When racing ruled Wembley

Lost Tracks RSS / / 03 December 2007 / 1 Comments

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Darrell Williams recalls 71 years of greyhound racing at the national stadium

It's hard to believe it's almost nine years since greyhounds ceased to race at Wembley - the final meeting being staged on Friday 18th December 1998.

Sadly it wasn't a meeting I personally attended. I don't know why as unlike many tracks that close without warning, Wembley's closing date had been flagged up sometime in advance. But it was certainly the end of an era, one that had began more than 70 years earlier on 10th December 1927.

While Wembley will forever be associated with football, the irony is that it was the then fledgling sport of greyhound racing that had kept the stadium afloat in its early days. With the Empire Stadium only used once a year for the FA Cup final, it was only through the intervention of the much heralded Arthur Elvin whose idea it was to stage greyhound racing that prevented the stadium's possible demolition! Sadly despite that, greyhounds were never in the plans for the new Wembley.

Punters used to love Wembley as a dog track - it was a good galloping circuit making it an excellent test for a greyhound. But over the years - like every other track - attendances declined steeply - it's estimated that over 50,000 attended the very first meeting, but when I first visited one wintry Monday evening in the early 90s the sparse crowd almost looked out of place given the enormity of the venue. I still recall how strange it felt to be allowed to wander amongst the empty rows of seats while down below a small contingent of racegoers gathered among the bookmakers to watch the racing.

Of course, on big nights, the crowds did their best to create some kind of an atmosphere, Wembley being home to the St Leger, Select Stakes and Produce amongst other gems. I even commentated on a few of the big nights - calling the races from the Stewards Box, which was the same suite BBC Radio used as its commentary box on match days providing a stunning view of the action. Admittedly the dogs seemed an awful long way away, but it really was the ultimate commentary position.

I also remember doing my first stint for Sky Sports greyhounds at Wembley for a Supertrack final at about the same time, working with the SP returner to collate the betting shows and price changes.

Wembley dogs often had to make way for other events, be they football matches or pop concerts, especially in the summer, making it very frustrating for regulars to know when racing was taking place, but so the story goes, back in 1966, the dogs refused to budge (not literally!), causing Uruguay and France to switch a World Cup match to White City!

Wembley also staged the battle of the giants in 1985 when bookmaker John Power's Showdown brought together Ballyregan Bob and Scurlogue Champ for the ultimate match. Sadly Scurlogue Champ broke down after two bends, leaving Ballyregan Bob to beat the rest by 12 lengths - the only time the two legends ever met.

On the track's opening night in 1927 one of the races was declared void after a dog caught the hare, so how ironic it was on the track's final night more than 71 years later the very last race ever to be staged at Wembley was not the intended 'Wembley Greyhounds Farewell Stakes' but a forced re-run of that night's first race which had originally been declared void after a pre racing downpour affected the hare. The crowd were then unceremoniously encouraged to leave with some immediacy as Wembley made sure racegoers didn't try to make off with any kind of memorabilia. A sad ending to a track steeped in history.

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Comments (1)

  1. caroline pickering | 21 March 2011

    Walking the dogs round the track and looking up at the stands the people seemed so far away and vice versa when up in the stands the leaders round and the greyhounds looked so little. It was a big track round the football ground. the crowd was only on one side of the ground

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