The Corinthians and the Casuals played a major role in the development of football in independent schools and offered a chance for the best to play at the highest level.
For over 50 years before the Second World War most of the leading players produced by public schools were able to play at the highest level for either the Corinthians or the Casuals. These two great clubs, which eventually amalgamated, were to remain great supporters of the game in the independent schools sector.
In the first 11 years of England v. Scotland fixtures, England won just twice. In 1881 and 1882 Scotland won 6-1 and 5-1 respectively. Englishman N.L. Jackson believed that, if the best players had more opportunity to play together, this situation could be improved. The best players of that era were the amateurs, either at or coming down from University, and so Jackson formed the Corinthians in 1882. Within a few years, Jackson’s aims had been fulfilled; in 1888 an England team containing nine Corinthians defeated Scotland 5-0 and in 1894 all 11 of the England team that defeated Wales 5-1 were Corinthians. It seems strange today that ex-public school amateurs should have been superior to professional players but they had considerable advantages, not least superior diet, living conditions and medical advice. In addition, it was thought at the time that the Corinthians, without the fear of defeat and the need to acquire league points each week, could afford to play a more attractive, attacking style of play.
Another similar club was also formed in 1883, called The Casuals. Originally confined just to the old boys of Eton, Charterhouse and Westminster, that rule was soon changed to all public school and university players. The Casuals differed from the Corinthians in that they fielded 5 teams each week, thus catering for more players. They also believed that entering competitions was quite legitimate as long as they played the game in the proper spirit. The Corinthians at first would not enter any competitions. The Casuals therefore entered the F.A. Amateur Cup, reaching the Final in the inaugural season of 1904, and in 1905 they were founder members of the Isthmian League.
The Corinthians eventually relaxed their rules regarding competitions and, from 1898, the Sheriff of London Shield was introduced, a match between the best amateur club in England and a top professional club. In that first year the Corinthians drew 1-1 with League Champions Sheffield United and in 1899 they defeated League Champions Aston Villa 2-1. Subsequently, in every year except one that the Sheriff of London Shield took place, the Corinthians represented the amateurs and in 1904 they achieved one of their most notable successes, defeating F.A. Cup winners Bury 10-3, having been 2-0 down at one point.
The Corinthians team that defeated Bury 10-3
Back: S.Harris, Rowlandson, Blackburn, Lowe
Middle: Timmis, Vassall, Morgan-Owen, Corbett, Vickers
Front; G.Harris, Day
Another crucial role played by the Corinthians came in their overseas tours which they undertook to venues all over the world in attempt to introduce football. South Africa, South America, Canada, the U.S.A. and all parts of Europe benefited from visits from the Corinthians who not only played a fine brand of passing football but at the same time always displayed the “Corinthian spirit” – playing the game in the correct, sporting manner. The most famous of these tours was their first trip to Brazil in 1910, which created such an impression that railway workers in Sao Paulo formed a new club which they named after their popular visitors. Today Corinthians of Sao Paulo are one of Brazil’s most famous clubs and were FIFA World Club Champions in 2000.
After the First World War, the Corinthians entered the F.A. Cup and were given exemption from the earlier rounds along with the big clubs from the First and Second Divisions, evidence of the very high regard that the authorities had for their standards. The Corinthians played their home matches at the old Crystal Palace ground (venue for pre-Great War Cup Finals) and attracted huge crowds to their biggest ties. As late as 1930 60,000 spectators attended a midweek F.A. Cup replay at Stamford Bridge between the Corinthians and Millwall. In 1924 the Corinthians claimed a major scalp when they defeated Blackburn Rovers 1-0.
The Corinthians team that defeated Blackburn Rovers 1-0 in the F.A. Cup in 1924
Back: Phillips, Moulsdale, Howard-Baker, Blaxland, Hegan
Front: Nicholas, Ashton, Morrison, Bower, Doggart, Creek
The most famous of all these Cup ties, however, was played in 1927 when the Corinthians played at home to Newcastle United at Crystal Palace in front of 56,000 spectators, only the second match ever to be covered live by BBC radio. In the Corinthian line-up were A.G. Bower (Charterhouse), J.R.B. Moulsdale (master in charge of football at Bradfield), A.H. Chadder (master in charge of football at Malvern), A.E. Taylor (master in charge of football at Shrewsbury) and C.T. Ashton (Winchester). The Corinthians led through a goal by Claude Ashton until 14 minutes from time before Newcastle eventually won 3-1.
In addition to playing in the F.A. Cup and in friendlies and Sheriff of London matches against the great professional clubs of the country, the Corinthians also visited the schools, playing most of them in turn once each year. The excitement and interest aroused by these matches, in which the boys got the opportunity of playing against some of the great amateur players of the day who would be playing in the F.A. Cup that same season, can well be imagined.
Sadly, however, in the 1930s the gap in standard between professionals and amateurs widened appreciably. The Corinthians found it increasingly difficult to compete against the top sides in the F.A. Cup and to justify their exemption until the later rounds. The Casuals, who invariably fielded many of the same players, were also finding life difficult though they did win the F.A. Amateur Cup in 1936. Then, in November 1936, the Crystal Palace was burned down and the site closed, leaving the Corinthians homeless. In 1939 it was decided that the two clubs should merge and the Corinthian-Casuals F.C. was born.
After the Second World War amateur football began a battle for survival which,at the highest level, was ultimately lost. However, the Corinthian-Casuals reached the Final of the F.A. Amateur Cup in 1956 and a temporary new force in the game arrived in the form of Pegasus who briefly took on a similar role to the old Corinthians, attracting players from Oxford and Cambridge Universities and competing in the F.A. Amateur Cup which they won twice, in 1951 & 1953, on both occasions in front of 100,000 spectators at Wembley. These cup winning sides included K.A. Shearwood (Shrewsbury), H.A. Pawson (Winchester), J.D.P. Tanner (Charterhouse) and D.B. Carr (Repton). Sadly, however, Pegasus did not survive for long.
The Corinthian-Casuals have continued to take a keen interest in, and to be an enthusiastic supporter of, independent schools football. Corinthians-Casuals schools weeks were held in the 1950s, the Corinthian-Casuals Cup was presented for the winners of the independent schools six-a-side tournament and the Corinthians Casuals Veterans side, run by distinguished amateur international and 1960 British Olympics goalkeeper Brian Wakefield, continues today to visit many independent schools to play an annual fixture, teaching the schoolboys how to play the game in the correct manner. Steve Hoyle, sports master at Dulwich College wrote the following account of a match between his school’s 1st XI and Corinthian Casuals in 1989:
“Not for them the “up and under style” . . . nor a thought of a ‘professional foul’; more a delight in stroking the ball around from player to player before the strike at goal. The present Casuals team came to Dulwich College unbeaten against any teams this season. To say they possessed plenty of experience would be an understatement, for not only was their average age at least twice that of the Dulwich side but they also possessed a number of international caps between them.
In the first twenty minutes of the game Dulwich hardly touched the ball but, as the game wore on, we came into the picture more, learning from the skills of the opposition. By the end of the game Dulwich were probably playing their best football of the season, thanks largely to the example set by the opposition. Defeat was honourable and I am sure the members of the Dulwich side will long remember the experience of playing against a very cultured side”.
The link between independent schools football and the Corinthian-Casuals continues today with the club hosting the Final of the Southern Independent Schools League in January since the 2006-07 season.
Independent schools football owes the Corinthians and the Casuals, both separate and combined, a great deal.