Whisky, football and Victorians

February 28 2022

A press cutting from 1993 setting up the first match of the Henleaze Corinthians

A press cutting from 1993 setting up the first match of the Henleaze Corinthians

I BLAME  it on a bottle of budget whisky I bought in the Gateway supermarket on the way home from work on Gloucester Road.

Out of that purchase was created an entire football league, along with a generation of men of a certain age who thought they could be slightly older versions of Jacki Dziekanowski or Marco van Basten. And a lot of weekend jobs around the house were left undone as these residents of North Bristol pulled on football jerseys and laced up their boots.

After reading a book on Victorian football from Henleaze Library I had somehow created in my own mind that what football needed in 1993 were proper football teams.

No kissing when goals were scored, the art of dribbling restored and a glass of port or sherry at half time instead of an energy drink.

A letter to the Bristol Evening Post written ‘under the influence’ was penned that night challenging any modern football team in Bristol to play a true Victorian outfit called The Henleaze Corinthians - a team that existed entirely in my imagination.

The newspaper printed the appeal and the following day a team from Lockleaze called to say they would take up the challenge. 

I assumed they were essentially a group of shepherds and relief dairymen from somewhere in Gloucestershire by their name - not realising they were the complete opposite of that notion. Such was my knowledge of Lockleaze.

At this point I started to recruit players to join my imaginary football team. In scenes similar to the movie The Magnificent Seven a motley set of players were recruited. One in a shop, one outside Henleaze Junior School, another in The Mouse in Westbury--on-Trym.

Their names were to become the stuff of Henleaze legend: Keith Tilley, Chris Stark, John Monks, Roger Hastings, Nick Palmer, Carl Concannon, Willy the Scotsman, Charles Russell-Smith and Nick Deakin. 

At 6am one March morning on Durdham Downs goals were set up and the match kicked off - or rather the mismatch kicked off as the final score was 1-9 to the Golden Bottle. Carl managed to score our only goal, but a generous referee kept the scores down as several of the Golden Bottle’s efforts were ruled too low or ungentlemanly or even un-Victorian.

Despite bruises, aching legs and the realisation that none of us would play for England it was agreed we should meet up again and er... practise.

And so the team was born and after that dawn encounter the Corinthians went on to play several other teams of a like mind - although not as Victorians. 

It was repeated encounters with Red Star Bedminster FC based at Windmill Hill that it was decided we should form a league of - well not geriatric footballers - but ones who were as it was coined at the time: too old, too fat and too slow, to play proper football.

The Bristol Casual League was formed at a meeting in the Highbury Vaults and the first season kicked off with just five teams. Now the renamed league (the Bristol Corinthians League) has several divisions, its own website, a cup competition and bills itself as the UK’s biggest veterans’ football league. And they say drinking whisky achieves nothing.

For more on the league and many teams who now huff and puff their way around the football pitches of the city visit https://bristolcorinthiansleague.co.uk/


Harry Mottram