are only two promotion spots up for grabs so Fisher certainly have work to do in their remaining 12 games.

Nonetheless, a very enjoyable afternoon in South East London and in the years to come I sincerely hope to see The Fish swimming in the upper echelons of non-league football once more.

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