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  • Sunday, June 11, 2000

    Fenwick finds home around the corner

     WINNIPEG (CP) -- After a season of upheaval, Canadian defender Paul Fenwick wasn't sure where soccer would take him. As luck would have it, it took him just around the corner.
     
     Fenwick recently signed a two-year deal with Hibernian, a Premier League club located in the Edinburgh suburb of Leith where he and his wife Debbie live. The 30-year-old from St. Catharines, Ont., has spent the last five years commuting 240 kilometres round trip each day to Greenock Morton and other clubs.
     
     "My car won't know what to do," he said wryly on the eve of Canada's crucial World Cup qualifying game against Cuba.
     
     The move to Hibs is also good news for his wife -- a native of Mississauga, Ont., who met him while studying in Scotland -- since the two-year deal matches the time she has left on her studies for a PhD in physiotherapy in Edinburgh.
     
     The six-foot-two defender had a bumpy ride last season with Greenock Morton on Scotland's west coast. First a dislocated elbow sidelined him for six weeks after just two or three games. Then things turned even more sour with the First Division side after a successful stint in February with Canada at the Gold Cup in California.
     
     When he returned to Scotland, Fenwick found himself on the outs with his club, which cited unhappiness with his time away with the national side. In fact, the two could not agree on a contract with the Canadian on the verge of free agency.
     
     The team froze him out, sending him home before reluctantly bringing him back to train with its youth side. Eventually he was dispatched to Raith Rovers, a First Division side on the fringes of the promotion battle, for the duration of the season.
     
     He came to Canada for this round of internationals without a club, knowing injury here could cost him a chance to catch on with another team. Then Hibs stepped in, following up on an initial interest expressed some years ago.
     
     "He's a big mobile centre-back with a big presence," said Hibs manager Alex McLeish.
     
     While Fenwick says Canada's recent successes have helped raise his profile, he acknowledges British clubs were concerned about his future commitments to the national team.
     
     Hibs' fears were eased somewhat by the fact that three of the games scheduled for the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying are the same as those for European international dates, meaning he would not have to miss too many club games.
     
     "Had I been in this situation a year ago and had to say 'Well look, here's the Gold Cup dates, we're going to be away for three weeks potentially,' I don't know, it might have been a bit more difficult."
     
     Hibs had reason to be concerned. They already have a couple of internationals from Trinidad and Tobago who have missed league games because of international commitments.
     
     Unlike other Canadians, Fenwick has no problems with work permits in Britain. He was born in England, moving to Canada when he was 11/2.
     
     "Fortunately I've got a British passport, which is worth its weight in gold."
     
     But he points with pride to his ties with St. Catharines, where his parents still live.
     
     "It shows that Joe Average kid from St. Catharines, Ontario, can go abroad and play professionally and represent the country playing for Canada as well.
     
     "For any youngster out there, be it St. Catharines or any other small town, it's all possible."
     
     After playing in the Canadian Soccer League for Winnipeg, Toronto and Hamilton, Fenwick left for England in 1992 with forward Paul Peschisolido for Birmingham City.
     
     After that there were stints in Scotland with Dunfermline and St. Mirren. He made his international debut in 1994 in a 3-0 loss to the Netherlands, with 16 caps to his credit prior to the Cuba game here.
     
     Hibs, a storied club in Scotland whose history dates back to 1875, finished sixth last season. The team was founded by Irish immigrants, who chose the name because Hibernian is the Roman name for Ireland.
     
     The team was relegated two season ago but quickly won the First Division to return to the top flight.
     
     Fellow Canadian international Nick Dasovic, who plays for St. Johnstone in Perth, says it's a great move for Fenwick.
     
     "They're one of the biggest clubs in Scotland. They've not done great the last little while but they are a potentially huge club."
     
     Fenwick is just looking forward to playing in his backyard.
     
     "It's about time, five years of living in Edinburgh but travelling to the other side of the country. It did get monotonous after a while."



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