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Corinthian spirit


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An approach to sporting encounter rooted in the amateur philosophy of football in late 19th-century England, when the Corinthian (Casuals) club was formed in 1881 as a riposte to the emergence and rise of (initially concealed) professionalism in the sport. (A lively non-academic account is provided in D. J. Taylor, On the Corinthian Spirit: The Decline of Amateurism in Sport, 2006.) Paradoxically, the club's founding rationale pointed to an aspiration to improve the performances of the English football team at national level, but the core motivation lay in the preservation of an amateur ethos outlined in its 1883 constitution declaration that Corinthian players ‘shall not compete for any challenge cup or any prize of any description’. This was loosened for entry into a charity shield tournament, but friendly matches were the purist norm. The club produced teams that could beat early professional champions, and provided many players for England XIs in the late 1800s.

The 1906 Annals of the Corinthian Football Club called its members ‘missionaries of the Empire’, linking British sportsmanship to international understanding as well as the bringing together of colonies and the ‘Mother Country’; prioritized charitable causes; and emphasized that a game should be a game, opposing competitive glory-seeking and trophy-hunting. Brilliant but selfish players, in the words of veteran Corinthian G. O. Smith (1872–1943), should not be tolerated. The Corinthian spirit of fair play was embodied in the famous principle that if a penalty was awarded against the team, the goalkeeper must vacate the goal to allow the opposition to score and take its just rewards for the Corinthian team's violations of the rules (and the spirit) of the game. The Corinthian spirit came, in British football and sport, to represent a byword and shorthand for the golden age of amateurism and its associated values.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.


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