Banstead Mental Hospital FC

Delving into the past on a subject that has had very little
coverage on-line or in print really is a
shot in the dark but starting off from a few core reference points and then
plunging in and seeing where the journey takes you can be hugely satisfying. And this trip through the brief senior footballing life of Banstead Mental Hospital
FC ticks that box big style.

I’d been kicking around the idea of doing some research work
on a few of Sutton United’s long-lost local opponents and a few ideas had been
knocking around but when the erstwhile club historian Mark Frake sent me a scan
of a 1944 Boxing Day programme for a friendly between the U’s and Banstead
Hospital my interest was well and truly piqued and the starting gun was fired on
this piece of important sporting and social history.

Sutton v BMH. Boxing Day 1944

See, I never worked at Banstead Hospital but I did work just
down the road at the Royal Marsden in Belmont and it was there, on a picket
line in 1982, that I first met Kevin O’Brien – the legendary Father Kev of this
Parish – and we have remained good mates ever since. It was Kev who, over a
couple of pints and a few whiskies, told me tales of how Banstead Hospital pre
and post Second World War was a hot bed of sporting prowess, producing athletes
of international renown and boasting a top class amateur football team who
competed on equal terms with some of the big-hitters of the day.

I’d parked some of what Kev told me, I even did a bit of a
Google search which threw up very little, and it wasn’t till we met up with
Frakey in the club bar at the start of this season, and got to talking, that
the Sutton United connection kicked in and I realised that there was a story
here that deserved telling and placing on the record as an intriguing, and long-lost,
slice of our local history.

Let’s get cracking with a short history
of the hospital which stood up on Banstead Downs until its closure in 1986. Commissioned by the Middlesex Court of Magistrates as the Third Middlesex County Asylum, the
hospital opened with accommodation for 1,700 patients in 1877.  In 1889 it
came under the auspices of London County Council and became the
Banstead Mental Hospital in 1918. It was absorbed into the
newly-created National Health Service in
1948. After the hospital closed in 1986 it was largely demolished in 1989 and
the site is now occupied by HM Prison High Down

The main building at Banstead

In the era that we are interested in the hospital had a
staff recruitment policy that extended across Britain and Ireland and with
thousands of staff passing through the books social and sporting facilities to
occupy the downtime would have been an integral and hugely-important part of
the hospital life and culture. When I joined the NHS in 1981 some of that ethos
was still clinging on and as a callow youth I was lucky enough to play on the
football pitches at Horton Hospital in nearby Epsom and can vouch for their
excellence. Far too good for the likes of us as it goes. 
Banstead’s playing surface was so good it was used for
training purposes by the likes of Crystal Palace but before I jump ahead of
myself let’s rewind to how the staff melting pot at Banstead Hospital threw up
a works football side that soared to extraordinary amateur heights over a short
but glorious period of time.

The first references to the hospital football team surface
in contemporary newspapers around the early  1920’s when they were an intermediate level
outfit, one step below senior status, who were clearly gearing up to sweep  all before them as that decade rolled towards
the 1930’s. In 1922/23 Banstead MH were
competing in the Sutton and District League against the likes of Epsom Town, Benhilton
Athletic, Old Suttonians and the brilliantly and ominously named Epsom Brotherhood.
Records from that decade are sketchy to say the least but it gives us a
reference point for the subsequent progression of the football club. What I do
know from Frakey is that in the late twenties the hospital regularly played
Sutton United reserves in friendly matches including a stonking `10-2 victory
at GGL on the 29th December 1928.

Banstead Mental Hospital FC. 1932/33

A report from 1932 refers to East Surrey Hospital beating
Banstead in the final of the East Surrey Hospital Cup which was regarded as a
bit of a giant-killing with Banstead “…ranked as something more than a junior
team. They were, as a matter of fact, the champion intermediate side in the
county.” I have a picture, courtesy of Kev and rescued from a skip when the
hospital was being demolished, of the 1932/33 team with four trophies arrayed
in front of them including the prestigious Surrey Intermediate Cup. On route to
lifting the cup Banstead MH knocked out Sutton United Reserves at Gander Green
Lane on March 4th 1933 – one of only two records we have of a
competitive fixture between the U’s and the lads from the hospital.  A week earlier they had knocked Sutton out of
the county intermediate charity cup, which Banstead MH also went on to win,
suggesting that they had and retain a 100% record in competitive matches
against their illustrious neighbours. This was a club well and truly on the up
and heading for the big time in county football terms.

Another team pic, another array of silverware…

The big time was the elevation to senior status and the
Surrey Senior League in 1933/34 and I am indebted to Phil at the brilliant
@facupfactfile for sharing with me his records that show in their first season
at that level they won the league at the first attempt burning off the likes of
Met Police, Guildford, Dorking and the long-gone Beddington Corner (another
club I want to take a look at in the future) in the process. It was an extraordinary achievement  for the new boys but the senior status
brought with it other opportunities – admission to the early rounds of the once
mighty Surrey Senior Cup. 
Pre-war Surrey Senior Cup records are sketchy to say the
least but I do know that in early November 1933 Banstead MH beat Cranleigh 3-2
away after extra time setting the ball rolling on what was to become an epic
first season in the competition for the club that culminated in two epic games
against then amateur giants of the game – Dulwich Hamlet.

On February 17th 1934 Banstead MH faced Dulwich
in the second round proper of the SSC at Champion Hill. The game had been
switched from the hospital home ground as I believe a big crowd was expected
and the facilities at Banstead were limited to say the least – from what I have
been told just a pavilion shared with the cricket club with a small area of
cover in front and the rest just open to the elements with the pitch roped
off.  You need to bear in mind that in
those days the second round of the Surrey Senior Cup was the last eight – the
quarter finals – and other clubs remaining in the competition included
Wimbledon, Woking and Sutton United. This was Banstead MH punching well above
their weight just a few months after being granted senior status and so it was
off to south London for the big one.

BMH v Dulwich. SSC 2nd Rd 1934

And what a battle this would turn out to be. Hats off to the legend that is Dulwich Mishi
for digging through the microfiche and pulling out the contemporary reports
from the South London Press.  The paper
had already warned in advance that those expecting an easy Dulwich passage to
the semi-final should think again. And they were right. Dulwich had raced into
a three one lead fifteen minutes into the second half but battling Banstead
scored twice in five minutes to level it up at three apiece with the reporter
at the game making it clear that their revival “looked like bringing several
more.”

But just when Banstead MH were in the ascendancy and on the
point of pulling off the biggest win in the clubs history disaster struck with
twenty minutes of the game left as a proper old London pea-souper enveloped the
ground and the match was abandoned. The Dulwich relief was reflected in the
newspaper headline. DULWICH GIANTS MEET
THEIR “JACKS” – FOG BRINGS THEM A WELCOME RESPITE. Great Surrey Cup Fight of Little Banstead After Being Two Goals Down.
If you wondered where the phrase “Lucky Dulwich” comes from you should
check out these reports. Banstead MH had been well and truly mugged off by the
weather.

Lucky Dulwich!

The match was replayed – again at Champion Hill – on
Saturday March 3rd and it’s been a proper bonus being able to locate
pictures of the gorgeous fold out pink and blue programme for both fixtures.  With the fog holding off Dulwich went on to
win the second game by two goals to nil but by all reports Banstead MH gave
them another tough test and left the competition with their heads held high and
their status as a senior outfit thoroughly enhanced and the experience must
have given them real encouragement and a shot in the arm as they went on to
lift the Surrey Senior League title that season.

BMH v Dulwich. SSC 2nd Rd Replay. 1934

Banstead Mental Hospital FC were accepted for entry into
both the FA Cup and FA Amateur Cup in the 1934/35 season – another real
recognition of just how far they had progressed in a few short years. The
record was patchy but there’s enough evidence to suggest that Banstead MH were
the leading hospital-based football club in the land for a period of just over
ten years when works teams were a big noise. I would be very happy to be proved
wrong on this if you know different. Banstead MH entered both the Amateur Cup
and the full FA Cup every season between 1934 and 1936, with the break for the
war years and once again I have to thank Phil at @facupfactfile for sending me
the full records.

The FA cup record is nothing spectacular unfortunately, a
rumour that the club once reached the first round proper that I’d picked up
from a couple of the old fellas via Kev, turns out to be late night social club
bar talk.  In fact Banstead only won a
couple of games, beating Leyland Motors in their first ever match in the Extra
Preliminary Round in 1934 and a decent victory over New Malden works side
Venner Sports in the 37/38 season before crashing out 5-1 away to Hersham in
the next round. But they were there and the name of Banstead Mental Hospital FC
as FA Cup competitor is a matter of record and worth celebrating.

The performance in the FA Amateur cup is markedly better
with a total of 12 matches played, five wins, one draw and one defeat and
including a hell of a tasty little run in 1938/9 that started off with
victories against one of the early Carshalton sides and West Norwood before a
big home derby against Carshalton Athletic which they won 1-0 at the hospital
after extra time and I bet you that would have pulled in a handsome crowd and
possibly the record home attendance?  We
will never know as there is no record I could find, but fair play to Banstead MH knocking
that lot out when it really mattered. 

Sadly, the run came to an end with a
defeat away to Redhill by three nil in the third qualifying round.

It’s worth making a quick reference here to a couple of
significant athletes who worked at Banstead Hospital during this sporting
heyday in the 1930’s as it’s a measure of just how prolific the hospital was at
turning out serious sporting figures during this era. Frank Close competed in
the 5000 metres at the notorious 1936 Berlin Olympics and after finishing
second in his heat came 12th in the final. Frank died in 1970 and is
buried in All Saints Churchyard in Banstead where his gravestone celebrates his
incredible achievement. His contemporary, Stanley Scarsbrook, competed in the
1934 Empire Games at White City Stadium where he won the gold medal in the
steeplechase. What a golden generation of sportsman Banstead Hospital produced
pre-war and I wonder whether either Frank or Stan ever pulled on the jersey and
turned out for the football team? We don’t have much information on the playing
personnel but in an era well known for multi-discipline sportsmen, I would love to think that they gave it a go.

But back to the actual football itself, after winning the
Surrey Senior League at the first attempt in 1934/35 Banstead MH never managed
to scale those lofty heights again but in a division boasting the likes of
Guildford, Met Police and Dorking they held their own up until the outbreak of
war and managed a fourth place finish in 1937/38. Interestingly, one of their
peers in the league at this stage was Brookwood Mental Hospital from down
Woking way who joined the league in 1935/36 but found it hard to break out of
the lower reaches. 

As the global storm clouds gathered Banstead MH certainly
weren’t done with their exploits in the Surrey Senior Cup with their best run
coming in the 1935/36 season where after a string of victories against Dorking,
Reigate Priory, Ewell and Stoneleigh and Epsom they eventually lost in the
semi-final 4-1 away to Kingstonian – missing out on a final against Dulwich
Hamlet and a chance to even the score after the fog fiasco a couple of years
before. I would have been gutted by that if I had been about at the time.

K’s v BMH. SSC Semi Final 1936

With normal domestic football suspended in 1939 we have to
wait until Boxing Day 1944 for the next mention of Banstead Hospital FC who by
now, like the hospital themselves, had dropped the word mental from their name
as times moved on. And that’s the fixture that was the kick off point for this
whole journey through the clubs history – a festive friendly against Sutton
United at Gander Green Lane.  Sutton ran
out 8-3 victors and fielded a side that included the likes of free-scoring club legend
Charlie Vaughan up front. Bermondsey-born Charlie joined Charlton Athletic a
couple of years later before signing on at Portsmouth.  The programme is a belter – cheers Frakey –
and the Sutton club HQ was still the old Cock Hotel on the High Street and I
hope everyone shot off there after the game for a light ale and a Woodbine
exactly as the programme requested.

Sutton v BMH. Boxing Day 1944. Cover.

With the end of the war Banstead Hospital re-entered senior
football in the 1945/46 season – losing at home to Met Police in the FA Cup
preliminary round and going out of the FA Amateur Cup 6-2 away to Redhill after
a decent victory away to Epsom in the first qualifying round, Redhill were an
Athenian League outfit at that time and playing at a significantly higher level
than the hospital were.

And that, I’m sorry to say, is pretty much it in terms of
Banstead Hospital playing football at a senior 
level. After that one season post war the club were stripped of their
senior status due to that old chestnut of ground facilities. The problem I’m
told is that the football pitch, despite having an excellent playing surface,
was part of a wider sports field shared with the cricket ground.  That meant that it couldn’t be enclosed and
that appears to have been the deal breaker back in those days to meet the senior
requirements of the Surrey FA. As a result, after 1946 the football team slip
off the radar in terms of sports reports and official records although I am
told that the hospital definitely maintained a side playing at a more junior level.

In just 12 senior years, not even taking into account the
five year break for the Second World War, Banstead Mental Hospital rose to
incredible heights in a short time and traded blows on equal status with some
of the big names of Surrey and South London amateur football and I am chuffed
to have had the opportunity to get what we know of their story down on paper
and logged as a matter of public record.  Too much of this important sporting and
cultural heritage is too easily forgotten.

The Banstead story also opens a window into a time when
works football sides came from all sorts of workplaces and when the bond between
the sporting and social set up and the place of work was strong, nowhere was
that more relevant than in our hospitals, and specifically the big psychiatric
hospitals like Banstead.

This article is a personal tribute from me to all those who work in
mental health. Anyone who has any association with Banstead Hospital and its
successor organisations can be proud of what their football team achieved. This
is dedicated to you.

TOTTS


With huge thanks to Phil at FA Cup Factfile, Kevin O’Brien,
Dulwich Mishi and Mark Frake.  You all
helped me to kick the doors open on the Banstead MH FC story. Cheers!

8 thoughts on “Banstead Mental Hospital FC

  1. Interesting & great research. I was trying to dig up some info on Leavesden on the other side of London – who were in the Spartan League during the 30s but did compete in County Cups after WW2.

    1. keep us posted on that, i am told that leavesden possibly shaded Banstead as the biggest hospital based side in those days. would love to see some more on it Totts

  2. Remember going there as a kid watching my dad play for the Post Office many times in the midweek league. It was a well maintained flat pitch with railings around it. My dad always tells the story of a patient jumping out of a window impaling himself on the railings during the game and the match had to be stopped for it. Great article. I may have more information on which teams used it as there home ground too if you're interested?

    1. Feel free to pass on anything you have to us at gandermonium at gmail dot com Paul. We'll make sure Totts gets it. Cheers!

  3. Wonderful to read all about the football team. My fathed player for them up until 1963 when he broke his leg playing against Kingston Post Office. My dad also knew and i still know Kevin O'Brien as he gave the eulogy at dad's funeral. If you should see Kevin some time soon please ask him about my dad Eric Friend. I have been a Sutton follower since 1963 when i went to the Amateur Cup Final with dad and he continued to follow them up until his death in 1997. I still support them.

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