Brazil 2015

Corinthian-Casuals in Brazil 2015

In January 2015, an obscure amateur football team from the lower echelons of the English Football League played in front of 25,000 fans, against the two-time, World Club Cup Champions, Sporting Club Corinthians Paulista at the Arena Corinthians in Sao Paulo Brazil, in the same stadium that opened the World Cup in 2014.

This team of builders, accountants and teachers from the Ryman Isthmian League were the unlikely opponents for such an enormous institution as Corinthian Paulista. How this fixture transpired is a story that goes back over 100 years and is still remembered in Brazil, even if the English seem to have neglected to remember this once phenomenal team.

The opponents of Corinthians Paulista that day in January were the Corinthian-Casuals Football Club, located in a side turning, off the A3 in Tolworth, Surrey, boasting a run-down clubhouse, a porta-cabin, home-made stands. The Corinthian-Casuals Football Club is currently the highest placed fully amateur team in English football. This means the club does not pay their players or staff and still adheres to their famous ‘Corinthian Spirit’ ethos of fair play, sportsmanship and participating in competition for the sheer pleasure. By today’s standards, this could be considered a quaint, old fashioned ideal, but for the club, it is their badge of honour and they remain steadfastly amateur.

The meaning of the word ‘amateur’ has changed of the last 100 years, once meaning something noble and decent. It now means something sub-standard or inexpert and is used as an insult or put down. To be amateur in the modern age is usually an indication of something insubstantial or tenuous and the ‘Casuals’ have faced bankruptcy several times in recent years, almost locking the turnstiles on a fabulous history that helped shape the modern game and popularise football throughout the world.

In 1882, the English Football Association, formed a team to help stem the overpowering and successful Scottish national squad that was constantly winning the home internationals. The team was to be called the Corinthian Football Club, and it went on to be the best, most popular team of its age, taking on and beating professional clubs and playing a type of football the fans loved. Their style was the forerunner of today’s passing game and thrilled enormous crowds.

Drawn from the universities and colleges of Britain, the team featured many stars of their day, (like Max Woosnam who once beat Charlie Chaplin in a game of ping-pong using a butter knife!), they were the best footballers in Britain, perhaps Europe, and racked up achievements and unequalled honours; beating Manchester United 11-3 is still the biggest loss chalked up against the modern day behemoth; Real Madrid and England wear the Corinthian white shirts, the term ‘Soccer’ was first coined by a Corinthian player, they were the only football team to beat the Barbarians at rugby, on two occasions the whole England team was made up of Corinthian players and of course, England finally began to hold its own against Scotland.

As a team of strictly amateur players, the Corinthians initially didn’t participate in competitions or leagues but rather enjoyed ‘tours’ of Britain, playing friendlies against the big, more affluent professional sides and sometimes giving them a good hiding! Later, they relaxed these rules and they were allowed to join in the later stages of FA Cup, often drawing crowds of 40-50,000.

But their greatest achievement was taking football to the world. These ‘missionary’ tours covered Europe, Africa and the Americas, and it was on one of the tours of Brazil in 1910 that their game against a Brazilian scratch team, (perhaps the first Brazilian National team), was witnessed by a group of five working men from the poorer districts of Sao Paulo. Having been inspired by the Corinthian style of play, they decided to create their own team, and on the advice of Charles Miller, (the Englishman man and a Corinthian, credited with introducing football to Brazil), they decided to become a namesake, calling themselves Sporting Club Corinthian Paulista.

In the years that followed, the fortunes of these two teams reversed drastically and SCCP went on to become, arguably, the biggest club in the Americas with fanatical supporters with deep social allegiances, whereas the Corinthian FC suffered. The increasing dominance of professionalism in English Football and at the losses of the First World War, (over 100 men who had played for the Corinthian and Casuals FCs died, more than any other team professional or amateur). It has been speculated that if the Corinthians had decided to become professional, they may have become bigger than the Manchester United’s, Chelsea’s and Arsenal’s of the modern day?

However, sticking to their Corinthian Spirit ethos, the Corinthians fortunes continued to decline and in 1939, they merged with another famous amateur team called the Casuals FC and became the Corinthian-Casuals. (The hyphen is extremely important as it shows the equal importance of each team. To the chagrin of many members, it is still not included in many written articles). But sticking to their principles, like many before them, they struggled to adapt in the post-war years, finally settling in Tolworth to eke out a meagre existence in non-league football.

During this time the fortunes of the club have rested on a knife edge, several times almost resulting in the club and its history coming to inglorious bankruptcy. However, a team is still fielded on a Saturday afternoon at King George’s Arena, in front of a growing number of supporters, and still manage to be competitive in a semi-professional league.

A rather sad echo of their halcyon days of the previous century, yet elements of their history still survive, such as the School’s team that continues the ‘missionary’ work with regular games at many of the top schools of the land, upholding the Corinthian ethos and demonstrating to young players how to play the beautiful game.

It is remarkable that the Club has survived this long. However, it is now fighting back against the ravages of professionalism that displaced it in the early part of the past century and the tour of Brazil in 2015 was a determined effort to re-kindle the fortunes of the club and install it, once and for all, with a permanent place in English football league.

The Brazilian Corinthians have never forgotten the team that inspired their foundation and have welcomed the Casuals to Brazil in 2001 and 1988, when the great Socrates achieved legendary status by not only scoring the goal that defeated the English team, but then switching sides and playing in the Casuals famous chocolate and pink shirts.

A young player from London was in the 2001 squad and was overwhelmed by the reception the team received in Brazil and was so affected by the experience, that when he returned home, unable to translate the experience to anyone, quit his job in frustration and misery. Ever since, Chris Watney has continued to play for the Casuals and has harboured a desire to go back to Brazil and repeat the experience. 15 years later and after 2 years for hard work, Chris finally accompanied a young team back to Brazil, to play against their namesake and arrange a fixture that defied all rational explanations.

However, the inspiration behind the 2015 tour was not simply to experience the same adulation he had felt in 2001, but to explore the potential of preserving the club by marketing it to the Brazilian fans and businesses that seemed to care more for the Corinthian-Casuals than their English counterparts.

The tour would touch every corner of Sao Paulo, the home town of Corinthians Paulista, from children’s cancer wards to exclusive country clubs, from soccer schools for Sao Paulo’s street children to expensive dinners with the British Ambassador. Every facet of modern media was used to promote the team and the tour. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook were used to interact with and inform the fans, allowing them to comment on threads, post ‘selfies’, taken with the ever accommodating Casuals players, who did more for Brazilian-British diplomatic relationships than many a visiting dignitary!

The tour was documented by Chris’s own film company, videoed by all the national TV channels, photographed and reported by all national daily papers. Visits to Paulista fans, flash mobs, fans events, an open training session where the entrance fee was 1kg of unperishable food (raising 5 tons of food for under-privileged families in the favelas), were events followed by the media. Wherever the team went, they we greeted with cheering, hugging and singing, high-fiving, shirt exchanging, shirt signings and more singing. This team of working, unpaid players were treated like royalty, like super-stars. The fans recognised a common bond in these ordinary working people and invited them into their hearts and lives. Unlike many of the super stars of world football, dripping with gold and diamonds in expensive foreign cars, with little time for fan’s demands and even less for the demands of an intrusive media, the Casuals players were fans themselves. These players played football for the love of it, for no financial reward, and this hit a nerve in the Paulista fans, and surprised the media, who played the impending fixture as a David and Goliath match, where the English would get squashed. Little did they realise that the result of the game was irrelevant to the fans.

However, in a country that loves their football more than may seem reasonably possible, this team of amateurs captured the imagination and the respect of the people they came in contact with. They were often heard complaining of not having enough to give the fans who begged for souvenirs and mementos of the ‘Father’ of their club. On several occasions, these demands left the players in nothing but their underwear, but they continued to shake hands, hug, laugh, joke and thank this huge and vocal Brazilian family who had taken them in.

The marketing of the Corinthian-Casuals in Brazil must surely be considered a drastic step to take for a small non-league club looking to secure their future, but such is the determined nature of Chris Watney and the club. With plans to redevelop their ground and install a facility that honours not only the Club but guarantees the club a continued existence, Chris has recognised the only real opportunity left for the club and, ironically, his typically British entrepreneurship should be applauded. Shame that like our own media, who only gave a cursory nod to the fanatical events unwinding in Sao Paulo, our own establishment hasn’t taken any steps to help preserve the historical institution that is Corinthian-Casuals Football Club.