Gone to the Dogs: Why are There So Few Greyhound Racing Tracks Left?
Considering that greyhound racing was once of the most-watched sports in the UK, it’s a sorry state of affairs that the game now finds itself in.
Just 19 greyhound venues remain in the UK, from around 200 at the sport’s peak, and so the art of placing a bet at trackside is now – almost – a thing of the past.
For many, a trip to the dogs was a rite of passage. They would head to their local track, place a wager or two and then cheer their ‘trap’ home in what would be an entertaining evening for all the family.
These days, greyhound betting has largely moved online, with ante-post odds for the Greyhound Derby available throughout the year. With live streaming also available via bookmakers’ apps, the sport lives on.
But we are far from its heyday of the 1940s-1970s – when there were dozens of tracks up and down the land, and an estimated 70 million people would attend each year.
So what has caused the sport to suffer such a sad decline?
A rough estimation is that, once upon a time, there were more than 200 greyhound racing venues in the United Kingdom.
The issue that many of those were in inner city or urbanised areas, and their location made them an attractive proposition for property developers looking for prime real estate.
With tastes and preferences changing, fewer people were attending greyhound racing meetings, and so track owners – noting their dwindling financial returns – began to consider the offers that came their way from construction firms seeking to build new homes on their land.
A large percentage of dog tracks were in London, and with a rise in population numbers – in addition to the demand for housing close to the capital – meant that some of these offers were simply too good to turn down.
— GBGBStaff (@GBGBStaff) April 4, 2018
London wasn’t the only major UK city that saw a trend for new property developments on previously occupied land. Belle Vue Stadium in Manchester was another sold to a construction firm – that brought the curtain down on 93 years of racing at the iconic venue.
Other stadiums that were integral to the rise of greyhound racing would also go the same way, with Walthamstow, Wimbledon and Haringay also torn down to make way for housing and commercial development.
But it was the loss of the White City Stadium in London that hit the sport the hardest. A host of World Cup football and the Olympic Games, White City also welcomed the Greyhound Derby for more than six decades – some 90,000 people would cram into the site to get a glimpse of the action.
When that fell, many observed that greyhound racing would follow suit…
To the Future
Maybe the diagnosis for UK greyhound racing isn’t that gloomy after all.
There are still two dog tracks in London at Romford and Crayford, plus two more in its vicinity in Harlow and Brighton.
🔥 OMG!! Listen to the Roar!
— Stephen R Power (@racingblogger) July 10, 2021
The Greyhound Derby has a new home at the Midlands venue Towcester, and even if the days of tens of thousands packing out stadiums are gone, there is still a healthy number of people who watch and bet on the action via live streaming.
Embracing our digital reality may be crucial to the survival of greyhound racing, a sport that can still be a favourite of punters seeking an evening out alike.