There has been high excitement in parts of south-west London and Surrey this week, with the announcement of ticket details for the Corinthian-Casuals’ 125th anniversary match against AFC Wimbledon at Wembley on April 13th. The Casuals occupy a unique place in the history of English football, and it is no overstatement to say that their influence as a club has been global. As a completely amateur club, they remain something as an anachronism in the money-obsessed world of the modern game, and their continuing existence has occasionally been a struggle with the forces of modernism. In the wider world, they are probably most famous for their distinctive chocolate & pink shirts, and for the missionary zeal with which they took the game across the world.
The club is a merger of two clubs – Corinthians and Casuals came together in 1939. Corinthians, as their name gives away with its allusions to classical Greek, they were a “gentleman club”, strictly amateur and founded in 1882, at least in part because the FA were having a problem with the England team being able to beat Scotland in their annual friendly match. The 1880s would be the decade in which professionalism started to take hold in England, culminating in the formation of the Football League in 1888. Such was their dedication to the amateur cause that they refused initially to join the Football League or enter into the FA Cup, because of a club rule that forbade them to “compete for any challenge cup or prizes of any description”. Quite what they might have achieved had they entered into competitions is one of football history’s more tantalising questions. In 1900, they beat the Football League champions, Aston Villa. In 1903, the beat the FA Cup holders, Bury, 10-3, and the following year inflicted Manchester United’s record defeat upon them, beating them 11-3.
They subsequently joined the Amateur Football Association, and were banned from playing against Football Association members (these being the days when amateurs and professionals were seldom allowed to mix). Part of the club’s ethos subsequently became to take football to other parts of the world – in 1910, they toured Brazil, leading to the formation of Corinthians Paulista, who would go on to be graced by the likes of Socrates, Luizão and Rivelino. After the end of the World War I, they started to enter into the FA Cup, and in 1939 merged with The Casuals. The Casuals had been founder members of the Isthmian League in 1905, and won the FA Amateur Cup in 1936, but the newly merged club would only play one match at the start of the 1939/40 season before the outbreak of war ceased competitive football in its normal form for six years. Corinthian-Casuals remained members of the Isthmian League until 1984, and got to Wembley in 1956, drawing 1-1 against Bishop Auckland at Wembley before losing the replay by four goals to one. In 1988, they moved into their own ground at Tolworth in Surrey, and in 1997 they were invited back into the Isthmian League, where they remain to this day.
To this day, the mission statement of the club remains the same: “The aims of the Club are to promote fair play and sportsmanship, to play competitive football at the highest level possible whilst remaining strictly amateur and retaining the ideals of the Corinthian and the Casuals Football Clubs”. That a club with such ideals should have survived 125 years might appear to be, on the surface, a remarkable achievement, considering that many clubs running to a financial model which is dependent on paying players wages have failed over that period of time. It may, however, be the biggest single reason for their continuing existence – surviving on home crowds of 150 becomes somewhat easier when you’re not having to fork out 80% of your turnover on wages, and although Corinthian-Casuals are struggling on the pitch this season, they will doubtlessly continue to play, sticking to their values of amateurism and fair play, even if they should be relegated this season or next. It also reflects well on the FA that they are allowing this venerable old club to celebrate its birthday at Wembley – a fitting venue for a club whose place in the history of football has been far reaching beyond anything that they ever achieved on the pitch.