Mention the Corinthian spirit and thoughts immediately turn to fair play. What are the origins of this phrase? It actually came from a football team formed in 1882.
At that time the only competitive club football was the FA Cup, League games didn’t start for another six years. There was also the annual England v Scotland international, which were really friendlies, and of the first eleven games England only won twice with two draws whilst Scotland had won seven times, and by 1882 had won the last three games 5-4, 6-1 and 5-1. Games were also played against Wales and Northern Ireland, and England had lost the last two against Wales.
Administrator Nicholas Lane Jackson, the assistant secretary of the FA and the founder of the London FA was perturbed by those scores, claiming that the Scottish players had greater opportunities of playing together, whereas the English just met up for the internationals and he decided that the best course of action to counter that was to form a club containing the best amateur players around. Professionalism was creeping in but was not widespread.
The club was formed in September 1882 and originally called the Wednesday Club, as that is when they planned to play games, as the players would be with their main clubs on a Saturday.
Goalkeeper Harry Swepstone didn’t like the name and proposed Corinthian FC which was accepted although they were always came to be referred to as Corinthians. The name came from the Ancient Greek principality, Corinth. They didn’t need a ground as the plan was to just play away games, like the modern day Harlem Globetrotters in basketball. The idea took off and many players came from universities and public schools.
The first game took place against St Thomas Hospital at Lambeth on 1 November 1882 and the Corinthians won 2-1. In Easter 1883 they went on tour to Accrington, Church (a place near Accrington), Bootle and Stoke. They were greeted with great enthusiasm, winning two and losing two, and it is the first time any team had toured the north of England.
Their original principles were based on the philosophy of sportsmanship and fair play, playing for the love of the game, which became known as ‘The Corinthian Spirit’. They decreed that they wouldn’t play in any competitive games, only friendlies. Their colours were a dark blue and white striped cap, white shirt, with blue monogram C.F.C. on left breast, dark knickerbockers and stockings. Fans watching could see that they were ‘a cut above’ other teams with their style and passing ability and they attracted large crowds wherever they played.
In 1884 people sat up and took notice when they defeated Blackburn Rovers, who had just won the FA Cup, 8-1. Blackburn were one of the best teams around and won the Cup for the next two years as well.
In 1886 they began playing annual friendly games with Queen’s Park, the oldest club in Scotland, who retained their amateur status for 152 years until finally turning professional in 2019. Queen’s Park played at Hampden Park and reached the FA Cup Final twice before the ‘ban’ on Scottish Clubs entering the competition in 1887.One game was always on New Years Day, followed by a dinner, with the return match a couple of months later. This tradition carried on until 1920.
In 1889 Preston North End won the first championship of the inaugural Football League without losing a game, and also the FA Cup without conceding a goal. Some side, arguably the best in the world and nicknamed ‘The Invincibles’, but when they played the Corinthians, they lost 5-0!
When the penalty kick came into being in football in the early 1890s the Corinthians opinion was to pretty much ignore it. Their spirit was famously summed up in their attitude; “As far as they were concerned, a gentleman would never commit a deliberate foul on an opponent. So, if a penalty was awarded against the Corinthians, their goalkeeper would stand aside, lean languidly on the goalpost and watch the ball being kicked into his own net.
If the Corinthians themselves won a penalty, their captain took a short run-up and gave the ball a jolly good whack, chipping it over the crossbar.”
Many Corinthians players played for England, 76 altogether (only Tottenham Hotspur have had more with 78), and 16 of them went on to captain their country. In 1894 and 1895, in two games against Wales, the whole England team came from Corinthians players, a feat that hasn’t been achieved by any other club.
They had many famous players in their ranks;
Andrew Watson, the first black footballer to play professional football in Britain.
C.B. Fry, a remarkable man who played football and cricket for England, excelled at Rugby union, equalled the world long jump record and stood as an MP on three occasions.
Charles Aubrey Smith, also a test cricketer who went on to be a successful actor.
Graham Doggart, a goalscoring forward who became an administrator within the FA and is credited with appointing Sir Alf Ramsey as the first England manager to have control over team selection (it was done by a committee before then)
Max Woosnam, arguably Britain’s greatest ever sportsman. He captained England at football, made a century at Lords, compiled a 147 break at snooker, won gold and silver medals for tennis at the Olympics, won the mens and mixed doubles at tennis at Wimbledon and captained the British Davis Cup team.
Charles Wreford-Brown, one of the founders of the team who is credited with coining the phrase ‘soccer’ from Association Football, and not the Americans, whom these days some people put the blame on!
Although the Corinthians had always refused to play in competitive matches they made an exception for the Sheriff of London Charity Shield, which took place between 1898 and 1907, replaced after that by the present day Community (Charity) Shield. It was played for between the best amateur side (usually the Corinthians and the best professional side, either the Football League Champions or the FA Cup winners.
Corinthians won it twice, with their best result being in 1904, when they defeated Bury 10-3. Bury had won the FA Cup twice in the previous four years, the latest one being 6-0 v Derby County, the biggest win in the final until Manchester City equalled it in 2019.
Later in 1904 they played Manchester United and defeated them 11-3, still their record defeat at any level. Real Madrid were formed in 1902 and adopted an all-white strip inspired by the Corinthians. In 1943 the Maltese club Zejtun Corinthians were formed and named after them
The club had many overseas tours, mainly to popularise the game as it wasn’t as big as it was in Britain. Their first one was to South Africa in 1897, when they played 23 games, winning 21 in a three month stay that took three weeks to get there by boat. They returned to South Africa in 1903 and also went to Austria/Hungary/Germany in 1904, the USA in 1906. Germany/Holland in 1906, South Africa in 1907, Paris in 1908, Bohemia/Switzerland in 1909 and many more right up to 1936, but the one to Brazil in 1910 was the most significant.
The Brazilians were so impressed it inspired five Sao Paulo railway workers to form their own side, Corinthians Paulista, and they remain one of the biggest clubs in Brazil today. That tour also helped to promote football in Brazil to what it is nowadays.
Times were changing and in 1922 they decided to enter the FA Cup, the Fourth Round being their best run in 1926/27. Another amateur club of the era were Casuals FC, and they were similar to the Corinthians. In April 1939 the two clubs merged to become Corinthian Casuals, a club that still exists today. Although they have remained amateur, they have always competed in various leagues, and played at Wembley in 1956 in the final of the FA Amateur Cup, drawing 1-1 with Bishop Auckland before losing the replay at Middlesbrough.
They toured Brazil in 1988/89 and had a huge welcome, playing a match against the Brazilian Corinthians in which superstar Socrates played for both sides. They returned in 2015 and had a hero’s welcome, playing the Brazilian Corinthians in front of a crowd of 26,000, losing 3-0, but making friends for life and having fantastic memories. Any Brazilians who are ever in London are often seen at Corinthian Casuals games as a thank you for inspiring their team back home.
Corinthian Casuals currently play at King George’s Field in Tolworth, Greater London, and in 2022/23 were in the Isthmian Premier League, the seventh tier of English Football, making them the highest place amateur team in the pyramid, a remarkable feat as many other clubs below that level paid decent money to their players.
They have had some famous names play for them who went on to have greater careers, Martin Tyler (commentator), Micky Stewart (England cricketer and father of Alec), Alan Pardew (footballer and manager of West Ham and Crystal Palace amongst others) and Mike Smith (manager of Wales).
It is a remarkable story of fair play and sportsmanship.