Want to know how football began in Brazil? Well, it may surprise you to hear its origins can be found in Tolworth.
Yes, that’s right, Tolworth, and of course, we all know where that is. Well I do, but then that’s probably because I’ve been to places nearby which are more famous and stumbled across it looking for directions. You’ll have heard of Chessington and Kingston-upon-Thames? Yes, well Tolworth’s not as big, not as well known, yet it’s home to one of the most important clubs in world football. Corinthian-Casuals.
There are probably many things you didn’t know about the Corinthians story. You might be familiar with the phrase “Corinthians spirit”. The origins of that can be found within this truly remarkable story. The Corinthians were considered the elite, the cream-of-the-crop, the very best.
The club was formed in 1882. This was as a result of England continuously being beaten by Scotland. Scotland’s top side at the time was Queen’s Park. Their level of professionalism as well as the fact Scotland picked their side predominately from the club, lead to their superiority. The players were familiar with regularly playing together, whereas England were a group of players who’d hardly ever met.
One member of The F.A., N.L. ‘Pa’ Jackson, had the idea to set up a club where the best players in England could come together, play and train regularly. They should then be able to compete with the Scots. They took the cream of the crop from the public-school system.
As a consequence, they took on the best professional sides and won. After Preston North End’s invincible season, the Corinthians beat them. They beat Manchester United 11-3. They also beat Blackburn Rovers 8-1 when Rovers were FA Cup holders.
The Corinthians played in an all-white strip. This was the inspiration for Real Madrid to adopt the same colours. The players were multi-talented, adept at more than one sport.
The early twentieth century was a time when you had sportsmen who excelled at many sports. Here are some of those who played for the Corinthians;
C.B. Fry – One of the finest sportsmen the country has ever seen. Not only was he an excellent cricketer, captaining during six test matches. He also played full-back for England at football. He played in Southampton’s FA Cup Final side in 1902. He also played Rugby Union for Oxford University. At one stage he held the British Long Jump record, was a shot putter, hammer thrower and ice skater.
R.E. ‘Tip’ Foster – Capped by England at football and cricket. He is the only man to have captained England at both sports. In 1903 he scored a world record 287 on test debut.
Douglas Lambert – Capped by England at Rugby Union and held a try-scoring record of five tries on debut, a record which remained for 88 years. He played football for Corinthian FC and kept wicket for Hertfordshire.
Benjamin Baker – Another man who excelled at many sports. He was goalkeeper for England, Chelsea, Everton and Oldham Athletic as well as Corinthian F.C. He held British records at high jump and triple jump and was also a talented discus thrower and hurdler.
Max Woosnam – Some have referred to him as the greatest British sportsman. He won gold and silver at the 1920 Olympics. He won doubles at Wimbledon, compiled a maximum 147 break in snooker, scored a century at Lord’s and captained the British Davis Cup team. In football, he captained England and also captained Manchester City to runners-up in 1920-21
Johnny Douglas – Played 23 tests for England, captaining in 18 of them. Was named Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1915. Won boxing goal at 1908 Olympics.
Charles Wreford-Brown – Captained England at football, including when the whole team was picked from Corinthian players. Played cricket for Gloucestershire. He
Andrew Watson – The first black player to play football at international level when he turned out for Scotland in 1881. He won Scottish Cups with Queen’s Park before becoming a Corinthian.
For a match against Wales in 1894 England football team chose their full eleven solely from Corinthians.
Today we still use a phrase “the Corinthian spirit”. This relates to principles of fair play. Corinthians believed the game should be played in a certain way. This was in evidence particularly when penalties were introduced to the game. Corinthians believed penalties should not be awarded. They were awarded for an intentional foul on an opponent and as far as they were concerned a gentleman would never intentionally foul another. So when a penalty was given against them, the keeper would stand aside to allow the kick to be taken. As determined amateurs, they would never compete for any challenge cup or prize of any description. This did become relaxed in future years.
In 1892 the Corinthians were about to play a Hampshire XI but they didn’t have a full team. A schoolmaster recommended a young lad called Charles Miller. Miller was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil to a Scottish railway engineer father and Brazilian mother of English descent. In 1884 he was sent to public school in Southampton where he learned to play football and cricket. Here was 18-year old Miller playing left-wing for the Corinthians. After the game, they discovered Miller was soon to return to Sao Paulo and so they gifted him two footballs and a set of rules to take back with him.
Miller arrived in Brazil with his gifts and proceeded to introduce the game to the country. Miller is generally known as the father of Brazilian football.
In 1897 Corinthians received an invite to tour South Africa. This was the catalyst for a series of tours throughout the world. People turned up in their droves to watch them.
In 1910 they went to Brazil to play against Fluminense. Whilst in the country, Miller persuaded them to play against his team in Sao Paulo. In the crowd were five railway workers who were so inspired by the game and how good these Englishmen were, they wanted to set up their own team. They weren’t sure of a name so Miller suggested they call themselves Corinthians.
To distinguish themselves from Corinthian F.C. they called their club S.C (Sport Club) Corinthians Paulista. So began a unique affinity between an English amateur club and one of Brazil’s most successful clubs.
Tour that never was
In 1914 the Corinthians were embarking on another tour to Brazil when war broke out in Europe. Word reached their ship and to a man they felt it was their duty to serve their country. So when they reached Brazil they immediately cancelled the tour and made their way back home.
As these were all public school educated gentlemen the British Army installed them as officers. In trench warfare one of the implications of this was officers were expected to lead their men first over the top. As a consequence, many of them died in battle.
One man who played an important part of those early tours was Max Woosnam. He scored their first goal against Rio and was on the ship to Brazil in 1914 when they chose to turn back. He fought in the First World War and survived, yet his Corinthian days were over.
The club was torn apart by the First World War. Yet they limped on afterwards, playing their matches at Crystal Palace which was regarded as the national stadium until Wembley was built.
Disaster struck again in 1936 when the Crystal Palace burnt down and the Corinthians found themselves without a home. In 1939, The Casuals, another amateur club offered to help and the two clubs merged to form Corinthian-Casuals.
Corinthian-Casuals remain an amateur club, the players do not receive any money for playing. All the work done by staff at the club is purely voluntary. They exist very much on a hand-to-mouth basis.
Corinthian-Casuals were only able to play one match before the outbreak of the Second World War. After the War, they had to use many grounds in the area. Chiswick, Dulwich Hamlet, Tooting & Mitcham and even The Oval, have all been home to the club. In 1988 they settled in Tolworth, took over King George’s Field and, for the first time in their history, owned their own ground. The running track was removed and seats were brought in from Wimbledon’s old ground, Plough Lane. The ground capacity is 2,000. Over the years there have been many visits from people outside the area, namely Brazil.
Social media has been phenomenal for Corinthian-Casuals. They are the third most ‘liked’ English club on Facebook. Thanks to social media they have a fanbase of 30m.
Corinthians Paulista has 30m fans. They are fascinated in the history of their club, how they came to be, the story of the Corinthians.
Over the years many fans have travelled over from Brazil to see where their club began. A few years ago there was some mobile phone footage of Casuals striker, Jamie Byatt, scoring in a game. As he ran to the fans behind the goal in celebration, he lifted his shirt to reveal a Corinthians one. The Brazilian fans in this story went absolutely mad over it. Corinthian-Casuals’ Facebook page exploded.
Famous Former Players
Some of the names you may be familiar with who have played for the club;
Martin Tyler – Sky commentator
Micky Stewart – Former Surrey cricketer and England coach. Father of Alec Stewart
Alan Pardew – Former Crystal Palace, Charlton and Barnet player. Also managed West Ham, Charlton, Southampton, Newcastle, Crystal Palace and West Brom manager
Doug Insole – Former Essex cricketer who played test cricket for England. He became Chairman of selectors and was involved in the D’Oliveira Affair, a precursor to South Africa’s sporting ban for Apartheid.
In 1989 Corinthian-Casuals travelled to Brazil to play Corinthians. The legendary former Brazilian captain, Socrates, played for both teams.
Corinthians were having a new stadium built for them in preparation for the 2014 World Cup. It was opened in April 2014 and they wanted a game to commemorate the occasion. An online poll was launched for fans to choose the opponents. Chelsea, who Corinthians had recently beaten to win the World Club Cup, received 4% of the votes. Real Madrid, 8% and Barcelona 24%. Incredibly, Corinthian-Casuals received almost two-thirds of the votes. So it was decided the amateurs from Tolworth were chosen above some real behemoths of world football.
For the Brazilians, they were commemorating the opening of their new stadium. For the English, they were honouring the 1914 aborted tour. The amateurs were feted as celebrities. TV appearances, interviews, chat shows, meet-and-greets were the order of the day. They were treated like royalty. The amateurs, who normally played in a ground with a 2,000 capacity were now being paraded around a 49,500 capacity stadium.
For the club officials from England, they were desperate to cash in on their new found fame. Numerous offers of sponsorship came in, especially when the locals learned of the precarious financial position of their founding fathers. It had been seven years since they last had a sponsor and now they were fending off suitors.
For the game, the home side honoured the players of the original 1910 tour from which the club was born. The player’s shirts bore the names of the 1910 tourists. The visitors equipped themselves well with goalkeeper Danny Bracken making several important saves. Goalless at half-time and Casuals manager had to bring on Byatt. Their star striker had been injured just prior to the trip. The local fans were desperate to see him in action and they got their wish in the second half. The Casuals kept the home side at bay for an hour but then the deadlock was broken and they went onto win 3-0. Byatt spent the last ten minutes playing for Corinthians as he and Danilo swapped shirts.
It was a great occasion with the two clubs seemingly closer than ever before.
First World War
This is an incredible story and one which seems destined to be kept alive both in England and Brazil. But the subtext is also of the consequences of First World War. Here was a club stocked with some of the finest players in the land, and yet the club was ripped apart by the conflict which earned the name “the war to end all wars”. Of course, history has proved this particular epithet horribly wrong. But the legacy of WWI is the country was never the same again. Society was completely different as a result. So many institutions were decimated. Villages and towns throughout the country lost the majority of their men.
The Corinthians were not alone in finding many of their number fell in the fields of Belgium and France. Being educated at public school meant they were thrown in as captains and second lieutenants. Young men suddenly expected to be leaders in a war no one was prepared for. The class system, as it had existed in the UK, never recovered as many working class men returned to find their employers had not. The men who came back were not the same as those who had gone to fight, caught up in the euphoria of a war they were promised would be “over by Christmas”. Women had taken their place during the four years in a bid to keep the country going. Some men found their jobs weren’t kept open for them, or worse, they were no longer physically able to offer the quality of work their pre-1914 bodies had.
One of the men who perished was goalkeeper, Reginald Rogers. He is buried in Serre Road Cemetery on The Somme. The 21st century Corinthian-Casuals paid their respects with current goalkeeper, Danny Bracken, laying a wreath.
An incredible story
The Corinthians story is an incredible one and a great read. There was a documentary called “Brothers in Football” made about it and that has been the inspiration for this piece. If you have enjoyed it why not join the masses and give them a like on Facebook. Perhaps you’ll be inspired enough to pay them a visit. Why not? They have attracted many supporters disillusioned with modern football. They currently compete in the Isthmian League Premier Division, one step down from the National League North and South.
It looks like this particular story still has some chapters to be written.