VANCOUVER ISLAND – It was never the plan to leave Pacific FC, Ben Fisk assured CanPL.ca.
One is inclined to believe him, as the 27-year-old winger is everywhere in Victoria. He is perhaps the most well-liked player west of the Haro Strait. A native of Vancouver, his Fisk’s likeness is splashed across BC Transit buses; heck, his face adorns Pacific FC’s Fort Street storefront.
Both Fisk and the club did “everything we could to make something work,” he told CanPL.ca. But ultimately, Fisk – one of the Canadian Premier League’s top free agents – has opted to sign elsewhere. The winger was unwilling to reveal his next destination until his new club makes it public, other than to note he’ll be staying in the CPL.
“I wanted to continue helping to build [the league],” Fisk said. “I really feel like I have a lot more to give, and I have another level to get to.”
It was an emotional decision, though.
“My fiancée and I have been very happy here,” he said. “The island’s been very good to us … The past year here has been one of the happiest and most exciting years of my life.”
Instead, the veteran midfielder will don another colour this season – though which club he’ll call home remains to be seen. CanPL.ca spoke at length with Fisk about his decision to leave Vancouver Island. Read the conversation below.
Thank you Ben for being an outstanding player and leader for Pacific FC in our inaugural season. We wish you luck in your new endeavours and you will be missed!#ForTheIsle @benfisk pic.twitter.com/V2ny6pZA6F
— Pacific FC (@Pacificfccpl) February 25, 2020
Note: This interview has been lightly condensed for clarity.
CanPL.ca: How did the decision to leave Pacific FC come about?
Fisk: It was never the plan. I wouldn’t have left it this long [if it were]. Myself and the club have been trying very, very hard to come to an agreement that suited both parties. Ultimately, that took a lot longer than we would have imagined, and it just kind of got to the point where I had another very good offer on the table. You know, I just kind of had to take emotions out of it. I’m very emotionally connected to the island and the West Coast, and that’s obviously the reason I wanted to make things work here. But when I stepped back from that and looked at it a bit more objectively, I saw a very exciting opportunity ahead of me that I wanted to be a part of.
Was there an offer to stay with Pacific? Was it a matter of not being able to come to an agreement in terms of what that contract would look like?
I don’t really want to talk about the offers and the actual negotiation process. All I’ll say on that is both sides really did do everything we could to make something work, and the ownership and I have been in constant communication since the end of the season. Now that I’m leaving, I can say that everything has been left on very good terms. I don’t think there’s any bad blood there. I think that both sides appreciate that we did everything we could, but ultimately, when this other opportunity came along, it was an easier decision than I expected.
What were your conversations like with co-owners Rob Friend and Josh Simpson over the off-season? What’s your relationship with them like?
To be honest, I would consider us pretty close. I think we see the game the same way. We see Canadian [football] and the growth of it moving forward in a very similar way, and we have very similar aspirations for how things are going to grow. I’ve got nothing but good things to say about those guys. The past year here has been one of the happiest and most exciting years of my life. And who knows, there’s always the future, and you never know — it might be somewhere I could [return to] at some point.
Looking at your situation from the outside, with attacking midfielder Marco Bustos arriving at Pacific FC, some might have wondered whether there would be enough minutes available for both of you – not to mention players such as Zach Verhoven and Noah Verhoeven. There’s only so much room in the midfield. How much did that play into your decision?
That’s a funny one. I was asked that by my family and friends when I was thinking about my decision, and I actually look at it the other way: had I re-signed here, I was extremely excited about the prospect of playing with players of the calibre of [Marco] Bustos, of Alejandro Díaz. And not to mention the guys who were here last year: Noah, Zach, Terran, Victor.
These are all guys who, of course, you’re going to be competing for spots with on a daily basis, but at the same time, I’m a competitive guy, and I know that I leave everything on the training pitch day in and day out, and the same on game day. The reality is, there’s only so many positions to play for, so obviously, we’d be competing, but I’d be very excited at the prospect of not only competing, but collaborating with those guys and playing with those guys.
Last season ended with coach Michael Silberbauer’s firing at Pacific. You had been a supporter of his. Did that have anything to do with your decision not to return?
No. That was irrelevant for me. Before Michael was let go, I wanted to be here, and afterwards, I still wanted to be here – and that’s why we’ve been in talks for this long. You know, I definitely have a lot of respect for Michael, but I also have a lot of respect for Pa [Modou Kah]. He’s going to be an excellent coach here. I’ve had plenty of discussions with him as well over the last couple months, and I really do think that things on the island are building in a great direction. I think from the ownership through Pa and the assistant coaches, James [Merriman] and Riley [O’Neill], the club’s in great hands. They’re moving in a great direction.
Pacific has defined itself as a club that wants to develop young players — and in that development, give young players minutes and opportunities to start. Did it feel like that was taking away from your time on the pitch?
I never thought about it like that. I tried my best to embrace the role of being a leader and a role model for those young guys, and I loved training with [them] on a daily basis. I loved playing games with those guys as well. The philosophy, the direction the club wants to move in, that’s more of a question for the owners and the coaches. I was just trying to put my best foot forward every single day and take care of what was in front of me and under my control.
Playing at Pacific was a homecoming for you, having grown up in Vancouver. What was it like to return to British Columbia and play so close to home?
That was very special for me and for my family and friends. I’ve been a bit of a globetrotter, and that homecoming was really fun. At the same time, I think there’s something to be said about being a little bit too comfortable. And I don’t think that necessarily happened for me last year, but I could definitely see things going down that road – and that was also a factor in my decision to leave. I do feel like I still have a lot more to give to the game, whether that be in Canada or Europe or elsewhere, and I wanted to make the decision that would give me the opportunity to really maximize my career in the next few years.
You seemed to really take to Vancouver Island. And I think it’s fair to say the island took to you. You wore the captain’s armband more often than anyone except Hendrik Starostzik. How hard will it be to leave that?
Extremely hard. It was a very, very difficult decision – on the field, but especially off the field. My fiancée and I have been very happy here, and she’s actually going to stay here over the course of the season while we make this transition. She’s got a very good job and is very happy here, so that’s another factor that plays into making it a tough decision to leave. The island’s been very good to us, and to be honest, it’s somewhere we could see ourselves settling when all is said and done.
What’s one moment that will stay with you from last season?
I’d have to pick two. One was my first goal at Westhills [Stadium] against York9 FC in May. That was very special. The start of the season hadn’t totally gone as we’d hoped, and we’d come off a couple of tough losses [against Forge FC and FC Edmonton] without scoring a goal. So to get the monkey off my own back and also feel like we were taking a step in the right direction felt really good.
The second moment, and probably if I had to narrow it down to one, would be the final game of the season. After a very emotional week with Michael being let go, and everyone at the end of the season’s always worried about things – worried about contract renewals and that sort of thing – the way the team came together as a group and ended the season on a high [was special]. I think Westhills was close to sold out, and ending on a win – and I obviously got my goal at the end – was a very special day, and it seemed like everything was meant to be for us.
What are you willing to share at this stage about where you’re signing?
I’ll be staying in the CPL. I’ve made no secrets this year of how much I’ve believed in what they’re building here country-wide, league-wide. Obviously, I expected to be continuing to do that with Pacific, but if I was going to leave, I certainly wanted it to be within the CPL. It’s just such an amazing thing for Canadian footy, and being a part of it in its first year was incredible for me. I wanted to continue helping to build that.
What enticed you about the new club, beyond them expressing interest?
The biggest thing for me — and I would say the deciding factor — was thinking about where I’m at in my career. I just turned 27 a couple weeks ago. It was [a question of], do I want to stay somewhere I’m comfortable and happy here on the island? And to be honest, I really felt like if I signed on and played a couple more years here, it would be very, very hard to leave. So I thought about where I’m at in my career, and I really feel like I have a lot more to give, and I have another level to get to. And so I wanted to make the decision that opened the most doors for me moving forward, as far as getting back to the [Canadian] national team and playing at a higher level.
Who was part of your circle when making this decision?
I tried to keep everything very tight-knit. You know, I didn’t want it to be out in the media, what I was planning. I kept it within myself, my fiancée, my family, and a couple of my closest friends. My agent, obviously, was working behind the scenes, but other than that, I tried to keep the conversations to a minimum. I just tried to speak to the people that I really care about and truly decide what was the best decision for me, for my family, and for our futures.
Let’s talk about the community a little more, because you were a fan-favourite at Pacific. What was it like to have these people embrace you as they did?
It was really incredible to be a part of. The thing that stands out to me the most about the people on the island is the warmth and the friendliness. I feel like the egos in your average person here on the island are very small. Everyone’s trying to live their life, be happy, and that really trickles down into the way they supported our club. I really felt like it was a community-oriented club.
I loved how PFC supporters had no problem coming up to me on the street. I was living downtown and would regularly get approached by somebody who had been at the last game, or had seen us in the news. They had no problem coming up and introducing themselves and telling me how much they enjoyed the game. That kind of transparency between the players and the fans was really special — and I think that’s something the entire league should be working to continue, because I think that’s a very rare thing in professional sports where you have players and fans that can interact on that close of a level.
Anything else you want to express?
I’d just like to put out [another] thank you to everyone involved with PFC, from the owners, to the coaching staff, medical team, people in the office working on game day, and of course, the fans. It’s been an unforgettable year for me. The island’s always going to have a very special place in my heart, and I can’t wait to come back here and play some more.
Those four dates with Pacific must be circled on the calendar already.
Oh, already got ‘em circled and looking at booking flights for my family.