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The Grass Roots Tourist does Fisher

Beautifully written piece by the Grass Roots Tourist on his trip to St Paul’s on Tuesday night. Read more of his work, along with some brilliant photos of the same game here:

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photo courtesy Grass Roots Tourist

Tuesday 3rd October 2017, 1945 KO

Fisher FC vs Kent Football United

The Build Up

Those of you who follow me on twitter will be well aware that I am currently deep into the stages of grief due to the continued deterioration of trains in the South West of London. So it was with much trepidation that I booked myself into a Southern Counties East League Challenge Cup First Round (try and say that quickly…) clash between Fisher FC and Kent Football United, over an hour and a half away on a schoolnight.

Fisher’s is a ground I’ve long wanted to get to for a floodlit game, with the spectacular backdrop of an illuminated Canary Wharf, so I left work and headed to my nearest station, to be met with the inevitable delays and cancellations. That said, I didn’t envy the journey of Fisher’s visitors today, Kent Football United. The artists formerly known as Erith & Dartford Town hail from, unsurprisingly, Dartford and play in the Southern Counties East League Division One, the same as their hosts. Having finished 4th last season, Ennio Gonella’s team are showing remarkable consistency as they sit 5th currently. Their top scorer is the alliteratively impressive, and first name hogging, Darryl Dylan with four.

Fisher are hoping for better days this season, following a difficult 2016/17 which ended with relegation. As the “phoenix club” for the well-known Fisher Athletic, there is a proud history associated with Fisher FC, and they must surely wish to return something like the glory days of Conference football to Rotherhithe. With Fisher in 7th place at the time of writing, this promised to be a tight fixture between two evenly matched teams – and it would prove exactly that.

The Ground

By the time I arrived, despite South Western Trains’ best efforts, I was sodden with sweat after having to run the final mile from Canada Water station. This didn’t prevent me pausing to snap the scenery on the route in – Canada Water and Surrey Quays are absolutely lovely areas of London, and if you’ve got a spare £700k lying around you’d be well advised to buy around here.

The snack in question was a chicken sub, lovingly prepared there and then by a very amiable chap, who spent the majority of that time being berated by his mother. Accompanying this was the almost obligatory Diet Coke. All that rocked in at a distinctly un-London price of £2.50, and added to the programme (£2) and ticket (£7) represented a good value evening by the river.

St Paul’s Sports Ground itself is a small, neat ground, which is owned and operated by Millwall Community Trust. The Fish are not the only team to play there, but the artificial surface is immaculate and the stadium has a very welcoming atmosphere. The hoardings in front of the Dockers End are bedecked with banners more befitting of the Curva Nord, and the 68 supporters in attendance were a noisy and passionate crowd.

I also have to discuss the backdrop, because it is simply incredible, particularly at a night match in Autumn. Perhaps one of the most iconic city centre skylines on the planet dominates the vista from the Dockers End, but it is perfectly underwritten by the ring of deciduous trees encircling the pitch. With the illuminated foliage turning purple and orange, and the lights of Canary Wharf providing the backlighting, there cannot be many better views in world football, and I genuinely don’t think I’m being guilty of hyperbole here.

The Match

The game itself settled into a good pace early on, and a couple of early chances came and went for each side. In the 7th minute, Kent Football United (hereafter referred to as Kent) had the first presentable opportunity, in the form of a technically excellent volley by their number 7 – I must apologise though, I literally could not read his name on the teamsheet. How people manage to make capital letters so unreadable will go down as one of life’s great mysteries.

When it came Fisher’s turn to have their first good chance of the game they took full advantage. Good work by Paulo Facchinetti down the left was rewarded when his low cross into the “corridor of uncertainty” was met by No. 7 Jamie Brown. Brown physically couldn’t miss, and comfortably made it 1-0. Sadly for Brown, this would spell the end of his night, as a pulled hamstring saw him withdrawn.

This goal was surely the harbinger of many more, as Fisher seemed able to encamp in the Kent half, and then almost carve through their midfield at will. The pace of substitute Trey Brown, and No 11 Cameron Stevenson was causing all manner of problems for Kent, and centre backs Rob Brown and Dan Flemming were titanic in rebuffing every attempt by the visitors to get out of their half.

On 22 minutes, Fisher came a crossbar away from extending their lead. Captain Richie Hamill’s break and shot from the D forced a corner, and when that wasn’t cleared, a second corner fell to Nathan Hunter in prime goalscoring territory. His head must be shaped like a new pound coin, because I cannot fathom how it went where it did, but when it somehow pinballed back to his feet, he slipped, and whilst falling scooped a shot up, over the defender on the line, and onto the crossbar.

The one positive for Kent in the first half was the performance of their left winger Taser Hassan. Without a shadow of a doubt, he was the most effective dribbler I’ve seen at this level. He really reminded me of watching an on-form Wilfried Zaha with his close control, pace and willingness to beat a man with a trick. By half an hour in, Fisher were resorting to fouling him, and throughout the course of the match I genuinely lost count of how many free kicks Kent were awarded on the left side of the penalty area.

On half an hour, a loose pass by Richard Ismail was picked up by Jack Bullock for Fisher. He spread the ball wide, where a long, deep cross found the irrepressible Hamill. His hammered shot from almost the byline was well saved by Antipodean ‘keeper Liam Whittaker. Then, the final note I have from the half was for a textbook sliding challenge by Dan Flemming. He was an absolute man mountain throughout the match, and really impressed me.

So 1-0 at half time, and Fisher looked comfortable. The warning signs were there though, and in the last ten minutes Kent had begun to flicker to life. Both sides to their credit were playing slick one and two touch passing football. It was easy on the eye, and when they did depart from it, the variation was in the form of pacey wing play. Whilst both Hamill and Facchinetti were making the team tick in possession, I had been most impressed with left back Jack Rogers. He was flying upfield in support of Stevenson, but was absolutely unruffled defensively. Quite slight compared to the Uruk Hai along the rest of the backline, he was nonetheless a tenacious tackler and snapped into every 50/50 with aplomb.

The impressive Flemming had a good chance early in the second half when he leapt well to meet a corner. His header was deflected over and when the second corner was cleared, it fell to Stevenson who dribbled into the box well but failed to make anything of it. This was something of a recurring theme for the diminutive Jock, as he was pacy and difficult to tackle, but the final ball often let him down.

As the half wore on Taser Hassan came more and more to the fore and Kent really started to establish their presence on the match. When Luke Whittaker rushed out of goal to close down a chance for Fisher, it seemed to almost act as a catalyst. Having had the lion’s share of the match, but been unable to put it to bed, Fisher were to be under the cosh for the last half hour.

Two chances came and went around the hour mark, both created by Hassan. His trickery and pace putting him in good crossing positions, but on one occasion it was deflected behind, and the other a fine covering tackle averted danger. At the other end, Hamill went on a dazzling run down the left wing. Using the time honoured “show and go” he quite literally left the right back on his arse, before motoring into the box, skinning the centre back and smashing his shot off the near post. It would have been a spectacular goal.

Kent were definitely creating more though, and now it was Fisher’s turn to feel unable to clear their lines. On 67 minutes, a whipped ball into the box was met by Nicholas Gonsalves. His header looped up and over the rooted Liam Cameron and dropped into the net. Cameron will feel he was impeded by Kent’s Mark Allen, but the photos don’t lie and he was simply out of position for the flight of the ball due to the cruel loop on the header.

With the score now set at 1-1, the match became frantic. What had been a good, technical game became a great, technical game played at 100 mph and with some late and high tackles thrown in for good measure. Despite the game having been played in a friendly manner, the referee somehow contrived to lose control of this one and passions threatened to boil over at times. Referee Sanchez made some decisions that made Donald Trump look rational, and Fisher particularly could have cause to feel aggrieved.

This heightened tempo and fevered approach to the last fifteen minutes in particular meant chances became few and far between. A good barrelling run from his own area by Dan Flemming brought a half chance which he hit wide, but aside from that all the real danger was coming from Hassan. Crucially, one of a number of fouls on him brought a first yellow card for substitute Harry Draper.

Despite a completely dominant final ten minutes by Kent, it was Fisher who created the final chance of normal time. Trey Small of Bromley Academy, who had grown in influence as Fisher’s outlet from the pressure took the ball in a tight spot in his own half. Playing a one-two to exit, he found himself in a good position to hit a curling pass to Cameron Stevenson. Stevenson, however, skied his shot, much to the ire of the enjoyably cockney manager, Dean Harrison.

Whilst waiting for extra time to commence I was stood near to the Fisher players. What I heard is one of the best team talks I’ve heard from a manager. I won’t repeat what was said as I believe some things should stay within a team, but Harrison’s message was fiery, passionate but ultimately brilliantly motivating. It was absolutely no surprise to me the when the additional period kicked off, Fisher were like a team of terriers on speed. Absolutely everywhere they dominated the extra time.

This heightened aggression and passion may have had a draw back though… On 94 minutes, Fisher’s job got 9.09% harder, when Harry Draper was sent off for dissent. A ludicrous corner was awarded against his team, and despite vociferous pleas by fans and teammates to shut his mouth, he didn’t/wouldn’t/couldn’t and received his marching orders.

It didn’t matter though – in fact, it seemed to have almost no impact. Fisher were everywhere and it would have matted if Kent had a five man advantage, they simply couldn’t find space anywhere. Fisher put together wave upon wave of attack, and could have seen Kent reduced to ten men as well. When a through ball brought Cameron rushing out of goal, he dived on the ball only to slide out of the area. As last man he could have seen red, but a yellow sufficed.

All great epics have a Final Act, and tonight’s was penned by Trey Small. Picking up the ball in midfield with five to play before penalties, he passed to Hamill. Hamill, so authoritative in possession throughout, played an inch perfect through ball. The weight of the pass and Small’s pace were enough to take the tired Kent defenders out of the game. Out rushed Liam Cameron, and he and Small arrived at the ball almost simultaneously. It was Small who got the crucial touch, and as he sprinted away to the corner, arms outstretched, Fisher’s fans erupted. If 68 people can erupt.

The Wash Up

So Fisher FC progress, and with merit. Both teams played their hearts out on a chilly October night, and whilst the home side deserved the victory, I can’t say that Kent deserved the loss. There was no quarter given, or asked, by either side, but there was a real technical quality on display. The fine playing surface contributed to this, but there was undoubtedly some fine coaching underpinning this, for two teams committed to playing good football.

It’s difficult to highlight key players when so many people put in great performances. For the Kent team, as they faced the hour and a half trip home, players such as Alim Sesay, Mark Allen and Nico Gonsalves can reflect that they were unlucky to end on the losing side, but that isn’t to take anything away from their teammates. In Fisher’s colours, there were some absolute titans tonight. Reece Hamill was everywhere – indefatigable, and despite having almost no pace, breezing past players for fun. Flemming and Hunter in central defence were immense, repelling so much in the last half hour of normal time. As mentioned above I was hugely impressed by Jack Rogers at full back, and Trey Small – the match winner – grew in stature as the game progressed.

Man of the Match though goes to Taser Hassan. Even Dean Harrison begrudgingly admitted that he was “a player”, adjusting his tactics in extra time to ensure that “Tass” always had two men on him whenever he was in possession. I remember a manager (possibly Steve Bruce) once saying that he would need a cannon to stop Thierry Henry, and at times it felt like that would be the only way to get the ball of Hassan tonight. Poor Toyo Adeshina, though by no means playing badly, will be glad he only has to face him twice more this season.

Grass Roots Tourist

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