With our own return home inching slowly closer, we look at our former Ryman League rivals Fisher, who recently played their first game back in their community.
A few weeks ago, Fisher FC played their first competitive fixture at their new ground in Rotherhithe, ending 12 years of exile for the fans-owned club that emerged from the ashes of our former Isthmian League opponents, Fisher Athletic.
A Conference National (as it now is) side as recently as 1991, Fisher Athletic had enjoyed a mini-revival after the arrival of new chairman Sami Muduroglu in 2004, with money invested in players and the promise of a new stadium in Rotherhithe prompting their ‘temporary’ departure from their Surrey Docks Stadium to groundshare with Dulwich Hamlet.
By the time they met the Dons in the Ryman Premier Division in 2005/06, Fisher had established a reputation as big spenders. AFC Wimbledon beat Fisher twice in the league that season before a play-off semi-final at Fisher’s temporary Champion Hill home, which Fisher won 2–1 to end the Dons’ promotion dreams. They went on to beat Hampton & Richmond Borough and win a place in Conference South.
But it all started to turn sour in summer 2008, when, after losing out on promotion to the top tier of non-league through the play-offs, they suffered a player exodus as their financial situation started to deteriorate. The club stopped paying its players in November 2008, and was issued with a High Court winding-up order over unpaid debts. That order was enforced on 13 May 2009. The original Fisher Athletic club was at an end.
However, the supporters were determined not to see their club die. At a supporters’ meeting in Downside Fisher Centre, right in the heart of their community, the first steps were taken towards resurrecting the club as trust-owned Fisher FC, which was soon elected to the Kent League.
The phoenix club was still playing in exile at Dulwich. The supporters made a return to Rotherhithe their top priority, working with Southwark Council and Fairview New Homes to build a new stadium in Salter Road, just yards from their old Surrey Docks home.
Although planning permission for the new ground was obtained two years ago, it wasn’t all plain sailing: the 2,500-capacity ground with a 3G pitch was completed in March this year, but its opening was delayed, resulting in the club being removed from this season’s FA Cup.
And the club has been forced to tender to take on the ground’s lease, with a decision set to be announced soon by Southwark Council, which owns the ground. If the council’s decision goes against Fisher, the club could end up as tenants at the ground that was built for them.
But this uncertainty couldn’t dampen the enthusiasm when the new ground hosted its first competitive match on 13 August, a 0–0 draw against Rochester United in the Southern Counties East Football League (the new name for the Kent League), watched by a crowd of 180.
Board member Dan Feeney told the Southwark News: ‘It’s difficult to put into words. It’s an amazing feeling to see football back in the area. People have worked really hard. Everyone connected with the club is happy that we have finally managed it – we are finally home!’
“Home” is St Paul’s Sport Ground, Salter Road, Rotherhithe, London SE16 5EF. Find out more at fisherfc.org.
This article originally appeared in the matchday programme for the game against Chesterfield, played on Saturday, September 3.