Bankrupt on the first night - the desperate story of the 'new' Hackney Wick

Lost Tracks RSS / / 31 October 2007 / 1 Comments

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Darrell Williams looks back at a fresh start for the east London track in his second article on a redevelopment that went very, very wrong

The first I knew of the impending changes at Hackney was on hearing that the Saturday morning BAGS meeting was being transferred to Romford. How could this be? Hackney was the BAGS 'head honcho'. But as it soon transpired an ambitious plan to redevelop the 'Wick' and turn it into a multi million pound state-of-the-art stadium meant a period of closure and with it the loss of the betting shop product.

At the time, all the talk was about this incredible new arena that would take Hackney (and greyhound racing) all singing and dancing towards the new millennium. BAGS racing would, of course, return to the new track at a later date.

I remember trying to take the news in. I had been working in the Ladbrokes studio in Harrow the day the story broke, and naturally we were all abuzz with what it meant. Here was a rundown greyhound track in - let's be honest - a very rundown area that was about to be transformed into one of the most modern sporting venues in the country. All the questions began to be asked. Was Hackney the right track for such a redevelopment? Its location certainly suggested otherwise. It was a pain to get to in the daytime with almost no transport links, but now they wanted to open it six nights a week, something no other track did. Remember Hackney had, for many years, been a daytime only track. Who would go? The promoters naturally talked about the new generation of racegoers enjoying the posh grub and the future further development of the area. However in 1995 Hackney dog track was in the middle of nowhere and in an area that was hardly inviting.

But forget all that, the redevelopment was on, and as dog fans we had to feel excited about the prospect and in October 1995 it finally happened, this incredible new arena that was going to kick-start our ailing sport. But even as the doors opened to the invited dignitaries that first night, Hackney's future was already being sealed. The track had gone into receivership on its opening night.

My first visit was a few weeks later, and for me it felt like going to New York, insofar as you spent most of the time looking up in the air, amazed at the enormity of everything. Maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but for those who never went to Hackney, try and picture the scene.

Everything was just huge, the ceilings were way up there somewhere and the glass fronted grandstand just seemed to go on indefinitely. There was almost too much room to manoeuvre.

All that was missing were the thousands of people needed to make it look busy. The crowds probably weren't any worse than anywhere else, it's just that given the size of the place it looked empty, and of course, therefore generated zero atmosphere. You'd look for the old faces and there'd be in little huddles here and there, but they all looked so out of place in such a grand place they might as well have been taking tea in the Ritz!

I remember visiting with my daughter who was less than two at the time and wanting to take her outside to look at the dogs, but that was a complete non-starter. We were confined to the inside. You could see the dogs, but you couldn't hear them! Even the bookmakers stood inside and I still have an image about the long walk to get a bet on. The new Hackney - the future, but not for long. Within 15 months the dream would be over as I'll discuss next time...

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Comments (1)

  1. kelvin richardson | 18 July 2011

    Darryl, as a student I used to get tube, train and then bus from Amersham to the old Wick, occasionally taking in one of the double-headers it hosted on bank holidays. As a trader in the City I ate in restaurant at the new Hackney and was upset by its closure - it was indeed ahead of its time before the yuppies it targeted moved into the nearby area.

    Your articles on defunct tracks saddened me - I can count 13 in total that i visited and fear that there will be more with those jokers at the G.R.A. holding zero interest in the sport.

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