When London Went To The Dogs



It looks like London’s last greyhound stadium will be going soon.

Dog racing, which proved hugely popular from the late 1920s to the 1940s, is in terminal decline, especial after a scandal in 2006 revealing that old greyhounds were being put down after becoming too old to race. Tracks in Catford, Wembley, West Ham, Clapton and Hackney disappeared, and when Walthamstow shut in 2008, Wimbledon was the only place left for race-goers. Now that will be shut to make way for a football stadium, new homes and the dreaded ‘retail’. There were once 33 greyhound stadiums in London alone. In their heyday, before the legalisation of betting shops in the 1960s, stadiums attracted large crowds, and even celebrities.

But maybe it’s time for them to go. Between 2000 and 2012 the number of tickets sold in Britain annually dropped by 58%. It was always seen as London’s most working class sport, and always featured in movies like ‘Steptoe and Son Ride Again’, ’50/50′, ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’, ‘Calendar Girls’ and ‘Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter’ with Herman’s Hermits. (If you watch the trailer below you have only yourself to blame).

When my mother was trying to make a name for herself in the legal field, she ended up taking temporary employment. Jobs were scarce, however, and the only available part-time work was inappropriate for a sensitive, well-spoken young woman. She became a cashier at Catford Greyhound Stadium, where she was nightly sworn at and spat upon by punters who failed to complete their jackpot combinations before the race bell, which made the tote operator responsible for the money rung up before the ‘off of the leg’. Often she came home with an empty purse, her docked pay amounting to more than her wages, and had nothing to show for her evening other than another extravagant selection of bellowed abuse.

Perhaps it would have been nice to have one remaining stadium – except that racegoing would then become an ironic in-quotes kind of night out – an ersatz event. The end of an era, perhaps, but the sport was prone to illegal activities and proved a gathering spot for criminals. It’s a scruffily romantic notion more than a sport, in the bracket of circuses and funfairs – and as space becomes ever more valuable in London, perhaps it’s one that the city can ill afford.

Read Alexander Baron’s powerful novel about a greyhound gambler, ‘The Low Life’, to get a real taste of this very urban sport.


12 comments on “When London Went To The Dogs”

  1. Diogenes says:

    New South Wales has totally banned greyhound racing due to systemic cruelty to the dogs, live bait racing, dog massacres and other atrocities.

  2. admin says:

    ‘Live bait racing’? *faints*

  3. Adam says:

    There is still a greyhound track in Poole, and it is as grim as you imagine it would be. Time to be consigned to history, I think.

  4. Vivienne says:

    When I was at school, at the bottom of the playing field was a greyhound rehabilitation centre. We were not supposed to communicate through the fence, but did and it was clear that back then (1960s here) greyhounds were looked after. Regret never having been to a race in the heyday, but will pluck up my courage to watch the trailer.

  5. Diogenes says:


    You probably don’t want to hear it but they used live piglets, possums and rabbits as lure for the dogs to chase during training and then give the live animal to the dog if it does well. Evidently the practice used to be widespread.

  6. admin says:

    Who knew a piglet could run that fast? Things you never learned in ‘Winnie the Pooh’ – cuh.

  7. Duncan says:

    Wimbledon Stadium has noticeably declined in the last decade. It had never been the most salubrious area, but it has got worse in the last few years. There are panels hanging off of the side of the stadium; the entrance is now at the back through a small doorway rather than the main entrance doors; the car park is full of weeds and crumbling tarmac. I suppose the disappearance of Speedway and Stock Car racing hasn’t helped.
    Even in the early 2000’s – hardly racing’s prime (as admin notes) – it felt lively and seemed to have a real range of people attending at weekends. When I went last year after years away it was just a bit grim, with few people there.

    It seems a shame that a stadium 3 generations of families have attended, almost as a rite of passage, is going, and that it is the last of it’s kind in London. Inevitably it makes way for yet more cheaply built and overpriced homes, but there seems little doubt that the stadium, and racing, is on it’s last legs. And after all that has happened since Plough Lane went, I’m not sure one can begrudge the return of a football team to it’s home borough.

  8. Jan says:

    One of the great loves of my life used to take me to Wembley dogs on Friday night.

    Oh and he used to buy me seafood from the blokes who used to appear in pubs,at the,weekend with seafood in little polystyrene pots they used to carry all their gear round in Baskets with big bottles of vinegar and pots of salt and pepper.

    We used to partake of a curry in Wembley Park, chips in Neasden and the occasional chinese in NW9

    There’s nothing else to say really is there.

  9. Jan says:

    I know this is a dumb question but how did live bait racing work? You could ‘t predict the direction the bait would take off in. They didn’t tie the poor creature to some contraption that in a,less barbaric set up would carry a puppet hare or rabbit?

  10. Adam says:

    Re: Herman’s Hermits – that’s the least groovy, groovy band that I’ve seen on film.

  11. Helen Martin says:

    Those live baiting people should be checked to make sure they’re not also running cock fights out back. Sheesh! The things people will do.

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