Interview by Dominic Bliss.
There aren’t many non-league clubs that can lay claim to two of the nation’s great sportsmen, but Micky Stewart and his son Alec go way back with the Corinthian-Casuals. Both men played cricket for England – Alec was captain, wicket-keeper and opening batsman, while Micky scored over 26,000 first-class runs in his long career, and later became England’s first full-time manager. However, they both loved football as much as cricket, and enjoyed some of their best times in the colours of Corinthian-Casuals. We sat down with them in the director’s box at King George’s Field recently and asked them why this club has such a special place in their hearts.
We’re interested to hear the whole gamut of your relationship with the club and what it is that’s so unique about the Corinthian-Casuals ethos and its identity. Micky, having been involved as you have been as a player, manager and now president, you must have an incredible insight into what makes this club so special.
Micky: Well it goes back 60 odd years. I only played one year for them, or for us I should say, which was 1955/56. It was a memorable year because the club got to the FA Amateur Cup final at Wembley, where 87,000 people turned up. I only played up to the semi-final, though, because I also had to go on a cricket tour to the West Indies.
You come from the days of the sporting all-rounder, where you could be a cricketer and a footballer simultaneously, but that story is remarkable because you tried like hell fire to get back for the replay of that final, didn’t you?
Micky: [Laughs] Yeah. Nearly a hundred years ago it seems! But yes – it’s all ridiculous. I left Trinidad at 7.30 on a Thursday morning and missed a 3 o’clock kick-off at Middlesbrough, where the replay was held. So that was just stupid – it was one incident after the other.
We were due to leave Trinidad, then go to Caracas, because in those days you had to wind the elastic, or refuel, or whatever it was. There was a delay coming off the plane, and when we did there were about a dozen gentlemen with Sten guns and the lot, pointing them up. I don’t know exactly what the form was, but that was the first delay.
Then, on the way over from the States, there was fog at Gander, where you had to refuel in those days, in Newfoundland. So that was another big delay and I’d given up the thought of playing. The plane was directed up to Edinburgh, to Scotland, and when I came off and looked down, there were all these photographers at the bottom of the stairs. I’d been on this plane all this time, and thought there must be film stars on it or something like that, but as it turned out it had made headlines in the paper as to whether I was going to get there in time or not.
There was the old equivalent biplane on the runway to fly me to the military airport nearest to Middlesbrough. As I got out, I was shoved in a police car and taken to the ground, but as I opened the door on arrival, the referee blew his whistle to start the game!
So what was your overriding feeling, disappointment or glad just to make kick-off?
Micky: I’d accepted that I wasn’t going to make it, but obviously you’re disappointed. The guy who had taken my place, Gerry Citron, smashed one in from outside the box halfway through the first half and we went one up, but Bishop Auckland won the match 4-1. They were much the better side.
Were most non-league divisions strictly amateur back then?
Micky: It was called senior amateur football, which was hypocritical because the majority of them got backhanders and brown envelopes, but never at a club such as Corinthian-Casuals, which was strictly amateur and has retained that right to the end.
What encouraged you to come back to coach?
Micky: They were struggling like crazy. I think they finished bottom three years running in the Isthmian League because, no sooner did they get a player than the money came in.
This was 1970?
Micky: You’ve done your homework, I can’t remember now! But I was consistent because I was manager four years, something like that, and we were bottom every year but one.
But they played beautiful flowing football no doubt.
Micky: No, no. We couldn’t score and couldn’t defend, but it was tremendous to see it!
Alec, let’s bring you in. Would this have been your first experience of watching football, coming down to watch your dad’s team?
Alec: Yeah when dad was manager we played both at Tooting & Mitcham, Sandy Lane, and also at the Oval, where me and my brother Neil would be ball boys behind the goals. We didn’t see too many wins I have to admit, but that’s how it was. Saturday afternoon, if I wasn’t playing myself then we’d be down there watching, supporting and getting the balls, throwing them back on and feeling a part of it.
When he was taking training down at East Molesey, Garden Royal Exchange I think it was called, we’d go down there and have a kickabout as well. Then it progressed, I played a little bit in the school side as a 15, 16 year old, got some games in the reserves and then played some first-team football before cricket really took off.
Well, you’re known as cricket men, but you’re both football men as well, so you’ve had to juggle two sports throughout your life…
Alec: I’ve always enjoyed football, that was my first passion. Dad obviously played pro football and pro cricket, I just played pro cricket and played some amateur football for the Casuals. Then, when I packed in playing cricket back in 2003, I played for probably seven, eight, nine years, on and off, in the schools side, under Brian Wakefield. He’s a long-standing official at the club and was actually the manager when I was 16, having played in the first team as well. He was manager of the schools team when I packed in playing, so I kept in contact with the club that way.
Micky, what kind of player were you?
Micky: I played midfield. The playmaker you might say.
Alec: Number 10.
Micky: Yeah, number 10 they call it today. A little bit deeper than number 10.
Did you find that when you moved to professional football that the level was different?
Micky: Well to start with, to go from senior amateur football to Charlton, who were in the first division, it’s always the pace of the game. In those days as an attacking player, if somebody played the ball up to your feet, defenders could go straight through you, and it wasn’t a foul because they got the ball. Now that’s been out for years. It was like going from – as Alec will tell you – school and club cricket into first-class cricket. It’s another game.
Alec, what sort of player were you in your Corinthian-Casuals heyday?
Alec: As a youngster, I played midfield. Well, when I was playing age-group football I played up front and midfield. And now I’m old, I play centre-back! I haven’t played for a year or so. They keep ringing me. I’m probably a bit old to play, but you never say never. I’ve still got a pair of boots. But I ended up playing centre-half, in the John Terry mould.
Alec: I’ll take that, yeah!
Just talking to you makes me realise how many sides they run at Corinthian-Casuals…
Alec: Now, they’ve got first team, reserve side, they’ve got a school side, academy, and then age group teams. I don’t know the actual numbers.
Micky: There are 23 age groups, including girls, in the youth section.
What the first-team are achieving at the moment seems incredible, when you consider that they are up against semi-pro teams.
Micky: It is just incredible. I mean the manager, James Bracken, has done an absolutely tremendous job. This is his third season, and you think about the money that is in non-league football now, but the players keep coming back. There’s a boy David Hodges who played over 300 games here before taking a job in India in early January. I mean they’ve been offered all kinds of things moneywise but because they enjoy it so much here, they stay. But you do have to win your right number of games. It’s not turning up, knowing they’re going to come second.
Alec: Some players will leave because they’ll get money, but then find they actually enjoy it more here. Some have gone away and then come back.
Yeah this is one of the things I’ve noticed. You have a huge turnover of players and yet at the same time you have these loyal players who have played hundreds of games.
Micky: James Bracken lost nine from last season’s squad, and there we are, second in the league, and the playing budgets at some of the other clubs are absolutely huge.
When did you first become aware of Corinthian-Casuals and the history?
Micky: I first played against the Casuals when I was playing for Wimbledon. I was still at school, and all I can remember of the Corinthian-Casuals was that they were all arms and elbows! When the last minute came I was limping off.
So much for the Corinthian spirit!
Micky: Well, no, they were just positive. Hard at it. I don’t know if you know the name Hubert Doggart who’s a great Casual, Cambridge University. He played for England cricket and his dad was also chairman of the FA, Graham Doggart. It was impossible for him to get near you without an elbow or a knee or something, purely because it was awkward. At least that’s what he said!
Did you have a different mindset for cricket and football?
Micky: No, not really. I just used to look forward to it. I enjoyed both games thoroughly. We talk about Alec’s tremendous career, and the thing I have enjoyed seeing most is that he looked forward to playing the next match as if he were working in the city and playing weekends. You’ve got to do that, you’ve got to really enjoy playing.
Alec, you’re almost the definition of chip off the old block actually when you look at the fact that you played for the same football club and you both played cricket for England. How much did you look up to your dad when you were a young boy?
Alec: Of course, I think most sons would look up to their dads, but as I say he’s had the biggest influence on my whole career, my whole life. He was playing cricket, and as a youngster I was going up there to watch. Then you think, ‘I wouldn’t mind some of that’, and I was lucky enough to follow in his footsteps. He’s been my manager and my coach and also my dad, but he’s always said, ‘If you’re going to do something, be the best you can be at it’. That’s been my motto in everything I’ve tried to do. So, yeah, he’s had the biggest influence.
Micky: We were very similar in ability. He played 133 matches for England and I played 8!
It was a different time presumably.
Micky: Oh the competition was much higher.
Alec: Or one was better than the other!
Finally, I’d like to ask you both what you believe is so special about this club.
Micky: Well it is a special club because people have been associated with it for years and years, and you can see them here today. David Harrison, the vice-chairman, he’d have played here in the 1950s or so, and still does a huge amount of work. Then people who just live locally, I mean this here was just part of the King George VI playing fields, and they put all this in. This is all from voluntary work – absolutely nobody gets paid. Nothing. That’s the huge appeal of the club.
Alec: I’d just echo that really. It is a unique club with its own culture. Look, there are plenty of clubs around the country and around the world that are full of volunteers, but this one – because it’s a true amateur club in a semi-professional business, that’s what makes it unique. And the fact that it’s competitive. They don’t just turn up, make the numbers up, get beaten, go home. They lost in the playoff final last year, they’re currently sat second this year, but they’re about winning, and trying to win in the right way. There’s still that Corinthian spirit, and in this day and age it’s very difficult to maintain that.
Micky and Alec Stewart were speaking to the Broadway to Brazil podcast. Subscribe via iTunes or find us on your preferred podcast app. Follow us on Twitter @broadway2brazil