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Non League Football Under The Microscope

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Eastbourne Borough fans celebrate - August Bank Holiday Monday 2003                                Photograph by Sam Hicks

Corinthian-Casuals FC

King George’s Fields, Queen Mary Close, Hook Rise South, Tolworth, Surrey KT6 7NA
Telephone: 0208 397 3368
Nickname: Casuals 
Isthmian League

Note Corinthian-Casuals FC owes its existence to an amalgamation in 1939 between two great amateur clubs: The Corinthians, and The Casuals; hence the all-important hyphen between the two (ironically missing from some of the signage at King George’s Fields… and also the 2006-07 programme cover!). To this day the club maintains a strict amateur code.

As is well-known, The Corinthians became famous for not playing in any competition and the club was originally founded in 1882 for the purpose of challenging Scotland at international level. Within four years there were nine Corinthians in the England team that drew 1-1 with Scotland. Between 1883 and 1890, 52 of the 88 caps awarded against Scotland went to Corinthians players. Corinthians fielded the full England side twice in 1894 and 1895, both matches against Wales. It is perhaps no coincidence that The Corinthians played in the England colours of white shirts and navy blue shorts.

It was not until 1900 that the club played a competitive match of its own: defeating Football League champions Aston Villa to lift the Sheriff of London Shield; and inflicted Manchester United’s record defeat (11-3), a record that one suspects will never be broken!

In 1902 Real Madrid adopted The Corinthians’ white strip; which in turn was adopted by Leeds United manager Don Revie in the 1970s. The Brazilian club Corinthians also plays in white. This is no coincidence as that club was founded in 1910 following a tour of South America by The Corinthians, as the club traveled all over the world on ‘missionary’ work.

Although it was always thought that they were the younger club by one year, recent evidence suggests that The Casuals (whose colours were chocolate and pink) were actually founded in 1878. The Casuals initially took their players from Charterhouse, Eton, and Winchester Schools but later opened this to include all public schools and university Old Boys. Whereas The Corinthians enjoyed some notable FA Cup scalps on entering the competition after the Great War; the same could not be said for The Casuals, who played relatively few ties. The Casuals did however reach the first Final of the FA Amateur Cup, losing to Old Carthusians at Richmond in 1894. The club was also a founder member of the Isthmian League in 1905 and the Southern Amateur League in 1907. In 1936 came the club’s greatest achievement as they beat Ilford 2-0 in the replayed Final of the Amateur Cup at Upton Park, having drawn the first match 1-1 at Crystal Palace.

The amalgamation in 1939 was ill-timed and WW2 intervened. The new club played just one game, in the grounds of Lambeth Palace, but joined the Isthmian League when the war ended. Neither club ever had a permanent home ground before the merger.  The Corinthians played at various venues in London until 1895 after which most home matches were played at The Queen’s Club in West Kensington (now better known for the Mens’ pre-Wimbledon tennis tournament). This arrangement continued until after WW1 and in the 1920s the club was playing at the Crystal Palace arena: venue for the FA Cup Final between 1894-1914. In 1927, over 56,000 packed into the venue to see The Corinthians lose 1-3 in a 4th Round tie against First Division Newcastle United (the club received a bye to the 3rd Round from 1925-33).

The Casuals also played at a number of grounds, including the Essex County Cricket Ground in Leyton. As a precursor to the later merger, the club briefly shared Crystal Palace with The Corinthians before becoming tenants of Kingstonian at Richmond Road in 1925 where they remained until 1939.

On reforming after the War the new club was forced into a nomadic existence, including spells at the Polytechnic Stadium in Chiswick, and the London University Ground (Motspur Park). In 1951 however, Corinthian-Casuals secured a lease at The Oval in Kennington, home of Surrey CCC and another former venue for the FA Cup Final. Games were played at the Vauxhall End of the enormous ground and because of the demands of cricket, could only be played between September and early March, when alternative ‘home’ venues were sought. In 1956 the club reached the Final of the Amateur Cup at Wembley, drawing 1-1 against Non League giants Bishop Auckland but losing the replay 1-4. In 2006 the Final was ‘replayed’ for a second time to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary: this time at St. George’s Fields.

The club left The Oval in 1962 and moved in with Dulwich Hamlet at Champion Hill, where 7,000 watched an FA Cup 1st Round tie against Watford in 1965. Another move came in 1971: this time to Sandy Lane, erstwhile home of Tooting & Mitcham United; before relocating yet again in 1983 with Molesey now the landlords.

The following year, the club thought it had finally found a permanent home when it moved into the Wimbledon Park Athletic Stadium, a ground with a 500-seat grandstand but no floodlights. Unfortunately the ownership of the stadium was shared between Wandsworth and Merton Councils, neither of who could agree with Casuals’ plans.

Having lost its Isthmian League status due to a change in ground-sharing rules, in 1988 the club was able to take over Tolworth Arena from the ailing Tolworth FC of the Surrey Senior League. That season also saw Casuals tour Brazil where Brazilian international Socrates donned the Casuals colours for one game.

At the time there was a running track around the football pitch at Tolworth, and little in the way of facilities. Soon after the move a cover was erected in front of the clubhouse but this has since been replaced. Finding the ground requires a little care as Hook Rise South is an easily missed slip road off the busy Tolworth roundabout junction on the A3. First impressions are of a fairly ordinary, functional venue and although tidy, the ground is unlikely to win any design awards. However, as with many similar venues, the more one discovers, the more interesting it becomes.

There is an area of cover at either end of the ground, over a couple of steps of shallow concrete terrace.  Both are constructed from metal sheeting and scaffolding poles, with the cover behind the near goal the longer of the two.  What is quite astonishing is that both areas, along with a slightly more ambitious stand that runs for much of the near touchline, were constructed entirely by two brothers: Brian and Roger Phillips. It is therefore most appropriate that a plaque, fixed to the rear wall of the far terrace, acknowledges this feat. Both brothers were very much in evidence when I visited in January 2006, with Brian marking the pitch whilst Roger manned the turnstile.  The latter building also owes its existence to the brothers’ expertise: constructed in the space of a week with the green metal turnstile itself having previously seen service at the Chelsea Flower Show grounds.

The comfortable clubhouse is set back behind the stand (named in memory of former stalwart ‘Tiny’ Liddle in 1994), which along with the rest of the spectator accommodation is a testament to the Non League ethic of recycling: the metal sheeting, and some rather comfy seats at one end of the stand having come from one of the Casuals’ former groundshares: Dulwich’s old Champion Hill ground. The bulk of the seating was rescued from Plough Lane (Wimbledon FC), with the remaining red seats at the far end having previously been at Westleigh Park (Havant Town/Havant & Waterlooville) before it was redeveloped. DB

History sourced from the Corinthian-Casuals official website & “Football Grounds of London” by Alex White & Bob Lilliman

More photographs on Page Two ...