Mark Fish - A South African Football Legend
Mark Fish is a product of 110-year-old Arcadia Shepherds, and became SA’s youngest international in 1993, aged 19. He was also considered SA’s most expensive player at the time when he was on the books of English outfit, Bolton Wanderers.
The Cape Town-born star did sterling work for clubs both at home and overseas, helping Orlando Pirates capture the 1994 NSL title as well as the 1995 African Champions Cup, before moving to Italy to join Lazio. He had earlier made over a 100 appearances for both Bolton Wanderers and Charlton Athletic.
‘Feeeesh’, who also achieved a century of games for the Buccaneers, was capped 62 times by Bafana, and helped capture the Afcon title in 1996, when Bafana beat Tunisia 2-0 at the FNB Stadium.
Crowned SA’s youngest international at Jomo Cosmos, Fish, who represented SA Schools in 1990, was soon blazing the professional trail after signing for Jomo Midas Cosmos two years later. His move to the club was natural, having attended school and grown up with Paul Matthews, the son of then Ezenkosi coach, Roy Matthews.
Having joined other ex-Arcadians, Brian Walters, Thomas Madigage as well as Helman Mkhalele, the future looked bright for one of the country’s up-and-coming stars.
Coach Mathews and Cosmos boss, Ephraim ‘Jomo’ Sono, were wary of his abilities, but when Bafana Bafana coach, Augusto Palacios, selected the 19-year-old for his first international encounter in October 1993, suddenly all eyes were focused on this incredible defender.
Fish transferred to big-spending Orlando Pirates in 1994, where his dogged defending earned him the Players’ Player of Year award. Alongside teammates Gavin Lane, Bernard Lushozi, Edward Motale and Williams Okpara, they kept a formidable tight rein at the back when Orlando Pirates won the NSL First Division the same year. Significantly, Bucs had one of the greatest defensive records of all time, conceding a mere 14 goals in 34 matches, thanks to the legends’ attentive marking, fearless tackling and good clearing.
At club and national team level, under coaches, Mike Makaab and Clive Barker respectively, the 20-year-old was fast maturing into a player who was really capable of conquering the world stage.
The next season by the time Irvin Khoza’s side tore all opposition apart to triumphantly claim the African Champions Cup, Fish was openly being viewed as one of the Iron Duke’s favourite players.
However, after displaying his unique skills when Bucs toppled Ivory Coast’s ASEC Abidjan over two legs, and representing the popular club on about 100 occasions, an overseas move beckoned. A Bafana star on the European stage.
Almost 60 years after his great uncle Kenneth left Africa to pursue a football career with England’s Port Vale, Fish junior was ranked as SA’s most expensive player, having joined Italy’s Serie A bigwigs Lazio in 1996 for a reported £3 million (R52.8 million).
Interestingly, however, prior to this expensive move, the rising star had actually turned down the opportunity to sign for giants of the English game, Manchester United.
His impressive performances during the 1996 Afcon where Bafana Bafana showed who was best on the continent, by first licking Ghana 3-0 in the semi-final, and then overpowering Tunisia in the final, had attracted scouts worldwide, especially following Fish’s selection to the African All-Star team.
In May 1997 when SA faced England for the first time in an officially recognised international, this was Fish’s 24th cap, with the player aged 24 at the time, and he was enjoying cult status among the fans. A few months later, the Bafana hero was back in the UK, having made another attractive move, this time to Bolton Wanderers, the club which toured SA in 1959.
Fish was presented to his new home crowd on the eve of a Premiership goalless draw with Everton, before making his Bolton debut against Manchester United on 20 September 1997.
Yet despite hard work for the ‘Trotters’, the relegation bug bit Fish again at the end of his first season (in 1993 Cosmos also lost their topflight status) but the man, who was always willing to give supporters a valuable autograph, was soon back in the thick of things following a move to Charlton Athletic in late 2000.
Fish’s dream came true when the newly-promoted ‘Addicks’ made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Furthermore, with his compatriot, Shaun Bartlett, also at the Valley, the club, which has been employing South Africans since 1947, was proud to continue this tradition.
On Saturday 8 November 2003, with both players present, a special ‘South Africa Day’ was held at the ground to mark the club’s anti-racism Red, White and Black campaign.
The dedicated pro, who played in the 1998 World Cup, was a pillar of strength in the Charlton team until 2005 when injuries forced him to consider retiring. After over 400 games for club and country (62 caps), Fish remains an icon in football just like his great uncle Ken.
Soccer Laduma and Hansa salute a South African football legend who continues to take the local game to new heights and is looked up to by millions.