CORINTHIAN FC – They took Football to the world

By Vince Cooper

Originally set up to create an England team capable of beating the Scots, Corinthian FC did that – and so much more.

International football in the 19th century was limited to the home countries and for much of this time it was Scotland who were the dominant force. Between 1874 and 1887 the Scots, drawing most of their players from famed amateurs Queen’s Park, met the ‘Auld Enemy’, England 14 times. Of these they won 10 and drew three with just a solitary loss.

It was against this backdrop that, on 28 September 1882, FA Assistant Secretary N. Lane Jackson and others formed Corinthian FC. Jackson reasoned that the success of the Scots came from the fact that they played together more regularly whereas the England team was drawn from all over the country and rarely met up other than for the three internationals. The idea was for the Corinthians to provide the opportunity for international-class players to play together on a regular basis.

The first match for the new club was against St Thomas’ Hospital at Lambeth on 1 November 1882 and resulted in a 2-1 win. At Easter 1883 they undertook their first tour visiting Accrington, Church, Bootle and Stoke and finishing with a record of won 2, lost 2.

By the mid-1890s, Jackson’s plan was working with the England team regularly packed with Corinthians. Twice during this time every player was drawn from the club.

Initially the plan was for the club to play only on Wednesdays, allowing players to play for other clubs at the weekend. Thus the idea was for them to be called the ‘Wednesday Club’. However England international goalkeeper Harry Swepstone suggested the name Corinthian FC and this was quickly adopted. They also stated that they would ‘remain as an amateur team and not compete for any trophy or reward’.

Corinthian FC were also formed on a number of principles, based on the philosophy of promoting sportsmanship and fair play, and playing for the love of the game. In short, promoting what became known as the ‘Corinthian spirit’. This spirit best manifested itself with the club’s approach to penalty kicks. If one was awarded against them the goalkeeper would stand aside allowing the opponent an open goal. If, however, they were awarded a penalty the taker would deliberately miss.

C.B. Fry

The approach to penalties was summed up by the legendary CB Fry who claimed penalties were: “A standing insult to sportsmen who have to play under a rule which assumes that players intend to trip, hack and push opponents and to behave like cads.”

The team never played in a league, taking part only in friendly and occasional charity matches such as the Sheriff of London Charity Shield (forerunner of the FA Charity Shield) which they won three times in 1898, 1900 and 1904. In friendly matches they beat all of England’s top professional clubs at one time or another. In 1884 they beat then FA Cup holders Blackburn Rovers 8-1, in 1903 they repeated the feat, beating Bury 6-0. They also beat Manchester United 11-3 inflicting on United their worst-ever loss.

In total over 100 internationals represented the club during their history although some of these were playing for other clubs at the time.

Perhaps the greatest debt football owes the Corinthians is in spreading its popularity around the globe. On a series of tours to various parts of the world they played a massive role in popularising the sport and making it what it is today, the biggest game.

On 25th June 1897, as the country was busy celebrating the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria, 14 players boarded the R.M.S Norham Castle for a mammoth tour of South Africa. It took them almost three weeks to reach the country where, in a mammoth two month tour they played 23 matches, winning 21 and drawing the other two. They scored 113 goals and conceded a mere 15.

After a return visit to South Africa in 1903, the Corinthians toured Europe in 1904, playing matches in Hungary, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Germany and France, winning them all. Another unbeaten tour, this time of Scandinavia, followed later in the year.

After that, tours became a regular part of the Corinthians’ itinerary and included visits to Germany and Austria, Canada and the United States,

Arriving in Brazil 1910

In 1910 the Corinthians ventured to Brazil where football had been established by Scottish-born Charles Miller. They played a total of six matches winning all with an aggregate score of 38-6 and the legacy left behind included the creation of the now world-famous Corinthians Paulista, a club ‘of the people, by the people and for the people’ who were founded by a group of railway workers inspired by the tour.

A further Corinthian influence still felt in the game today is that the white shirts worn by Real Madrid are in honour of the club and its ideals, whilst many believe England wear white for the same reason.

The club returned to Brazil in 1913 where the escapades included a wedding, a birth, two deaths and a cook who suddenly went mad, and returned again the following year. Alas the 1914 tour was cut short due to the outbreak of the First World War the players only having time for a walk around Rio before re-embarking on their ship and returning home where they immediately enlisted.

After hostilities ceased (it is stated that the Corinthians lost more players in the war than any other team) the club continued playing, and touring. However the increased growth of the professional game meant that the ability to attract top players to appear on an occasional basis lessened with most players now contracted to League clubs and therefore unable to play elsewhere as amateurs.

Corinthian v Brighton & Hove Albion at Stamford Bridge

In 1923 the club accepted an invitation to appear in the FA Cup for the first time and were given special dispensation to make their first appearance at the same time as league clubs. A game against Brighton attracted 45,000 fans to Stamford Bridge and they continued to attract huge crowds to these matches including 50,000 for a match at West Bromwich Albion in 1924, 40,000 at Maine Road for a replay with Manchester City in 1926 and a whopping 60,000 for a replay against Millwall in 1930 in a tie that eventually went to three games, watched by over 150,000.

Whilst they continued their now-famous tours until 1928, putting together teams of their usual high standard was becoming more and more difficult and in 1939 the club merged with Casuals FC, former Amateur Cup winners and a club that had originally been formed from the old boys of Eton, Charterhouse and Westminster schools.

The newly formed Corinthian Casuals played their first game on 26 August 1939 and started promisingly with a win against Oxford. But six days later Germany invaded Poland and that was it for six years. After the war the club struggled although they did reach the Amateur Cup Final in 1956, losing out in a replay to another famous name of the unpaid game, Bishop Auckland but, aside from that, performing at the higher levels of the game has been consigned to history.

Since then there has been a single brush with big-time football. In 1988 the club were invited to Brazil to play against Corinthians Paulista in a game billed as ‘father v son’. Legendary Brazilian star Socrates scored for the home team before switching in the second half to play for the visitors whilst another great, Rivellino, also appeared for the home team who won 1-0.

There are so many great and fascinating characters who have appeared for the club that we have decided to included a separate post detailing the exploits of the likes of CB Fry, GO Smith, Andrew Watson, Max Woosnam and others. Suffice to say that, despite now lingering in the lower reaches of football, the Corinthian influence will always be felt in the beautiful game.