Once a major slice of working class life
Guest post by John Webb
Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium was open for 89 years until it closed in March this year. Once considered the jewel in the dog-racing crown, the closure of the UK’s most famous dog racing stadium is in some ways a reflection of the sport’s declining fortunes – but is a sign of worse to come? Let’s take a closer look…
Greyhound racing has a long history in Great Britain, with the first race taking place in 1776. The country’s first oval dog track – Belle Vue Stadium – opened in Manchester in 1920.
By 1946, 34 million people in the UK were visiting the dog track each year. Given that the population at the time was just over 49 million, this shows just how popular greyhound racing once was. It was the second most popular sport (after football), making it very much a part of working-class life.
Fast forward to 2017 and just 2 million people ‘go to the dogs’ each year. The number of greyhounds bred for racing has declined as breeders have lost prize money, making the practice financially unviable for some.
Walthamstow Stadium shut in 2008 and Wimbledon Stadium finally closed its doors this year. Yet the sport still has its devotees. During visits to Wimbledon in the last few months before it closed, there were queues stretching right back into its car park. This is despite the fact that this parking area was unlit and potholed from neglect.
The Sun described the closure of the once great stadium as a “working-class cull” – and there is some truth to this. Amidst rising rents and land values in the capital, this working class sport has in part succumbed to gentrification. To illustrate this point, there were once 33 greyhound-racing stadiums in London – now there are none.
Why greyhound won’t die
Greyhound racing is still the sixth most-watched sport in the UK, despite its complete disappearance from London. With strong backing – and in many cases ownership – from the big bookmakers, the country’s remaining stadiums are relatively stable. This is great for the remaining breeders as bookmakers increase prize money and live stream the action into their shops.
And while attendances at the track are at the lowest in the sport’s history, it is currently experiencing a renaissance online, with the likes of Betfair running fixed-odds sportsbooks. In a strange twist of fate, more money is bet annually on greyhound racing than ever before. In fact, the UK now bets a staggering £2.5 billion on the 70,000 races that take place every year. Punters can also take advantage of keen-eyed racing tips from the likes of My Racing.
Some have referred to the death of dog racing in London as a working-class cull, with the closure of Wimbledon Stadium the final nail in the coffin. But while visits to the dog track are not the past time they once were, the fact is the sport now brings in more money than it ever has done. While greyhound racing may face challenges, it is far from a dying breed.