"Another madman has arrived to join the bando de loucos (crazy gang)" were the words of Ronaldo when signing for Corinthians back in December 2008, and his former Real Madrid and Brazil team-mate Roberto Carlos continued the theme on his own official unveiling on 4 January 2010. Yet far from insulting their new fans, the players’ comments only served to endear them to the O Timão faithful.
Indeed, given the roller-coaster ride that has been the club’s fortunes in recent years, the ‘crazy gang’ take perverse delight in the fact that no one of sound mind would follow their team. And with the Sao Paulo outfit set to celebrate its 100th year of existence, what price a trophy victory to cap the festivities and send the bando de loucos well and truly over the edge?
Birth of an institution
Sport Club Corinthians Paulista were founded on 1 September 1910 by a five-strong group of blue-collar workers from the Bom Retiro neighbourhood of Sao Paulo, with the name taken from England’s Corinthian Football Club, who had toured Brazil earlier that year. After making their mark in the local area, three years later the new club took part in the state championship for the first time, going on to claim their first Paulistão title in 1914 and a previously unprecedented treble between 1922 and 1924.
Corinthians’ on-the-field success soon outstripped the off-the-field infrastructure, a problem solved by the move to the Parque Sao Jorge further to the west of the city. Once there, O Timão racked up further state championship trebles between 1928 and 1930 and 1937 and 1939, though the 1940s were notable only for a lack of silverware.
Having put up with the taunts of rival fans for over a decade, in 1950 Corinthians’ followers finally had another trophy to celebrate, with a legendary side featuring Baltazar, Carbone, Luisinho and Claudio Christovam de Pinho clinching the Rio-Sao Paulo Championship for the first time. A second Rio-Sao Paulo trophy followed in 1954, the 400th anniversary of the city of Sao Paulo, with the club also pipping rivals Palmeiras to that year’s Paulistão title.
The making of a legend
Yet that double triumph ushered in a trophy drought which would last over 23 years, not including the 1966 edition of the Rio-Sao Paulo Championship which was shared between the competition’s four semi-finalists. Not even that season’s signing of Garrincha was able to reverse the slump, with the iconic winger some way past his physical peak. Meanwhile, the Pele-inspired dominance of rivals Santos only served to rub salt in Corinthians’ wounds, with O Rei enjoying 11 years of Corinthians-Santos clássicos without tasting defeat.
Though O Timão finally broke that curse in 1968, silverware continued to elude them. Fast forward to 1974 and, despite boasting three members of Brazil’s 1970 FIFA World Cup™-winning squad in midfielder Rivellino, keeper Ado and wide-man Ze Maria, defeat in the final of the state championship against Palmeiras triggered bitter recriminations from the fans. Not even club idol Rivellino was spared, leading to his switch to Fluminense, Corinthians’ opponents in the semi-finals of the 1976 Brasileirão – one of the most memorable games in the history of the club.
That match saw huge numbers of fans make the trip from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro’s Estadio Maracana, with unofficial figures stating as many as 70,000 Corintianos found their way into the mythical arena. Buoyed by such impressive support, the team won through to the final on penalty kicks only to go down in the title decider against Internacional of Porto Alegre.
Corinthians refused to buckle after yet another disappointment, however, and finally ended their barren spell with victory over Ponte Preta in the 1977 Paulistão championship – the winner coming via ‘Pé de Anjo’ Basilio after a scramble in the box.
Never again would Corinthians go so long without lifting a trophy, though the determination and loyalty which characterised them during those dark days would become their hallmark. What is more, over the last 30 years the club has boasted stars of the calibre of Neto, Marcelinho Carioca, Carlos Tevez, Socrates, Casagrande and Zenon – the latter trio part of the historic “Corinthian Democracy” movement which coincided with political upheaval across Brazil.
The dawn of the new millennium brought with it the biggest triumph in the club’s history, with Corinthians prevailing in the inaugural edition of the FIFA Club World Cup in Brazil in 2000. In a tournament featuring the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and a Vasco da Gama side with a fearsome Romario-Edmundo front pairing, O Timão held their nerve on penalties to clinch the world crown against Vasco at the Maracana.
Further glory followed with a Tevez-inspired victory in the 2005 Brasileirão championship though, following a period of financial and administrative uncertainty, the club had to endure the ignominy of relegation in 2007. They bounced back in style by winning Serie B by some distance in 2008, ensuring their place in the top flight for 2009.
With former PSV Eindhoven, Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid and AC Milan front-runner Ronaldo now leading the attack, success followed in the 2009 editions of the Paulistão and the Brazilian Cup, though successive injuries continue to threaten to curtail his career.
Now joined by close friend Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo will be hoping to stave off retirement for long enough to contribute to Corinthians’ Copa Libertadores campaign. A first victory in the continental competition, and in the club’s centenary year no less, has become nothing short of an obsession for everyone involved with O Timão.
The fans retain a great deal of affection for the Estadio Alfredo Schurig, fondly known as the Fazendinha, though Corinthians’ first team now use the club’s former home only for training purposes. Most games are now held at the 40,199-capacity Estadio Municipal Paulo Machado de Carvalho, known as O Pacaembu, while the current board of executives claim a new, more modern stadium is in the offing, able to cater for a projected 52,000 members of Corinthians' famed bando de loucos.