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I am a Fisherman


FC fans at Fisher 11-01-14

Brill, sea bream, cod, mackerel, whitebait, haddock, turbot, perch, carp and salmon. They’re all fish, of course, but none of them rhyme with Bermondsey. In fact, there’s not many fish that can be poetically coupled with this particular area of south London as the merry band of FC United of Manchester’s London & Southern branch who went to watch Fisher FC the other week discovered.

They’d promised us some Mancunian indie sounds to make us feel at home; the Roses, Mondays, New Order that sort of thing. But by the time we’d strolled from the East Dulwich Tavern, through a car wash and into Dulwich Hamlet’s Champion Hill ground the match was already about to kick off. And shortly after we’d joined a small band of Fisher fans on the shallow-stepped, covered terrace opposite the main stand and put our “mine’s a shandy” flag up, the ball was in the back of the net and the home team were already one-nil down.

With FC not having a game due to Chorley’s FA Trophy exploits, a few of us southerners decided to visit supporter owned Fisher FC to watch them play Beckenham Town in a local derby clash. Fisher are owned entirely by their supporters and were formed following the demise of Fisher Athletic at the end of the 2008-09 season. As recently as six years ago Fisher Athletic were playing AFC Wimbledon in the Conference South. How the two clubs’ fortunes have changed since then.

They have a “one member, one vote” structure similar to FC United and their constitution also commits them to being “run for the good of the community”. In addition, also like FC, they are hoping to return home soon having secured the backing of Southwark Council for a new ground and community sports facility in Bermondsey.

The development on St Paul’s playing fields, across the road from the old home of Fisher Athletic, will include an astroturf football pitch that will be available for community use. Meanwhile the derelict Surrey Docks stadium will be turned into a public park. Fisher have benefited from an enlightened and supportive approach from the local council who are keen to improve affordable access to leisure facilities. Childhood obesity is a problem and, in a recent survey, nearly seventy percent of adults in Southwark said that they wanted to increase their activity levels.

As with FC United’s move to Moston, the return of Fisher FC to Bermondsey, hopefully during the 2014-15 season, will provide a huge boost to one of the most deprived areas of London. It’s ironic that amidst all the hot air about an Olympic sporting legacy, only a few miles across London from the Olympic stadium a former sports ground has laid derelict for nearly a decade.

Fisher were formed in Bermondsey in 1908 as a community club. Indeed there is a strong tradition in this part of London of football clubs supporting their local community. Millwall FC, in addition to providing food banks, were active in the recent successful campaign to save the Accident & Emergency department at nearby Lewisham Hospital. They even rearranged a home match in the FA Cup to a Friday night so that supporters could attend a “Save Lewisham A&E” demonstration on the Saturday.

FC fans at Fisher 11-01-14 3

Fisher currently play in the Southern Counties East League at step five of the non-league pyramid. They’re struggling on the pitch at the moment and it showed in the early stages of this match. Beckenham started strongly and were two-nil up inside the first ten minutes with some smart finishing. The rest of the first half was more even with Fisher battling their way back into the game but rarely troubling the Beckenham keeper.

Undeterred, the FC and Fisher songsmiths urged the home side forward and sang in unison throughout the game. There were some Fisher songs. “When the Fish go swimming in” was a particular favourite. There were some FC United songs. And there were some FC United songs adapted as Fisher songs. “Fish football” anyone?

Sadly we spent much of the match floundering in our attempt to complete the words to the Anarchy inspired “I am a Fisher man” song. We’d got the first line and the last line nailed but the middle section was still the subject of much debate late into the second half. I think it was Ronald Reagan who once said that as long as a speech has a good opening and a strong finish it doesn’t matter what comes in between. Well, the daft neo-liberal, union-bashing, Thatcher-mate clearly didn’t know anything about football songs. Without a middle section that can be sung with gusto they’re a bit lightweight. The Fisher man song needs work.

Fisher badge

There was also time for some good old fashioned abuse of the opposition players and the badge kissing Beckenham number seven looked a tad confused at being called a “scouse bastard” after a late challenge in front of us.

The Fisher players, unlike many teams at this level, don’t get paid and this clearly makes it difficult for them to hang onto their best players. They currently rent Dulwich Hamlet’s ground. It’s a smart little ground but it’s a twenty minute journey from London Bridge which makes attracting support in their Bermondsey heartland difficult. This season their average gate has been about eighty five. It’s not bad for this level.

But chatting to chairman Ben Westmancott and tannoy-man Dan York in the bar afterwards, they are confident that when they move back to Bermondsey they should be able to attract crowds of over two hundred. This would make them easily the best supported club in this league and provide a financially sustainable base from which to, hopefully, push on up the non-league pyramid. As FC United know well, it’s not easy balancing the books in tough economic times whilst renting a ground and often not getting the full benefit of the “second spend” on drinks and catering.

The attendance for this match was 150, the highest of the season. Buoyed not only by the presence of eight FC United fans but also by a contingent of London-based Leeds United fans and possibly a few from the late postponement of Charlton’s home game.

The second half began much like the first half with an early goal for Beckenham who never looked like relinquishing their lead and ran out convincing 5-0 winners in the end. We tried to roar the Fish on to a late consolation goal but it was to no avail and we adjourned to the main stand bar with the Fisher hardcore.

There is much to admire in what Fisher FC are doing and, like FC United, they represent a wonderful advert for supported owned football clubs. It’s great to think that, all being well, as FC United move into their new home in Moston later this year, two hundred miles further south another supporter owned football club will also be returning home to be so much more than just a football club. Come on the Fish. We think they’re brill.


From → London, Sport

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