Saturday, 18 October 2008

Banstead Athletic FC

Banstead, another place I have never been to. To be honest, when I first saw the draw for the Second Round Proper, I struggled to think where Banstead actually is. Born many miles north of here it still shocks me that there are parts of the South East, especially places in and around London and Surrey (which is my 'here', many miles south of where I was born) that are totally alien to me. I couldn't for the life of me think which region of the map Banstead occupies. In a cartographic equivalent of 'pin the tail on the donkey', I would have pinned the tail over near one of its fetlocks. I hope Banstead fans do not take offence; I have, after all, only been living down south for twenty three years.

What I now know is that Banstead Athletic FC play at Merland Rise in Tadworth, Surrey. Close to Epsom Downs Racecourse, the ground is a few miles south-west of the town of Banstead (commonly referred to as 'Banstead Village'). Merland Rise is Banstead Athletic's ground but in tenancy is Epsom & Ewell FC. The lodgers have an away League fixture on the same day as the FA Vase tie, so there will be no need to move the Cup fixture to another day.

Banstead Athletic is a relatively new club, forming unusually during the Second World War as a junior team, Banstead Juniors. In 1947, three years after they were founded, the club changed their name to Banstead Athletic and two years later they were granted senior status and joined the Surrey Senior League. In the mid 1960s they joined the Spartan League and in 1975-76 they were the founder members of the London Spartan League; they finished as runners-up two season's later.

In 1989-90 Banstead Athletic almost closed down after financial difficulties threatened their existence. Locked in a dispute with the local council over the lease of the ground the manager of the reserve team, Terry Molloy, rescued the club and he became the owner and Chairman, a position he still holds today.

The 'A's' have also played in the Athenian League and the Isthmian League, and as recently as 2005-06 they enjoyed life in Isthmian League Division One. However, at the end of that season they resigned from that League to join the Combined Counties League Premier Division where they still play today, alongside Chertsey Town.

Banstead's best FA Vase run was in the 1996-97 season when they reached the Semi-Final, before losing to eventual winners Whitby Town. They have also reached the Quarter-Finals (in 1992-92) losing to Bridlington Town who also went on to lift the trophy. This season, to get to this stage, they have seen off Eastbourne United (5-1 away), Newhaven (3-1 away) and Erith & Belvedere (2-1 home).

Banstead have twice reached the Third Qualifying Round of the FA Cup, in 1981-82 and again in 2000-01. Unfortunately in this season's FA Cup they fell at the first hurdle, going down 2-0 at home to Colliers Wood United.

This is not the first time Banstead and Arundel have met in the FA Vase. Back in 1986-87 Arundel lost 2-1 at Merland Rise in the Preliminary Round and in 2001-02, in a Second Qualifying Round tie, Banstead turned in an impressive performance to win 5-1 down in Sussex.

As for my first trip to Merland Rise, it will be another new ground to look forward to. Friends have already made comment on it; a common theme is emerging. It can be cold. It can be windy. With its location on the North Downs I understand it is quite exposed; one friend said to me that Banstead is the "coldest ground that I have ever been to". The game is still a few weeks away, on the 15th of November. The countdown to Christmas will have well and truly started by then and the weather could indeed be quite grim; maybe I should ask for a pair of thermals as an early present.

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