“Who would you like to see us play in a friendly?” That’s the question fan website Meu Timão asked Corinthians Paulista supporters in a 2014 poll. The options were Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea and Corinthian-Casuals. With the Brazilians having not long beaten Chelsea in the Club World Cup and the Spanish giants a massive prospect for any team, Chris Watney didn’t expect much of a result for the Casuals. However, the Corinthian-Casuals club historian and former player watched on as the non-league side ran away with it, securing 61 percent of the vote.
This wasn’t a coincidental result; this was due to a relationship that’s deeply rooted into the foundations of both clubs. The Brazilian giants were formed in 1910 after five railway workers in São Paulo had been so impressed by Corinthian FC, who had toured Brazil, that they started up a team of their own with the same name. While the Brazilians have thrived ever since, the English club declined following the First World War. They had been on their way to another Brazilian tour when it broke out in 1914, returning home to fight for their country as soon as they heard the news, with 107 members of the club lost.
Despite the original side merging with the Casuals in 1939, the Brazilians haven’t forgotten the story behind their club. They’ve consequentially held Corinthian-Casuals close to their heart ever since. In fact, a trip to the Casuals’ ground, King George’s Field, is seen as a pilgrimage for supporters of the two-time Club World Cup champions. They’ll come to support the team and have even been known to turn up outside of match days.
Watney, who made the film Brothers in Football about the two clubs, said: “We’re talking here today on a Friday at 11:20. The chances are that there’ll be a Corinthian who’s just got off the train at Tolworth and he’s walking down to find a locked up non-league ground that he can’t get into. He’ll take a picture of himself very happy up against the gates and he’ll post it on Instagram.”
The Brazilians bring something which is completely unique to non-league football in England, as Watney continued: “They come along, they watch, they cheer and we’ve had a couple of Brazilian days. You get quite a lot of them behind the goal. It’s just amazing what it does for the players. No other club in non-league football has a load of Brazilian fans.”
It was this enthusiasm which was harnessed through the aforementioned poll at a poignant time for Corinthian-Casuals. A century years after their tour to Brazil was cut short due to war, the club were struggling financially and desperately in need of funds. Watney and his colleagues at the Casuals made an effort to make the trip that was never completed all that time ago.
It wasn’t straightforward, though, as he explained: “It was slow at first because Corinthians Paulista are such a big club and asking them to have a game against us was kind of ridiculous for them. It was like ‘What’s in it for us? How do we look good? If we beat you 20-0 we look bad and if we lose to you we look awful, so what’s in it for us?’”
However, that poll showed the will of the fans and forced Corinthians Paulista’s hand. They agreed to the match, but insisted it would be more than a mere friendly game: they wanted to help Corinthian-Casuals raise money to keep the club afloat.
Just days after losing 5-1 to Redhill, Corinthian-Casuals flew out to São Paulo. Watney said at the time: “We continue to be a completely amateur club and we have to offer something a bit different and a bit more special to keep players here.” It became apparent pretty quickly that this was going to be something special.
They were met by complete pandemonium. As they went through the airport there was a wall of noise as supporters chanted, shouted and danced to greet them. They then went off to their welcome party, where they danced into the night with the hundreds of people who’d turned out to see them.
One man who got a particularly special reception was Casuals striker Jamie Byatt. After scoring a goal, he ran towards the supporters to reveal a Corinthians Paulista top under his Casuals one. Corinthian-Casuals had posted a picture of the moment with the caption ‘One Jamie Byatt … One Corinthians!!” to over 150,000 of their Brazilian supporters, and he was instantly made a symbol of the bond the two clubs have shared since 1910. Upon his arrival, the striker was thrown up in the air and celebrated as the hero Corinthians Paulista supporters see him as.
The Casuals went to São Paulo a week before the match. It is safe to say their lifestyle in Brazil was far different to that of which they have back home. They trained at Corinthians Paulista’s state-of-the-art training ground, rather than “out the back” as Watney called the Casuals’ training facility.
They had fans queuing round the corner to meet the players during a meet and greet. Members of the club, including Watney, also went onto Paulista legend Neto’s television show to ask the public for sponsors to help keep the club afloat. Having attempted to get sponsorship from the locals back in Tolworth for 18 months without any success, they had 17 opportunities within half an hour of leaving the studio. They also had a charity training session in Arena Corinthians the day before the official match, which raised six tonnes of food for families in need.
Then it came: 25 January 2015 – the day of the big game had finally arrived. Corinthian-Casuals players were used to driving themselves in for matches, but this time they were getting a coach with police escorts. They were about to play in front of tens of thousands of people with many more watching live on Brazilian television; it was a far cry from their normal ties in Tolworth.
The two teams came out of the tunnel wearing headbands with messages such as ‘DEMOCRACIA’ and ‘IGUALDADE’ – equality – in commemoration of the Democracia Corinthiana player-power movement which had been led by Corinthians great Sócrates.
Being amateurs, Corinthians-Casuals are often up against it even when they’re playing against the semi-professional teams in their league. They were now facing the likes of Renato Augusto, who starred in Brazil’s Olympic winning team, and Paolo Guerrero, the top scorer in the history of the Peru national team. As the players lined up and applauded, they were met with a roar the Casuals never will have experienced in their lives, before proceeding to sing the national anthem.
As half-time came, the score was remarkably 0-0. Paulista had been the bigger threat, as was expected, but goalkeeper Danny Bracken had been equal to everything that had been sent his way up until that point. Centre-back Joe Hicks had even produced a Cruyff turn to get away from a pressing attacker, a sign of the confidence within the side.
One thing that had been missing in the first half was Jamie Byatt. The striker was the hero everyone in attendance had been waiting to see from the Casuals. He hadn’t been able to start the game, though, as he’d injured his hamstring in the loss against Redhill. There had been times during the trip where it was believed he wasn’t going to make it, but he was able to come on as a second half substitute.
As the supporters realised it was Byatt coming onto the field, there was an eruption of noise to welcome him. Prior to the match, he’d said it would be a dream to score a goal in the game, which almost became reality. He managed to get the ball into the net with one of his first touches when he volleyed a loose ball following a free-kick. However, he was robbed of his big moment when the goal was chalked off due to a foul.
The Casuals had fought well and created chances, but more importantly were holding off the Brazilian giants. That was until the 78th minute. The ball fell to Danilo after some scruffy play in the box and he struck it in via a deflection off centre-back Danny Dudley’s outstretched foot, which left Bracken with no chance. Luciano added the Brazilian side’s second when he bundled the ball in shortly after.
There was another special moment towards the end, as Danilo and Byatt switched teams for the final minutes. It is incredible that, having warn a Corinthians Paulista top under his Casuals one, the striker was now going to be playing alongside those who wear that shirt week in, week out. There was an even greater moment when the ball was played in his direction towards the edge of the box. However, rather than letting it run through to the Englishman, Luciano controlled it and smashed it home to get his second and make the score 3-0.
The match eventually came to its culmination and the final whistle was blown as the two sets of players came together. The exhausted Casuals swapped shirts with the Paulista players, shook hands and conversed. It was truly special as they posed for photos and went over to sign shirts for supporters. Corinthian-Casuals were also presented with a trophy, named after Sócrates.
The impact of the trip is still being felt in Tolworth years after. The initial income had helped the club financially and Corinthians Paulista have done more to help those they call their fathers. An example is that Corinthian-Casuals shirts can be bought from the Corinthians Paulista website and club shop, with the money going back to the non-league side. It is something which has been vital for the club going forward, as Watney, who also played in the game, explained: “They’ve gone to quite amazing lengths to try and help us get out of this financial rut that we were in at the time. It’s not over, we’re still in the financial rut, but it gives us an opportunity to hopefully build something.”
Corinthian-Casuals are now pushing forward with that renewed hope. In the summer of 2018 they were promoted to the Bostik Premier League and are mid-table at the time of writing. This gives them their highest ranking ever and also makes Corinthian-Casuals the highest placed amateur side in English football.
For the players involved in that match, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. For others within the club, it was a chance to connect with and display the incredible history of Corinthian over 100 years after their cancelled tour. For Corinthian-Casuals, it ensured that the club could continue to fight against their financial struggles. It’s crazy to think what history, persistence and a fan poll can do.
By Danny Lewis @DannyLewis_95