The 'Stow: One Last Flutter?
Just as many were lamenting the demise of the famous Walthamstow dog track there are rumours that a dog loving consortium has come up with the money needed to possibly save the East End institution from the wrecking ball.
Instead of knocking Walthamstow down, the anonymous consortium apparently have plans to restore the track to its former glory with a full modernisation and refurbishment.
Highlighting statstics such as the fact greyhound racing is the second biggest spectator sport in the country they believe a revamped Walthamstow could turn a tidy profit.
But whether this latest development is enough to save Walthamstow from being not so humanely put down remains to be seen.
Generations have spent Saturday nights having a flutter on the dogs at Walthamstow Greyhound Stadium, but London's iconic sporting venue is set to close its doors forever next month. The closure will affect betting fans but furthermore an entire industry: both the people that rely on it for a livelihood, if not a whole way of life, and the future welfare of the dogs themselves.
One of Britain's sporting institutions is to close its doors forever next month, spelling the end of an era.
Directors have announced that Walthamstow Stadium, considered by trainers and punters alike as the pre-eminent greyhound racing venue in London, if not the country, will be staging its final race on 16 August.
With its famous neon frontage it has been one of the capital's most recognised landmarks for many years, providing a popular venue for racing aficionados, locals, lads on stag nights, tourists eager for an experience of traditional English culture and filmmakers looking for that snapshot of gritty London life, as shown in Guy Ritchie's gangster caper film, 'Snatch'.
In days gone by it has been visited by many famous names, from Lana Turner to Winston Churchill to Brad Pitt, and the trackside photo board shows a host of other celebrity punters.
Before its own closure a few years ago, the neighbouring nightclub 'Charlie Chan's' was another draw to the stadium, offering punters and aspiring WAGs a nightspot to move on to after the evening's racing had finished.
Opened in 1933 by bookmaker William Chandler and family-owned and run by the Chandler family since then, Walthamstow Stadium is the largest greyhound racetrack in the country with a 5,000 capacity and was once the greatest financial earner.
It is perhaps the most significant loss in a series of setbacks to the traditional British sport. There were once 33 greyhound tracks in the London area but, following the closure of Catford racetrack in 2003 and the imminent end to Walthamstow Stadium, there will soon be only Romford, Wimbledon and Crayford left in the London area. Harlow racetrack in nearby Essex is set to receive the runoff of trainers and their dogs.
The reasons behind its closure are manifold: a downturn in profits combined with competition from the growing popularity of other stadia around the country and indeed from other sports such as football, have forced the racetrack's shareholders to reconsider its future. Furthermore, the abolition of General Betting Duty in 2001 has allowed high street bookmakers to open later and offer tax-free bets, depriving dog tracks of their once unique benefit of offering tax-free betting on-course.
As a result, Walthamstow chairman Charles Chandler has deemed that "the company's operations have become unsustainable". A recent £30m purchase offer from a development consortium led by Yoo Capital and K W Linfoot, who probably have more than half an eye on the 2012 Olympics, sealed the stadium's fate.
The loss of Walthamstow racetrack is an ominous foreboding for the much-loved sport, seen as a unique icon of English culture, with fears expressed by some that it signals another nail in the coffin for the heritage of traditional cultural pursuits in this country. Just as the ban on foxhunting has had repercussions for all those involved in the industry, the decline of dog racing will affect all those who rely on it for their own livelihood and general way of life.
One of the main concerns is the welfare of the greyhounds themselves and the various trainers and kennel owners that look after them. Since most dogs do not travel to compete anywhere else (excluding the very fast open racers that are put into competition around the country), when the track closes their racing career is effectively at an end.
Some hounds will be retired and re-homed by the Retired Greyhound Trust (RGT) and its affiliated re-homing organisations, in particular the Walthamstow and Owners Welfare Association (WOWA). Most will stay with their trainers and move to Harlow, age permitting, or else other trainers will take them on in the unlikely scenario that their current trainers pass them on because they are still Walthamstow's best racing dogs.
The older dogs will have their retirement brought forward and go to the re-homing centre to be found new owners who will adopt them. Contrary to what many believe, greyhounds can still make good pets with the right care and attention; they need comparatively little exercise, usually just a couple of 20 minute walks each day, thus giving them the '40 mph couch potatoes' tag.
These dogs have enjoyed the very best quality of care and upbringing that Walthamstow's 11 contracted trainers, considered among the best in the entire country, offer to them and their respective owners. The majority of these trainers will move their businesses to other racetracks, Harlow in particular, which will have to work hard to replicate the high standards of greyhound training and racing for which Walthamstow has become well-renowned and well-respected.
A selection of images appeared in The Observer Sport Monthly [No. 102] and on The Observer’s online gallery. A small exhibition of images is currently on show in the stadium’s Paddock Bar, a bigger show is planned for later in the year that will draw on archive images and the work of Gillian Evans, the stadium’s in house photographer of 23 years.
Request a guest pass to light box of other Walthamstow images and print sales.
Words by Nick Cunard & Ned Wiggins/Rex Features
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