Greyhounds

Remembering White City - 'the governor' of lost tracks

Lost Tracks RSS / / 06 December 2007 / 9 Comments

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Darrell Williams looks back at the former home of the sport, west London's White City...

As the song goes, 'regrets I have a few', and in terms of greyhound racing one has to be never getting to visit White City before it closed in 1984. White City was 'the governor' in greyhound racing. Host venue for the Derby, the Oaks and the Grand National, it was the without doubt the number one venue in the sport.

White City Stadium itself was built for the London Olympics of 1908, and with a capacity of 150,000 was the biggest stadium in the world at the time. Greyhound racing first made an appearance on 20th June 1927 after the GRA took over the running of the track, building a restaurant in the process and over 10,000 people turned up to see a dog called Charlie Cranston win the very first race. Within weeks the track staged the first Greyhound Derby, with the £1000 prize won by long odds-on favourite Entry Badge, providing a local success for trainer Joe Harmon. Two years later and the most famous greyhound of them all, Mick The Miller, made his mark by winning the 1929 Derby, before going on to also secure the 1930 renewal. He also crossed the line first in the 1931 Derby, only for the race to be re-run after a rival was disqualified for fighting in the original race.

With club house accommodation for a thousand people, and a massive 500 yard track circumference producing wide sweeping turns and therefore fast times, White City was an immediate hit with the public, with even the Prince of Wales and Prince George, later King George VI amongst the early attendees. In its peak years soon after the Second World War, attendances reached as high as 30,000 per meeting with the 1946 Derby final watched by more than 58,000 spectators.

One of the great names of racing officialdom, Major Percy Brown, was installed as Racing Manager soon after the track opened and stayed for nearly 50 years until 1976, while probably the greatest trainer to grace the circuit was Leslie Reynolds in the 1930s before later moving to Wembley, from where he would send out a record five Derby winners.

The track also provided a royal Derby success in 1968 when the Duke of Edinburgh-owned Camira Flash won the Classic under the tutorship of trainer Randy Singleton providing the first locally trained winner of the Classic for more than thirty years.

White City was always at the forefront of developments and in 1945 became the first track to install a photo finish camera, while the stadium was also used for numerous films including the 1950 movie The Blue Lamp as well as the film Steptoe and Son Ride Again in 1973.

The Derby has always been the sport's main draw and in 1973 Patricia's Hope became only the second greyhound to win the race twice, the same year that dog food manufacturers Spillers first put their name to the event resulting in a substantial increase in prize money, which when Indian Joe won the Jubilee Derby in 1980 was worth £35,000 to the winner.

In 1983 the Derby sponsorship was taken over by the Daily Mirror, but sadly their backing of the race at White City would last only two seasons with Whisper Wishes entering the record books in 1984 as the last Derby winner at the 'Mecca' of greyhound racing.

The end was near and on 22nd September 1984 the Tommy Foster handled Hastings Girl became the very last winner at White City. Within day's demolition teams had arrived and greyhound racing's most historic stadium was no more.

Today the site of the former White City Stadium is now home to the BBC.

Click here to view a selection of posters from the London Underground archive featuring dog tracks

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Comments (9)

  1. Caroline Pickering | 23 March 2009

    Attending the track on race nights and leading the dogs round, was one of the greatest feelings and if they won even greater. Listening to the Derby roar was the highlight of the year, those days are now long gone and all I have are the memories, from child to adult I lived for the greys.

  2. ed sweeney | 30 April 2009

    is caroline the daughter of joe pickering .
    my wife linda also paraded greyhounds at white city from 1970 until the sad last meeting on 22 september 1984 . like many who loved this wonderful sport in this famous stadium we all lost somethink that just could not be replaced .
    it is a shock that 25 years have passed in september since the the wonderful green track under floodlights gave us so much grace and speed with the greyhound derby on that last saturday in june .

    also its 80 years since mick the miller won his first derby in 1929
    i myself displayed the R I P on the board in the WHITE CITY STADIUM ON 24 SEPTEMBER 1984

    ED

  3. Caroline Pickering | 13 May 2009

    Yes Caroline is the daughter of Joe.

  4. helen scott | 02 October 2010

    never saw white city myself but my grandad was sent down age 14 with 2 greyhounds and told not to come back untill he had a win he went down in 1928 and came back after the war [ HE did have a win ]

  5. Douglas Boddy | 13 February 2011

    Does anyone collect trophies won at the White City Stadium? as my father who recently passed away had some. His best greyhound being called 'Linacre'

  6. caroline pickering | 21 March 2011

    Douglas

    Why dont you keep them, they are memories of the past, like you I have trophies from tracks long gone and they remind me of my father and what they meant to him and my own memories attached to them.

  7. Anonymous | 26 May 2011

    Does any one know of a Frank Lawless that worked at the track around the year 1975. Would of been in his twenties i think.

  8. Paddys Boy | 03 August 2011

    I still feel as heartbroken today as I did on the day White City closed. Over the years I must have attended thousands of meetings, hardly missing a single one for the ten years before it closed. My late dad lived for the dogs. Over the years he had runners at nearly every London track, he owned dogs in England and Ireland right up until the day he died aged 80 in 1999.

    I've only been racing twice since, I lost the heart for it, kept looking around for my dad.

    I have a photograph of myself with one of my dads dogs (Coolefin Herald) on the track at the City, after he had won the White City Championship, it must have been in 1953, I was born in 1950. I still have the Trophy.

    Seeing Carolines name reminded me that her dad once trained a dog for us called "Spoop". He was a 1966 Crazy Session dog won three or four races at Park Royal(trained by Bill Hennessy).We moved him to Joe who managed to win a race with him, but in truth he was not good enough for White City, and Joe very gently told me that he would get more chances at a tighter track, I seem to remember that Frank Melville might have been Joes head man at the time.

    We moved the dog to Lionel Maxen at Hendon and on his first run over 625 yards (?) Lionel told us to have a few bob on, we did (my dad was a serious gambler) and he won by six lengths at 25/1 ... extraordinary.

    I've waffled on a bit, I'm sorry for that, the memories just came rushing back, happy days sadly remembered.

  9. phil | 26 March 2012

    Lets not forget speedway massive crowds at White City in the 70s and 80s,

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