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Tuesday 11th December 2018 ko 19.45

Isthmian League Premier Division

CORINTHIAN CASUALS 2 (Hannigan 31 Mfula 72)

TONBRIDGE ANGELS 1 (Turner 49)

Att 173

Entry £10

Programme £3

It was a last-minute decision to head to Tolworth, so Robyn’s question wasn’t exactly unexpected.

“Who are the Corinthian-Casuals?” she asked, but for once, my decision wasn’t how to give her enough information, it was more of a question of what I could get away with leaving out!

It is easy enough to explain that the club is a 1939 merger of two great amateur clubs, Corinthian, founded in 1882 were the club that inspired Real Madrid to wear white, and were instrumental in the establishment of the great Corinthians Paulista club of Brazil. The Casuals started life as a club for former pupils of Eton, Harrow and Charterhouse in 1883, and were founder members of the Isthmian League in 1905.

Neither club, nor the merged Corinthian-Casuals had their own ground, in fact the newly merged club’s sole fixture before the outbreak of World War II was in the grounds of Lambeth Palace. Given that we’ve seen a game at another of the Corinthian-Casuals borrowed grounds- The Oval, is anyone up of doing a repeat of the Lambeth Palace?

The vexed question of a ground of their own was finally solved in 1988 when the Corinthian-Casuals “merged” with financially stricken Surrey Premier League outfit Tolworth FC and took on their home King George’s Field.

But to quote the history in terms of where they’ve played and what they’ve won is close to missing the point of their existence. The Corinthians, the Casuals and the merged entity stand for what tends to be called “The Corinthian Spirit.” You can try to distill it down to fair play (the Corinthians refused to either score, or defend penalties for example) and strict amateurism, but this visit ended up being more than just those two elements.

It’s true that even now the Corinthian-Casuals are still strictly an amateur club, which begs the question of how they’re managing to succeed in a Step 3 league where even part-time wages can be barely proportionate to the crowds the clubs attract?

I thought back to over 20 years ago when I first visited the club, struggling at the bottom of the lower division and with a ground that seemed made of corrugated iron and scaffolding poles. They were friendly to a fault, but seemed down on their luck. The club suffered relegation to the Combined Counties League in 1996 but a year later returned to the Isthmian League and achieved promotion to the Premier division last season.

I bought my programme and started to work out out what had changed for the club. Those Corinthian values don’t just involve amateurism and fair play, they also involve a sense of community, and its that sense that clearly has attracted a legion of volunteers, and no doubt players who doubtless could earn a reasonable part-time wage elsewhere. The friendly, but down-at-heel club I met all those years ago now has a revived sense of identity and purpose- and it’s infectious!

On one level the ground hasn’t changed that much, those corrogated iron stands, built by volunteers Brian and Roger Philips all those years ago are still there. But now those stands are beautifully maintained, and the flags a testament to friendships made, both home and abroad. Put simply, it was a pleasure to stroll slowly around the ground and soak it all up.

This is the club that’s managed to to square the circle of an illustrious past and the realities of the modern game. There are parallels, Kent-based Corinthian are an obvious example, but here I enjoyed more the the fact that the club have slowly moved from being a club for various public schools’ alumni to a community-based organisation without ever losing their identity or ideals.

Unusually for me, I succeeded in bringing them a little luck, they deservedly won this one late on, but as the players shook fans after the final whistle, and we headed back to the car, I reflected on how lovely it is to see a club managing to understand the value of everything and the price of nothing. All too often football manages to do only the exact opposite.