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 o 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.
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.
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 towardsthe 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.
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.
The big time was the elevation to senior status and theSurrey 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.
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 withtwenty 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.
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.
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.
With normal domestic football suspended in 1939 we have to ait 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.
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.
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!