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The story of the mighty Brazilian football club Corinthians begins in the fertile mind of N. Lane Jackson, assistant secretary of England’s Football Association in the 1880s. Jackson came up with the idea of putting together a club that could seriously challenge the dominance of Scottish football (yes, incredibly, there was a time when Scotland was THE world power in football).
Jackson gathered together a number of top English players at his new team, Corinthians Football Club, and resolved to play a regular schedule of friendlies while remaining strictly amateur. Both of these practices became increasingly unusual as the Football League brought full-time professionals into the mainstream and nearly every other club entered leagues and cup competitions galore. Despite this, Corinthians were incredibly successful for a time, regularly beating FA Cup winners in friendlies and supplying the England national team players in large numbers.
The champagne days eventually drew to a close, though, as Corinthians could no longer compete with top professional clubs and even began to enter regular competitions like the FA Cup. In 1939, Corinthians finally merged with another grand old amateur club, Casuals, to create Corinthian-Casuals. They currently sit in a comfortable mid-table position in the Isthmian League Division One South, the eighth tier of English football.
In the midst of all this glorious (if ancient) history Corinthians set out on an extensive series of globe-trotting tours. One of their many stops was the Brazilian city of São Paulo where on August 31, 1910 Corinthians won by the score of 2-0 over Associação Atlética das Palmeiras (not be confused with the current Brazilian club Palmeiras, who only took that name in 1942. But that’s a story for another day.) A group of workers from the Bom Retiro neighborhood of São Paulo were so impressed they decided to start a club of their own and gave it the name Sport Club Corinthians Paulista.
Before we delve further into the Brazilian Corinthians, let’s jump quickly back to N. Lane Jackson. You might be wondering what else he did when not launching world-famous football clubs? Well, it was Jackson who, in 1886, proposed giving each England international player an honorary cap (specifically a white silk cap embroidered with a rose). And that’s why national team appearances are now called caps, though I’m not sure if they still get classy silk caps for their efforts!
Anyway, back to São Paulo where the brand-new Corinthians were just getting started. Besides the uniqueness of taking the name of a great old English football club, Corinthians were the first club of São Paulo organized by and for the masses. Football in those early days in Brazil was a decidedly elite sport and Sport Club Corinthians Paulista were formed specifically with the idea of being open to anyone as long as they could kick a ball straight. Or really, considering we’re talking about Brazilian football, could kick a ball any which way they fancied.
Corinthians entered the São Paulo state championship for the first time in 1913, winning their first state title just one season later. Over the years, Corinthians have won the Paulista 26 times, more than any other club in the state. While the state championships are a uniquely Brazilian oddity you can be sure this fact is never forgotten by Corinthians supporters or for that matter by fans of arch-rivals São Paulo and Palmeiras.
In terms of a proper national championship, Brazil was a late starter. It was not until 1971 that an actual national championship began, and over the years it has been contested in a variety of bizarrely complex formats mostly designed to assure that major clubs could not possibly be relegated. It was not until 2003 that a simple format of home and away with a straight league table and normal promotion and relegation was finally adopted. We’ll come back to that soon…
In 1990 Corinthians won their first true national championship and have since gone on to win seven major titles at the national level – 4 Brazilian championships and 3 Copa do Brasil titles. Even more important for many Corinthians supporters was the victory in the controversial World Club Championship of 2000, which Manchester United famously skipped the FA Cup to compete in.
The emblem of Corinthians is not only thoroughly unique, but is layered in symbolism like any quality football club emblem. At its center is the black and white striped flag of São Paulo state. In a circle around the flag are the words SC Corinthians Paulista with the foundation year 1910 at the bottom. Around the circle are a pair of oars and an anchor that reference the nautical sports that Corinthians also contest. (Like most Brazilian clubs Corinthians compete in many sports, not just football). At the top of the emblem are 4 stars to symbolize Corinthians’ 4 national championships.
What’s particularly unusual to me about this emblem is that, unlike a number of other Brazilian clubs (Flamengo and Vasco da Gama for example) Corinthians did not get their start as a rowing club. And yet they choose to emphasize rowing on their emblem while others who did get their start in that sport and even, like Vasco, include it in their official name, do not. A puzzle.
The biggest disaster in recent Corinthians history was their 2007 relegation to the second-tier Série B. Corinthians were by far the biggest club to be relegated in Brazil (arguably the 2nd most popular in the country) and this was seen as a real test of the overall promotion and relegation system. Would some obscure mechanism be pulled out to ensure they did not go down? In the end Corinthians took their medicine, won promotion (and a Série B title) at first attempt and are back among the elite, even winning the 2009 Copa do Brasil to qualify for this season’s Libertadores. The Libertadores remains the one title that still eludes Corinthians and is a particular obsession in this centenary year. Corinthians have brought in heavyweights (pun intended) Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos to make a run at finally winning South America’s version of the Champions League.
Interested in learning more about the origins of a particular team and how they got their name? Feel free to suggest a team in the comments and I will write about them in the future. You can also visit my website Albion Road which has more obscure details on football clubs than you’d ever possibly want to know.