Legend of the Week: Mark Fish

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On the 14th of March 1974 one of South Africa’s most loved football sons was born.

The name of that player is Mark Fish, a defender who was a rock playing in almost all positions at the back for Bafana Bafana and all his clubs from Jomo Cosmos to Orlando Pirates, from Pirates to Italy’s Lazio and from Lazio to the English Premier League.

FARPost takes a look at the amazing story of ‘Fishhhhhhhhhhhh’, our football legend .

Fish started his journey with Pretoria-based side Arcadia Sheperds before being scouted by Jomo Cosmos in 1991. Fish then joined Cosmos in 1991 playing a total of 55 games in a period of three years before Soweto giants Orlando Pirates came knocking for his signature in 1993.

Fish signed for the Soweto giants in a move that would see him be part of a team that would later make history in South African football. In his time there Fish helped Orlando Pirates win several domestic trophies and a League title.

In 1994 after a successful season which led to Pirates clinching the League tittle it meant the Buccaneers would compete in the 1995 CAF Champions League.

It is the following season that would put Pirates on the map for decades. In 1995, Pirates became the first Southern African club to win the CAF Champions league and Fish was at the centre of it all for the Buccaneers.

The following year Pirates won the CAF Super Cup to complete a period of great success on the continent. Fish played a total of 110 league games for Orlando Pirates scoring 11 goals in the three years he spent with the club.

Fish made his international debut in October of 1993 for South Africa and was part of Bafana Bafana’s qualification campaigns for the 1994 AFCON and 1994 FIFA World Cup with SA failing to qualify for both tournaments.

The big man started being part of the core of coach Clive Barker’s team towards the 1996 Afcon which was hosted in South Africa. When the much anticipated Afcon came Fish was an ever present at the back for Bafana Bafana as they ran riot on home soil to continental triumph going all the way and defeating Tunisia in the final.

Fish was named in the Afcon team of the tournament and most will remember his memorable goal against Algeria in the quarterfinals which helped South Africa progress.

It is on this tournament that Fish would attract some of Europe’s biggest clubs who would line up for his signature in 1996.

Fish eventually signed for Italian club Lazio from Orlando Pirates as he looked to take the next step in his career like most of SA’s best players who were with European clubs at the time. At Lazio, Fish stayed only one season that didn’t go so well due to injuries playing only 15 times for Lazio before making a moving to England to join Bolton Wanderers in 1997.

It is at Bolton where Fish would be back to his best playing as a regular for the club clocking a total of 103 appearances accompanied by three goals between 1997 and 2000. In fact, this period made Fish to be a fan favourite in England with the famous chants of ‘Fishhhhhhhhhhhhhh’ making the rounds in the stands whenever the defender got the ball.

In 1997 he continued to be involved with the national team and was part of the team that qualified South Africa to her first ever FIFA World Cup in 1998 in France. At Afcon 1998 Fish was named in the Team of the Tournament ‘again’ after his stellar performances in defence helped Bafana Bafana to yet another continental final, but unfortunately fell to Egypt in the last hurdle and therefore failed to defend the Afcon title they had won two years earlier on home soil. Under coach Trott Moloto in 2000 Bafana would exit the Afcon at the semi-final stage as a period of low performances at Afcon started for South Africa .

Back in England, Fish would leave Bolton to join Charlton Athletic where he clocked a total of 102 appearances in the five years he spent with the English club between 2000 and 2005 where he became a fan favourite again at the ‘Valley’, a stadium where most teams in England feared to go visit.

One memorable game for Fish was when Charlton hosted giants Manchester united in a game that ended in a thrilling 3-3 draw with Fish’s compatriot Shaun Bartlett scoring a memorable brace on the day as the fans went crazy at the Valley.

Manchester United had the best players in England the likes of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Paul Scholes, just to mention a few.

In 2004 after accumulating a total of 62 caps for Bafana Bafana winning an AFCON (96), being a runner up (98) and going to a FIFA World Cup (98) Mark Anthony Fish decided called time on his international career.

An unsuccessful loan spell at Ipswich Town in 2005 would end up being the end of Fish’s career in England. In 2007 Mark Fish returned where it all began joining Jomo Cosmos where he would eventually finish his successful career.

The defender played a total of 386 career games in different leagues all over the world scoring 21 goals in the process.

The Bafana Bafana legend was part of South Africa’s technical team for the 2019 AFCON held in Egypt as Bafana Bafana fell at the quarter final stage to Nigeria.

Fish assisted coach Stuart Baxter with analyzing the opposition and being a player liaison, managing relations with players during the period. He is also involved in grassroots development programmes through the Mark Fish foundation which hosts several youth tournaments around the country in attempts to find the next generation of football stars for Bafana Bafana.

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By Prince Sobayeni

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