In 1904 Corinthians had defeated Manchester United 11-3 in Leyton and so to commemorate their record defeat, United agreed to face the Corinthians once more, in a pre-season friendly.
A crowd of nearly 2,000 was shocked to see Casuals snatch the lead in the 20th minute, with Gavin Cartwright chipping over now England International keeper Tom Heaton in the United goal following a shrewd pass from James Goodwin. But United stormed back with goals from Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (Wolves – Championship Golden Boot Winner 2008), Ramon Calliste (Welsh U21 International) and Colin Heath (Royal Antwerp, Swindon & Macclesfield Town). Though United’s First XI were touring the USA, this young side were led by Coach Brian McClair and as stated, was packed with future professional stars.
United graced the occasion by sending a young side bristling with under-21 internationals and members of their Youth Cup-winning team of 2002-3, including Ben Collett, the midfielder who scored in the away leg of that final against Middlesbrough. Collett was nominated man of the match by commentator and former Casual Martin Tyler – in attendance, together with Gavin Cartwright for Casuals.
Cartwright, who flew home from America the night before to take part, had given the hosts the lead after half an hour with an astute lob from James Goodwin’s long cross-field pass. So intense was the heat that a drinks break was taken in the first half. In the five minutes before half-time Ebanks-Blake and Calliste put United ahead. Colin Heath recently returned from loan at Royal Antwerp, hit a late third. Casuals were never outclassed, though, far from it.
“Apart from honouring a great club from the past, it was an ideal preparation for the new season,” said Brian McClair, the United coach. “We don’t usually get such competitive games, but this really tested us and we thoroughly enjoyed coming here for a memorable day.”
Ex-Casuals’ James Goodwin and Gavin Cartwright recall their personal accounts of the afternoon, which left Corinthian-Casuals 12-6 winners on aggregate!
“It was definitely a sleepless night before the Amateurs big day on July 31st 2004, I do remember it being like that before most football matches whoever we were playing. But, this was indeed very different, and would of definitely been any school boys dream, to actually play against Manchester United!
“Turning up to King George’s Arena to see ‘Corinthian-Casuals Football Club versus Manchester United’. It’s the time when you truly pinch yourself. And to think, we had already beaten our average game attendance two hours before the game even kicked off, why couldn’t we do this every week?
“There was a great buzz around the ground, camera’s setting up, the groundsman giving the last touch ups to the Wembley like playing surface, lots of cars, and people wanting to get in to get a good spot on the terraces to see the rising stars against the amateurs.
“The squad all packed into the changing room, buzzing about the game ahead and feeling positive about possibly getting a good result like many Corinthians before us. The words from Micky Stephens and Brian Adamson in the dressing room were ones of “have fun, get at them and enjoy yourself, the pressure is on them to get a result” we walked out at the beginning of the game proud to be part of Corinthians Casuals history and determined to make a good account of ourselves.
“The game started well for us, I played upfront with a youthful Jamie Byatt. One thing I remember was a mix up in the United defence within the first ten minutes when their left-back tried to play a cross field ball to the right-back, which only made it half way to myself on the edge of the box. My first touch was to chest the ball down and with the next to go round the last defender to hit a left foot drive which was heading for the roof of the net, which the keeper got a hand to, and off for a corner it went. To this day, I still think about that chance like it was yesterday and run it through my head over and over thinking if only I had put it in – to score against Manchester United… if only!
“There was more to come, I received the ball from our Right-back, Dave Roberts and turned up the line to see a big gap on the far side of the pitch that the methodical Gavin Cartwright was running into. With a diagonal played pass, Gavin took the first touch in his stride to bounce the ball forward to an advancing United keeper. He then proceeded to open his body up to cool and calmly side foot the ball over the keeper and into the back of the net. There was almost a brief silence across the ground as the ball had crossed the line, from the sheer amazement that we had gone one nil up, before the supporters erupted in applause and the players celebrations commenced. We knew it wasn’t going to be long before United would storm back into the game.
“Throughout the game we made a very good account of ourselves and played in the Corinthian Spirit. It’s has been over fifteen years now, but I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a truly brilliant day, and I am not just talking for myself here, of which the great memories from this day will be with us forever.”
“The excitement had been building for weeks for this extra special pre-season friendly…making the starting line-up was the first thing on people’s minds…not that that mattered massively as everyone was given a good run out.
“The heat was pretty intense, which was made worse in the first ten minutes by us generally chasing shadows as United passed the ball around the pitch. But after that we adapted to a pretty good shape and contained them pretty well. About 20 minutes gone I found some space, and if Goody could play the right long ball I’d be through on goal. I made the run and he duly obliged with the perfect pass. I managed to take a good first touch to play the ball into my path and as approaching the 18 yard box the ball was just beginning to stop bouncing, that enabled me to lift it over the on rushing keeper. We all celebrated but I think everyone was thinking it was a bit surreal at at that stage.
“Having had about 3 hours sleep the night before on a flight back I was pretty relieved when it was time for me to give way to one of the other guys… Everyone enjoyed the day massively, and for me it was a day that I’d never forget, I still bring the video of my goal out on a regular basis.”