From Sao Paulo to Surrey

wsc303Andy Ollerenshaw on the non-League club in Surrey with a South American connection

That club is Corinthian-Casuals. Formed in 1939 following the merger of two English amateur sides, they are the highest-ranked amateur team in the English pyramid, playing four levels below the Football League.

The original Corinthians FC was formed in 1882 as a collective of players from mainly university clubs, who played in the spirit of “fair play” that typified the amateur philosophies of the time. They eschewed competitive football and instead toured the globe playing friendly matches to promote the game. One such tour to Brazil in 1910 made an impact in São Paulo. Enthused by the ethos of the English Corinthians, Sport Club Corinthians Paulista was formed the same year. To this day, Paulista fans regard Corinthian-Casuals as their club’s forefathers.

The contrast between the two clubs could not be greater. The Tolworth club’s fanbase is small, competing locally with the likes of AFC Wimbledon and Kingstonian FC. A crowd of around 100 at the modestly unassuming King George’s Field is the norm. The Brazilian giant’s average attendance last season was 29,487. Paulista are one of the richest clubs in Brazil and current estimates value their playing squad at £40 million. Corinthian-Casuals do not pay their players.

Despite the chasm in status, the mutual heritage that unites both clubs is strong, particularly with supporters. Thanks to the internet, the bonds are strengthening. Corinthian-Casuals’ photographer Stuart Tree explains: “There has always been a good relationship between Corinthian-Casuals and Corinthians Paulista at an official level. But what has happened with the Brazilian fans this season has been mind-blowing.” Tree maintains the English club’s Facebook page, which had around 60 followers at the beginning of the season. “For a small club we were quite pleased,” he says. But then the numbers increased. “All of a sudden, within a single day, we had 650 followers. Paulista fans had found us via Orkut [a Brazilian social networking site] and the figures kept going up.” The club now has 4,400 followers, the vast majority of whom are from South America. With a sense of genuine pride, Tree puts that figure in context: “That’s more than Scunthorpe.”

The interest of the Brazilian fans is not confined to the internet. Paulista fans also travel to watch the Isthmian League side at their small ground, which is tucked away behind the Kingston bypass. A vital link between the two clubs is Rob Cavallini, who has held several positions at Corinthian-Casuals over the years and has documented the club’s history. Cavallini spent a year in Brazil travelling to Paulista games. “Since the Brazilian economy has improved,” he says, “there has been an increase in visits.”

The chance of seeing Paulista fans on a Saturday at King George’s Field is “very high”. They arrive alone or in small groups, sometimes bringing a flavour of the atmosphere at the Estádio Parque São Jorge with them. “We even let them on the team bus for away games,” adds Cavallini, who estimates that “a couple of hundred” have visited in total. The Brazilian media also have a love-affair with Corinthian-Casuals. ESPN Brazil and TV Banderiantes Brazil have sent film crews to visit the club. There is an abundance of Brazilian-sourced footage of Corinthian-Casuals on YouTube.

The subplot is that, despite the interest in Brazil, Corinthian-Casuals face a daily battle to survive. The club struggles to tap into a potentially rich vein of interest in South America. Demand for Corinthian-Casuals merchandise by Paulista fans is not insignificant, but the club have no capital to preorder stock and they lack the necessary infrastructure to sell their products overseas.

Many Paulista fans would like Corinthian-Casuals to be the first team they play in their new stadium, the Novo Estádio do Corinthians, which is due to open in 2013. Unfortunately, an inaugural fixture between Paulista and a small English non-League team would not make much commercial sense. But the fans in São Paulo disagree. Interest in Corinthian-Casuals spikes when Paulista do well. Paulista’s top priority this season is the Copa Libertadores, which they have never won. “If they win that in July,” says Cavallini, “it will go through the roof. Expect something like 20,000 followers on Facebook. They see us as their fathers, them as our sons.”

From WSC 303 May 2012