“Corinthian Football Club was an English amateur football club based in London between 1882 and 1939. Above all, the club is credited with having popularised football around the world, having promoted sportsmanship and fair play, and having championed the ideals of amateurism. The club was famed for its ethos of “sportsmanship, fair play, [and] playing for the love of the game. Corinthian Spirit, still understood as the highest standard of sportsmanship, is often associated with the side. This spirit was famously summed up in their attitude to penalties; “As far as they were concerned, a gentleman would never commit a deliberate foul on an opponent. So, if a penalty was awarded against the Corinthians, their goalkeeper would stand aside, lean languidly on the goalpost and watch the ball being kicked into his own net. If the Corinthians themselves won a penalty, their captain took a short run-up and gave the ball a jolly good whack, chipping it over the crossbar.””
I am old enough to remember the 1966 World Cup semi final when England played Portugal. During the course of the game, which we listened to live on the radio, I was attending a Christian boys camp. During the game, Jack Charlton put his hand out to stop a certain goal, which resulted in the inevitable penalty. No doubt, if the England side contained Corinthian players that would not have happened and if it had the goalie would have stood aside and allowed the penalty to go in, and Jack would probably not got another game because of his unsportsmanlike behaviour. I remember after the game getting into an argument regarding the morality of what had happened. I sided with Jack, arguing this was a pragmatic and inevitable response on Jack’s part, while my tent leader, full of righteous indignation, strongly disapproved.
Many years ago, I shared with a football club owner, who had issues with an entitled but gifted player, that the Corinthians were no longer around and money had come to dominate our beautiful game to its detriment. His view was understandably a lot more pragmatic, to the effect that he said that was how it was and while idealism was nice it was not his main priority. Long before the recent announcement of a new European league which has got some of my football loving friends all het up over, the part played by money, commercial interests and a culture of win at all costs has come to dominate the professional game and has seeped through to lower levels. I was never much good as a footballer and a little better as a football referee, but as with many, as a boy, I spent many happy hours playing the game in the local park or even in the road, alongside local lads of varying abilities, and then in college and after with work colleagues. My main reason for qualifying as and being a referee was since I was involved in working with young people at the time, refereeing was one way I could usefully contribute.
I remember a couple of years back attending the funeral of a friend, David Haycock, who managed a local youth football team and of another friend, Ray Davy, who did much behind the scenes, often volunteering, for our local professional club, Southend United. I salute such men who represented what is good about the game, although sadly because of the way professional football has gone, even before news of this new league (which now looks like it will not happen, because of the opposition), I see a trend that I feel far from enthusiastic about. I tend not to follow much professional football for those reasons, and would rather watch and encourage groups of youngsters develop their skills and playing in the Corinthian spirit. The Corinthians represented many of the noble principles we love about this beautiful game, yet with their record showing they could compete with the best, e.g. in 1904, Corinthian beat Manchester United 11–3, which remains United’s biggest ever defeat. While doubting it will ever happen, I say: bring back the Corinthians.