Fisher FC’s origins lie in the Fisher Catholic Club for Boys, founded in 1908 by Mr Norman Potter, aided by Michael Culliton, headmaster of the Dockhead School, Bermondsey, to provide sporting and recreational facilities for underprivileged youths. It was named The Fisher Club in memory of St John Fisher, and was supported by the Fisher Society – the Catholic Society at Cambridge University. The first location of the club was an old engineering shop in Rose Court and was entirely staffed by volunteers. The ground floor was used for athletics, with the first and second floors used for recreational games such as ludo and draughts.
Friar Stephen Rawlinson, a chaplain to the Fisher Catholic Club, persuaded the Abbot and Community at Downside in Stratton-on-the-fosse near Somerset, to take over responsibility for the club. Their reorganisation of the Fisher and Downside Clubs formed the Downside Settlement, supported by subscriptions from Old Gregorians (ex-Downside School pupils). The Settlement Movement was a social movement whose main objective was the establishment of “settlement houses” in poor urban areas, in which volunteer middle-class “settlement workers” would live, hoping to share knowledge and culture with, and alleviate the poverty of, their low-income neighbours.
The first sporting event of any note was a home inter-club boxing match against St. Patrick’s Club, Wapping in a 3-3 draw. The first football match on record was also against St. Patrick’s, a 2-1 win for Fisher at Norbury, though a fascinating transcript of an earlier fixture also survives:
It was the very first football team “The Fisher” put on a football field,……It was a very good team. Its defence I would describe as reliable and clever, and its forward line would never have been arrested for loitering or hanging about near the goal, as the game very early in their career against Mauzi’s (Manze) shows when the lads won 29-0. Mauzi’s were the far-famed eel merchants and meat pie manufacturers of Tower Bridge Road and Blue Anchor Lane…
The team competed in various district leagues before moving to the Parthenon League where they stayed until 1965. At this point the club folded and reformed, this time based in Mitcham, joining the Western Section of the Kent Amateur League for the 1966-67 season.
Fisher were elected to the Spartan League in 1974 and won back-to-back championships in 1980-81 and 1981-82. The latter season coincided with a move to the purpose-built Surrey Docks Stadium.
Fisher were elected to the Southern League’s Southern Division for the 1982-83 season and won the championship at the first attempt, earning promotion to the Southern League Premier Division. 1984-85 saw Fisher reach the first round of the FA Cup, losing 1-0 to Bristol City.
In 1986-87 they won the Southern League title and were promoted to the Football Conference (Blue Square Premier). The following year brought another run to the first round of the FA Cup where the Fish once again lost out to a Bristol side, their nemesis this time being Rovers who won 3-0.
Fisher’s success came to an end in 1990-91 when they finished bottom of the Conference and dropped back to the Southern League Premier Division. The following season brought a second successive relegation, to the Southern League Southern Division, where they remained until the turn of the millennium, generally finishing in mid-table.
The 1999-2000 season saw the club win the Southern League Eastern Division. However Fisher’s success was short-lived, as after just one season in the Southern League Premier Division they were relegated back into the Eastern Division, where in the following season they finished 6th.
The following two season saw mid-table finishes, with Wayne Burnett taking over the managerial hotseat in February 2004. The club was moved to groundshare with Dulwich Hamlet while planning permission was granted for a new stadium and development at the Surrey Docks Stadium. A raft of top signings followed and the club were successful in 2004-5, winning the Southern League Division One East title and the London Senior Cup. The Fish were promoted to the Isthmian League Premier Division for the 2005-06 season.
Wayne Burnett resigned as manager for personal reasons on 21 November 2005. With former Tottenham Hotspur player Justin Edinburgh taking the reigns, Fisher finished third in the Isthmian League Premier Division that season, also winning the Isthmian League Cup and London Senior Cup, and beating Hampton & Richmond Borough 3-0 in the play-off final to win promotion to Conference South.
The 2006-07 season saw the club finish in 10th place in the Conference South under Edinburgh. Wayne Burnett returned to the club in the off season, and assembled a supremely talented squad. The Fish played superb attacking football, but ended up finishing 4th, and losing to Hampton & Richmond Borough in the play-offs, the side they’d beaten to win promotion two years before.
The close season saw a player exodus, with six of the previous season’s squad moving to Football League clubs. The club’s financial difficulties also came to a head, as massive debts were found to be piling up. The club hadn’t been paying players since November 2008, while a winding-up order for unpaid income tax issued by the High Court was, on 13 March, adjourned for 49 days until 22 April, and then adjourned for a further 21 days to 13 May 2009.
A run of sixteen consecutive league defeats between 19 November and 9 March saw the club eventually relegated on 28 March. At the High Court on 13 May 2009, Fisher Athletic were wound up.
Following a meeting in Bermondsey on the evening of 28 May 2009, a supporters trust was formed to take control of all forthcoming club matters, with 42 founding members. Renamed as Fisher FC and continuing to play at Dulwich Hamlet, but no longer the owners of the Surrey Docks Stadium, the Fish appointed Gary Lisney as manager and finished 13th from 16 in their first season in the Kent League Premier, embarking upon a fine run in the London Senior Cup.
The 2010-11 season was a disappointing campaign for the Fish, and though it started well with a brief run in the FA Vase, a last-placed finish in the Kent Premier League was confirmed on the final day of the season. For the 2011-12 season, former Greenwich Borough manager Steve Firkins was appointed, bringing a coaching staff of Billy Walton and Adam Lawrence. An exhaustive overhaul of the squad ensued and a fine pre-season had hopes high for a good season, however a faltering start and misfortune with injuries saw the Fish struggle to match this early promise. Nevertheless, with a strong second half of the season, Fisher managed their best league placing since reforming, finishing 10th in the Kent Hurlimann League.
Steve Firkins returned with new assistant Gary Davies by his side for the 2012-13 season, but in January 2013 Firkins stepped down from his post for family reasons. Former assistant Billy Walton rejoined the club, and accompanied by joint manager Martin Ford, led the Fishto a final placing of 14th of 17.
The summer of 2013 saw the board taking huge strides in their work to return the club to its spiritual home of Bermondsey. At its AGM, the club unveiled proposals for a new community football facility at the St Paul’s playing fields site, just over the road from the old Surrey Docks Stadium, working with new SDS freehold owners Fairview Homes on a scheme to redevelop both sites together, and bring Fisher home.
Back on the pitch, the 2013-14 season saw Billy Walton in sole charge as Ford departed to join the management team at promoted Erith & Belvedere. Familiar struggles saw Fisher once again come in 14th at the final reckoning in the renamed South Counties East Football League, but a run in the Macron Challenge Cup came to a dramatic end in a thrilling semi-final. The Fish came from 0-3 town to win 4-3 in the first leg before finally succumbing to the competition’s eventual winers Beckenham Town 4-6 on aggregate.
In the summer of 2014, Southwark Council’s Planning Committee unanimously approved plans for the new developments at the sites on Salter Road, bringing a return to Rotherhithe within reach a decade after Fisher Athletic’s former owners uprooted the club to East Dulwich. The journey continues, as work to secure the necessary funding goes on in earnest.
For the 2014-15 season, Billy Walton continues as joint manager with former Lordswood and Herne Bay boss Simon Halsey.
Attendance: 4,283 v Barnet, GMV Conference 4/5/91
Win: 7-0 v Lewes Sept 95, FA Cup
Defeat: 1-8 v Barnet, GMV Conference 90
Career Goalscorer: Paul Shinners 205
Career Appearances: Dennis Sharp 720
Transfer fee paid: £15,000 for Wesley Thomas (Thurrock 2007)
Transfer fee received: £45,000 for Paul Gorman (Charlton 1991)
FA Cup: 1st Rnd 84-85 (0-1 at home to Bristol City), 88-89 (0-3 at Bristol Rovers)
FA Trophy: Third Round replay 87-88
FA Vase: Second Round replay 82-83
Southern Lg 86-87 (R-up 83-84, Southern Div 82-83, Lg Cp 84-85, Championship Cup 87-88, Merit Cup), London Spartan Lg 80-81 81-82 (R-up 78-79, Senior Div 77-78, Div 2 R-Up 76-77), Parthenon Lg 61-62 (Lg Cup 63-64 65-66), Kent Amateur Lg 73-74 74-75 (R-Up 72-73), London Senior Cup 84-85 87-88 88-89 04-05 05-06, London Intermediate Cup 59-60 (R-Up 75-76), Kent Senior Cp 83-84, Kent Senior Trophy 81-82 82-83, Surrey Intermediate Cup 61-62, Isthmian League Cup 05-06, Southern League Eastern Division 1 04-05, Ryman Premier Play-off Winners 05-06