The ‘Corinthian Spirit’ is a much used cliché by commentators when talking about playing football – or sport more generally – in the ‘right way’. But who were the Corinthians?
Established in 1882 by Jackson, who at the time was the assistant secretary of the FA, there were two main factors behind the club’s formation. First, Jackson, the editor of the magazine, Pastime, was a fervent anti-professional who was forever promoting the merits of amateurism and its values against the rising tide of professionalism.
Second, Jackson had been dismayed that England had lost heavily in the 1881 and 1882 matches against Scotland, 6-1 and 5-1 respectively. He felt that if the England players had ‘plenty of practice together they would acquire a certain amount of combination’.
The Corinthians essentially represented an elitist and metropolitan amateur clique with its players drawn from the ranks of the universities and the public schools. At the time it was these players who made up the majority of the England team.
It had a membership restricted to 50 and charged no subscription fees. The club had no home ground and refused to enter cup and league competitions. Instead, they played friendlies and went on tours abroad and playing against professional teams from the north. Since the Corinthians demanded (and received) 75 per cent of gross receipts for ‘expenses’ by 1889, they were a professional team in all but name.
The Corinthians were more than a match for the top professional teams. In 1884 they thrashed cup holders Blackburn Rovers 8-1 and five years beat double winners, Preston North End, 5-0. They played a number of matches against Preston and the Corinthians' manly and vigorous style with its emphasis on heavy shoulder charges drew criticism from the local press.
They were probably one of the best teams in the country in the 1890s, providing the entire England team for internationals against Wales in 1894 and 1895.
Their most famous players included the great sporting all-rounder, CB Fry (1872-1956) and the centre-forward, G.O. Smith (1872-1943). Smith also played for Old Carthusians and Oxford University as well as winning 20 caps for England and scoring 11 goals. Unlike most of the Corinthians, Smith was not a physically imposing figure, instead he was renowned for his ability to bring his teammates into play with skilful passes.
Much of the myth of the Corinthians stemmed from its opposition to the introduction of the penalty kick in 1891. The very idea of penalising a team for a deliberate foul was anathema to their gentlemanly sporting ideals and the Corinthians – and some other amateur teams – resisted the new law by deliberately shooting wide if awarded a penalty and withdrawing their goalkeeper if one was conceded.
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