By John Kelly
IF FISHER end up being unlikely league winners this season then Robert Brown will have a big promise to keep.
It was surely made in jest, after Fisher had been promoted to the SCEFL Premier Division just twelve months after relegation.
But, after nineteen games of this campaign, Dean Harrison’s side sit top, and to put that performance in perspective K Sports, who finished twelve points ahead of them last season, are thirteenth, and Punjab United, fourteen points better off as they won the title, are seventeenth.
There is a long, long way to go, but if they continue to defy the expectations and the – shortening but still long – odds, a celebratory trip to Belgium awaits them.
That was where Brown started his football career, owing to his dad Peter’s job with Coca-Cola, which also brought the Kingston upon Thames family to Norway, South Africa and Canada.
Brown’s time in Belgium bore immediate returns in developing his technical ability, and one benefit that would be obviously gainful after the Brexit referendum in 2016 – he could get a Belgian passport.
After a football scholarship in New Hampshire where he studied for an MBA, the account executive returned to London, and is now a prolific goal scorer from midfield for Fisher, his double in the 2-1 win over Chatham last Saturday preserving a one-point buffer over Beckenham.
Fisher already have twelve more points than they amassed over the whole of the 2016-17 relegation season.
It’s a level of performance that has been unexpected for many, though not everyone.
“I’m not surprised we’re staying here at the peak now. We have a really good dressing room and there aren’t any egos in here. You see that throughout the pitch. We play for each other, the staff and the fans,” Brown told the News this week.
“I’ve played on many football teams in my life ranging from the youth set-up in Belgium to a football scholarship in America for college, but there is something special in the air here around Fisher, I can’t explain it and I haven’t experienced it before. I genuinely feel like we can beat any team we play.
“I’m enjoying my football more than ever, I think my defensive play has improved drastically since moving to England playing against men. The gaffer and [assistant] Neil [Hunter] get on me about it each game and you can’t hide at this level, every tackle and every header – you see every Fisher player fighting like their life depends on it, and if they don’t, they don’t last long here. We have our squad and our core, we’ve got the players to do something special now.”
Brown has brought his brand of technical football to the Fish’s midfield.
“I enjoy quick football, that’s how I was taught at a young age,” he explains. “In Belgium, everything is one or two touch from the back to top. I played for a club called Tempo Overisje in League 2. The level was good playing top teams like Anderlecht where [Romelu] Lukaku played, Brugge, Gent, Liege, Tubize, who [Eden] Hazard played for.
“What I’ve learnt since coming to England and what gaffer has put into my head now is playing that way in certain areas. I think I am a more complete player now, you’ll often see quick link-up play in our final third of attack. However, we are very disciplined at the back with no-nonsense football, while we battle in the middle of the park. It’s working, we’re winning, the fans are happy. I’m loving my football.”
It’s the first time this new Fisher, reformed in 2009, have been top of a league table, somewhere they shouldn’t really be given they are competing against clubs with far greater financial resources.
But that’s no excuse for Harrison and his staff as they seek every advantage.
“The management staff are very thorough,” Brown says. “The gaffer is a perfectionist down to who is marking who for corners and how we play, and it works. Neil will pick the bones out of things for each player and what he expects from them, while [coaches] Rich [White] and Charlie [Pearce] will run very specific pieces of training for our style of play so we know what we are doing week in, week out.
“It goes down to everyone knowing their part, even Donna [Powell] the physio plays a massive role in our success as she acts like a mother to all 20 of us.”
Brown dedicated his goals last weekend to club secretary Jason Birchill and his son Harry. Jason suffered a heart attack during a game against K Sports. “One goal is for his speedy recovery, and the other goal is for Harry who knows his footballing family is here for him and behind his dad,” Brown says.
They are all in it together, enjoying their journey and seeing where it takes them.
“Everyone mentions our budget and how other teams are throwing thousands of pounds per week around at players,” Brown says. “It’s very simple to me. The players here genuinely look forward to seeing each other during the week, whether we were on ten pounds a week or 300 pounds a week. We don’t play for the money, we play because of exactly this feeling – the feeling of surprising everyone while we continue to stay at the top.”