Modern greyhound racing was introduced to Britain in the 1920s, and since then more than twenty dog tracks have been dotted around London. Punters all over the city were happy because they got a cheap evening’s entertainment, cheaper than casino games. But, times do change.
The Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium was the last one standing venue in London, but now its fallen victim to the city’s housing crisis and the cultural shifts. According to Financial Times, London’s housing crisis cannot be solved with the new 600 flats that will be built where the stadium is, but it’s a big step towards a solution.
The time-worn racing ground that was built in 1928 was operated with a license from the UKGC. But, now it will be totally different home. Here besides the new flats, there will be an 11,000-seater for AFC Wimbledon, the third-tier football club.
Followers of greyhound racing lamented the closure at the ultimate and penultimate racing event. John Henwood in particular, a 68-year-old trackside bookmaker, who has been taking bets at the stadium for more than three decades, came to the last events to say goodbye to his second home dressed in his beige overcoat, flat cap and a yellow tie with greyhounds and a blue spotted silk scarf.
Once enjoyed as a cloth-cap sport by the working man, greyhound racing today is getting banned all across the world, from the USA to Australia. It will be a really sad loss according to Henwood, who has seen a significant part of the evolution of this sport.
Once, he noted, the greyhound racing clientele had a spectrum limited to the working class people only. But, today you can all types of people watching the races, from female attendees, hipsters, newcomers, and old-timers to families with babies or women in evening dresses escorted by man wearing shiny shoes and blazers.
Ever since Walthamstow and Catford closed in 2003 and 2008, the Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium was the last of its kind with a London address. When the last London venue is bulldozed, dog racing will continue to be the traditionally all-round cheaper alternative to horse racing at around 30 other grounds elsewhere in Britain.
The problem was not the decline in popularity, but the value of the land. In December, the wider Wimbledon area surpassed half a million pounds, so it’s considered a premium land. Part of the blame goes on online betting too. Now people don’t have to bother to come to the tracks. They can easily bet and watch races on their tablets and smartphones, races from all over the world. But, what they don’t realize is that there isn’t going to be greyhound racing if they don’t come to the tracks.
So, what can an institution such as the Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium, the 100 employees and hundred or so racing enthusiasts that come regularly do when it all boils down to business? Nothing. They will be losing a great chunk of history, and once it’s gone they’ll never get it back.