FISHER boss Ajay Ashanike is conducting a huge summer rebuild after the ‘massive shock’ of losing most of his first-team squad but admits he is just happy his former players have got the chance to play at a higher level.
The Fish finished 11th in last season’s Southern Counties East League Premier with a team Ashanike always felt could perform beyond Step 5.
His sentiments have been born out with Ashanike certain the likes of midfielders Michael Sarpong and Jacob Katonia and winger Cedric Nganga will follow forward Isaac Thompson – last season’s top scorer and players’ player of the year – in moving up.
Thompson has signed for Isthmian South East side Phoenix Sports while former Fisher alumni Adebola Oluwo, another of Ashanike’s proteges, has just signed for National League Barnet.
It could be described as a talent factory in south London but Ashanike is modest about what he is achieving in Rotherhithe.
“I felt they were all capable of playing at a higher level but what came as a massive shock to me was the sheer level of numbers of players we’ve lost,” said the 34-year-old.
“The majority of last year’s squad were under 21 and it gave them a showcase for what they can do. Remember, they’re also not getting paid to go to places like Canterbury City for an away game. But they learn as much as they can from us while they are at the club and they leave us ready for the next level.
“We have lost 14 players, all to teams in divisions higher than ourselves and so I think it is credit to the club for allowing them to use Fisher as a stepping stone.
“It may have been a stepping stone but these players also had love for Fisher. However, they have all gone now and the rebuild job is on.”
Ashanike’s duty of care does not end there. He admits he looks after his beloved players whether they are in his team or not.
Now he just needs to ready his new crop of players for the season ahead given most have played further down the pyramid before and are unused to big crowds.
“I’m like a mentor! I still look after them, I try to help them,’ he added. To see them signing for bigger clubs is like winning a trophy for me. But here we don’t take a holiday or don’t rest. We carry on. We couldn’t allow ourselves to fall behind everyone else.
“It’s a new-look side and some of them haven’t played in a stadium environment before, in front of a crowd, so we need to see how they cope with that.”
Ashanike and his loyal staff, Luke Thomas and Luke With, have been proactive in creating a new squad. Fish have once again scoured local football for talent and the project at St Paul’s Sports Ground remains a labour of love for Ashanike despite interest in him from elsewhere this summer.
He said: “We won’t have a budget so we have to work to find players. I was worried but I can honestly say the boys we have brought in are on a different level too.
“The focus for me was on getting older boys in this time. Luke and Luke are my core players, both goalkeepers from last season have agreed to stay, so we have a core and now it’s about the rest of the team.
“We had some good offers for our services but there is nowhere like Fisher and we are happy and content in what we’re doing here.”
Report by Matt Nash for the Non League Paper