Article by Andile Dladla and Mandla Dladla
One can never underestimate the power of a relationship between a father and his son trying to land a big catch in the water. It was the son of his former head coach who informed his dad about a young striker whom he played with at Arcadia Shepherds that set in motion events that would to the discovery of one of the greatest defenders that South Africa has ever produced.
Paul Matthews was a team-mate of one Mark Fish and impressed by his striking abilities, informed his father Roy Matthews about the galloping and free scoring lad. At the time, Matthews was head coach of Jomo Cosmos. After satisfying himself that Fish was indeed the real deal, Roy spoke to Jomo Sono.
Unannounced, the duo came to the Caledonian Stadium in Pretoria to watch Fish in action and he impressed them alright, so much so that they ended up signing him up for Cosmos.
In two months following his arrival, Cosmos featured in the BobSave Superbowl competition, forerunner to the current Nedbank Cup and as fate would have it, one of the Cosmos defenders was red-carded and it took the genius that is Sono, to persuade Fish to cover in defence.
“Somehow I felt at home in defence and from that day onwards I played as a defender for my teams and later with the nation team until I retired which was an interesting transition for me,” recalls Fish.
Today Fish works as a Technical Advisor for the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and has also been utilized in that capacity by the South African Football Association (SAFA), gathering information about opposition teams and individual players and then submitting his report.
The stepping stone for Fish was when he transferred to Orlando Pirates at the end of 1994 when Cosmos was relegated. Making the move was not that difficult due to the fact that he was signed with a few of his teammates from Cosmos and that made settling into new life at Pirates a bit easier for him.
With their huge fan base plus the rich history of the club, he decided with all the members of the team that it was important for them to enrich the history of Orlando Pirates along with Helman Mkhalele, Chris Mwakapuki, Edward Motale, Innocent Mngcwango and others won the domestic league the following year.
“Mike Makaab was our coach and playing with greats like Bernard Lushozi who were coming towards the end of their careers was a phenomenal experience as we went all the way to additionally win the African Champions League against ASEC Mimosas.”
More glory followed Fish and his star continued to rise as he was among the players that won the 1996 African Cup of Nations and at the end of that fantastic feat, received an invitation from Manchester United (England) and Lazio (Italy).
“Sir Alex Ferguson invited me over to Old Trafford during a match between Man United against Everton. He extended the invitation for me to stay for an additional two weeks to train with the team, see their style of play, observe the overall set-up and the lifestyle in England.
“The agency that represented me at the time (Masters International) was still new in the game and wanted to make a mark in the game. Their representatives didn’t say no to Ferguson’s suggestions. They just said we are under obligation to go see Lazio in Italy.
“After a few hours of landing in Rome and me thinking about Man United I found myself doing my medicals and signing for Lazio on the spot because the Italian league was very strong in the mid 90s which was good for me to go and learn more about the game.”
Following long spells on the side-lines after his retirement, Fish got back into action with SAFA and Bafana Bafana under the leadership of former coach Stuart Baxter at the AFCON in 2019. He is currently involved with a football developmental tournaments in Limpopo in the rural areas with farm workers.
He believes there is so much talent in the rural areas but not enough exposure and giving back is what his foundation is all about. In the year 2020 they were planning to spread the tournaments to schools around the country but with the advent of Covid -19 it was not possible.
Fish is very much positive that things will eventually take a turn for the better and hopes to keep spreading football in the rural areas across South Africa so that we can find the next Lucas Radebe, Philemon Masinga or even Benni McCarthy.
“Having such a catchy surname like Fish made things easy on the tongue which made it a great experience for me hearing fans in the stadiums shouting my name. It was indeed a great honour, there are indelible memories that I’ll take to the grave and my kids got to experience it.
“To be the only generation to win the Africa Cup of Nations has been great but we don’t want to be the only ones that did it. I do think there is currently a lot of quality players and we are moving in the right direction.
“A little bit more needs to be done in our development structures so that we can have our national teams doing well so that it would encourage more youngsters to be involved and play the game.”
We believe you Mark and keep doing the good job.