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This summer marks the 120th anniversary since Corinthian FC became the first club to ever tour football outside of Europe, when they set sail for South Africa on June 25th, 1897.

Credited with having popularised football around the world at the turn of the 20th Century, the Corinthians left the Millwall Docks as London was in the midst of celebrating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Little did they know then that their tour would give birth to one of the Victorian eras greatest legacies: the global phenomenon the Beautiful Game has become.

The club’s first of these pioneering overseas tour, was announced in ‘The Sportsman’ newspaper, in a letter from the Corinthian's founder, N.L. Jackson:

‘We shall be the guests of the South African Association, who will pay the whole of the travelling and hotel expenses; but our committee think it will be better for the members to adhere to the Corinthian rules and pay for their own wines and spirits, thus, in fact making the whole of the arrangements the same as for an ordinary Corinthian tour."

A fairly strong team was assembled for the trip, though a remarkably small squad for a tour which would include 23 games and cover 6,000 miles - many decades before air travel. Absent, however, from the 14 members assembled on the quayside, were some notable exceptions – some of the club's greatest sporting celebrities. C.B. Fry, G.O. Smith and C. Wreford-Brown all had other commitments – namely the county and international cricket season in which they also all starred. Indeed C.B. Fry had toured South Africa only the previous summer, on his first international cricket tour.

And it wasn't just the cricket season - or the treacherous ocean crossing - that would have been enough to give less audacious men pause for thought. South Africa in 1897 was a place of great unrest. Diamonds and gold had recently been discovered in the fragmented territory ill prepared to deal with it. The gold rush, in particular, had flooded the land with prospectors and land grabbers from all over the world and caused significant governmental destabilisation. It was a country of tribalism, both native and foreign, right at the coalface of competing empires and a new frontier where the battle for dominant statehood was threatening to explode. Perhaps not the easiest place to play a few gentlemanly games of The Beautiful Game.

And so, on the 25th June 1897, they left Millwall Docks on the mail ship the R.M.S. Norham Castle, watching the Jubilee celebrations - a Naval Revue by the Prince of Wales at Spithead. The ship then, almost immediately, met a thunderstorm in the channel and they suffered several days of heavy weather with many of the tourists remaining well below deck.



After a brief stop stop in Funchal, the capital of the Madeira Islands, on the 6th July, the ship crossed the equator and eight days later finally arrived in Table Bay. The voyage had taken weeks and the Corinthians passed the time with games of cricket on the decks and, most intriguingly, by arranging a fancy dress ball...



The Corinthian’s were met by a huge crowd of enthusiastic sportsmen and officials from South Africa as they disembarked and, that very same day, found themselves having a practice match on Newland’s cricket ground.

If these had been a different calibre of Englishmen this tour might never have happened. There was to be no great new scientific discovery, no new territory mapped, no specimens collected, no religious agenda. There wasn't a great deal in it for these men personally either; no fame, no fortune. They did it because they could, and they did it for the love of football. They did it because it had never been done before. They were, indeed, a particular breed: great pioneering sportsmen who, despite besting the top professional sides of their day, believed that fairness and honour in competition should always be held above victory or gain. They were Corinthians.



And little did they know, these fourteen men, that they were embarking on a tour that would sew the seeds for a different kind of empire that would dwarf any presided over by the Union Jack and prove more successful than any other cultural, political or religious export. Their journey ensured that, today, the sun never sets on the Beautiful Game.

The tourists were: W.Campbell, R.R. Barker, G.H. Simpson, H. Vickers, H.A. Rauthmell, J.E. Grievson, R. Topham, S.S. Taylor, J.H. Gettins, W.F. Stanborough, A.N. Guy, C.B. Ward, E.H. Bray, C.J. Burnup



June 25th 2017: 120 years ago today, Corinthian FC were one month into the first ever tour outside of Europe by any football club. With an arduous schedule which included 23 matches over just two months, the side really did visit every corner of South Africa.

In “The Annals of Corinthian FC”, published in 1906, we can read a first hand account of life on the road during the first month of that historic tour:

“On July 6 we crossed the equator, and eight days later arrived at Table Bay.

We were welcomed by a large number of influential representatives of different branches of sport, and the same day found us having a practice game at Newlands cricket ground.

The first match was against the Civilians, and we won by 4-0. Much rain had fallen during the night, and the ground was completely underwater. We found them a hard playing side, but lacking combination, and we had much the best of the game throughout. The second match of the tour – namely, that against the Cape Militia – ended in exactly the same result. The last of the three matches set for decision at Cape Town found the Corinthians still in form, the victims this time being the Western Province, who were defeated by 5-0. There was quite a large attendance which even included the Governor of Cape Town.

During our stay at Cape Town we were most hospitably entertained and were driven to many places of interest around Table Mountain. We first went out to Hout's Bay and returned via Constantia and Wynberg, thus going all the way around the spectacular mountain.



On leaving Cape Town we had a journey of nearly 900 miles to Kings William's Town. The train was very slow, rarely exceeding 20 miles an hour; but we passed some interesting scenery, and what with stoppages and cards, we managed to amuse ourselves pretty well. Vickers had sprained his ankle at Cape Town and was left behind, but he caught us up shortly after, together with Burnup and Bray who had stayed behind to play in the Varsity cricket match. On the 24th of July we beat King William's Town by 6-1. During our stay we had a delightful drive of some 30 miles through very rough yet grand country, and visited a "kraal". Leaving here, we arrived at Queenstown. After defeating them by 8-1, we journeyed to East London, where we were yet again victorious by 4-0. At all these towns we received a warm welcome from everyone, and the most hospitality entertained, picnics and banquet being arranged for us, everything done to make our visit a pleasant one.”

One reason the author neglected to include here as to why Queenstown proved so memorable, could have been for events off the pitch...

The Sportsman newspaper in July 1897 tells the story: "Simpson and Ward, being unable to get enough exercise, hired bikes to view the country and, with the local police being conspicuous by their absence, they thought the footpath much better riding than the road. But they reckoned without their host and when they have got back to the hotel a gentleman in uniform was in waiting with a summons against Simpson, and next morning the offender duly appeared before the local beak who, after setting forth the danger of such practices, dismissed the case amidst cheers from the band of Corinthians present in court!"


Simpson & Ward had their day in court.


Much like an incident 110 years later - involving Freddie Flintoff, a pedalo and the England cricket team in the Caribbean - it would seem sporting tours abroad have always been a light-hearted, somewhat hazardous, adventure.

Watch this space for Part 3 of their historic South African tour, as the side is entertained by President Kruger, explores diamond mines, and takes on the national team of South Africa - the country's first ever international fixture! 



Just shy of being two months into football's first ever intercontinental tour - the Corinthians were beginning to tire of their relentless schedule. As the miles began to clock up, the seemingly endless travelling, and hard pitches, both began to take their toll.

Having played a staggering 21 games over the previous 34 days with a squad of just 14 men - 120 years ago today, on the 21st August 1897 - a particularly weary Corinthian FC took to the field against Natal, where they played out a rare 2-2 draw. For goalkeeper Campbell, however, it would be his last match of the trip. He split a kneecap on the rough, uneven surface - very much an occupational hazard, given how new Africans (and their groundsmen) were to the game.

The Corinthians fatigue was also understandable when you take a look at the activities that had been laid on for them. As they continued their footballing pilgrimage to every corner of the country, it's hard to imagine how they managed to fit it all in!

In Johannesburg, for instance, the side were treated to a night at the theatre to watch "The Circus Girl" only to then be taken 200 metres down a quartz mine. In Transvaal, they were shown the Sterfontein Caves, especially illuminated for them. In Pietermaritzburg, they were taken to Majuba Hill, scene of the first Anglo-Boer war, to meet Tetelaka, a friendly chief of a local Kraal. They were then entertained at the garrison in Port Napier. In Griqualand, they were honoured with a war dance before then being taken to the Kamfers Dam - best known today for it's flocks of Flamingo. At Kimberly, the team were then taken to both the De Beers and Wesselton Diamond Mines, where they watched 2,000 tonnes of earth being blasted from an open pit as they examined the millions of pounds worth of jewels that had been excavated there -  the world's largest man-made crater. That they found any time for football at all - seems staggering!


The Corinthians travelling down a mine


Of all these incredible excursions, one which stuck long in the memory of all the players was the day in Pretoria, where they were entertained by President Kruger. A few months short of winning his third term in office, Kruger was enjoying his most popular term as President. He would go on to lead the fight for independence from the British in the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and this was a potentially sensitive time for the English players to be meeting such a controversial and divisive figure. 

In the 1906 "Annals of Corinthian FC", a player wrote of the meeting, "we found him exactly as his portraits represent him, smoking, of course, the inevitable pipe. His first regard was to ask us if we were Rhodes's men, and when Topham replied in the negative he seemed much pleased. After talking for some time on general topics he wished us all a good time and we departed." 


President Kruger


On the field, meanwhile, the team continued to entertain huge crowds and on the 14th August they played their first test match of the tour against South Africa - a game which would be the very first for the South African national team.

Said to have been an excellent match, where the Corinthian defence seemed just too impregnable for the South African forwards - Topham and Stanborough performed admirably while Taylor, Guy and Burnup scored the goals in a 3-0 win.


C.J. Burnup scored in the 3-0 and 4-1 victories over South Africa.


The sides played twice more before the Corinthians returned home, each ending with a victory for the tourists. Topham, Taylor, Gettins and Burnup ensured a 4-1 victory in Durban whilst Grieveson and Guy secured the win in Cape Town, the last match of the tour. Indeed, the final game was thought to have been the finest contest of the trip; fought with tremendous vigour and pace from start to finish, it was just the better combination of the Corinthians which won it. 


J.H. Gettins - scored 12 goals on the tour.


During their travels, Corinthian FC had played 23 matches, of which 21 were won and just 2 drawn. Scoring 113 goals while conceding only 15, it had been a suitably fine performance.

As a last act, the team climbed the stunning Table Mountain, to reflect on a historic tour before boarding the Hawarden Castle for a most enjoyable, and well-deserved, voyage home. The side had succeeded in their pioneering mission - they'd taken football beyond the borders of Europe for the first time. A great impetus had been given to Association Football on the continent and on their second visit, in 1903, they were overjoyed and excited to find South African football had taken root and thrived!

The players couldn't have been aware of exactly what it was they had been a part of, that summer of '97. Today, football is so universal that we take it for granted - the story of how it spread throughout the world and the heroes who made those extraordinary journeys to spread it. The 1897 tour to South Africa was the start of a 20th century revolution - where football became a unifying, common language of joy - it was the start of the modern sporting world that we know and love today.    


Full Results

17/7/97 Cape Town 4-0 

20/7/97 Military 4-0 

21/7/97 Western Province 5-0

24/7/97 King Williams Town 6-1 

28/7/97 Queenstown 8-1

31/7/97 East London 4-0

04/8/97 Johannesburg 3-1 

07/8/97 Transvaal 3-1 

09/8/97 Old Natalians 1-1

11/8/97 Pretoria 9-0 

14/8/97 South Africa 3-0

16/8/97 Pietermaritzburg 1-0 

18/8/97 Durban 3-0

19/8/97 South Africa 4-1

21/8/97 Natal 2-2

25/8/97 Orange Free State 6-2

28/8/97 Griqualand 10-1 

01/9/97 Cape Colony 6-0

04/9/97 King Williams Town 9-0

06/9/97 Grahamstown 8-0

08/9/97 Eastern Province 3-0 

11/9/97 Cape Colony 9-3

13/9/97 South Africa 2-1


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