I was surprised, not shocked, to hear of the retirement of Charlie Lister OBE yesterday. He had mentioned it three weeks ago but hadn’t named a date and asked for nothing to be mentioned.
It was hard not to feel the sadness in his voice. I think Charlie had fallen out of love with greyhound racing, though he would never lose his love of the dogs. It would clearly be a terrible wrench.
As a young lad on the flaps, I first heard about Charlie before I met him. He was a protege of the great Joe Booth, with whom he was an owner for many years. Like Joe, Charlie was a man to be feared. Even the rumour that there was a Lister runner in the next race – the flapping dogs ran under false colours – was enough to cause jitters in the ring.
I can’t remember his first NGRC runner. He was involved with one of the ‘Superior’ dogs, (I don’t have access to my records to remember whether it was Champ or Model), but I do remember a top sprinter he had called Night Runner in the early 80s, and of course Glamour Hobo who won his first ‘Yarmouth’ Derby and its Henlow equivalent.
A roll call of all Charlie’s achievements would fill this article, I will leave those for others to list, other than stating that by any standard, Charlie is the most successful trainer of greyhounds EVER in UK racing.
By any standard, his record of achievements in terms of big race achievements, is unsurpassed. With respect to Lesley Reynolds, Stan Biss, Sidney Orton and the rest, the closest to him is Mark Wallis.
That said, how much longer would that Lister roll of honour been if he had joined the NGRC ranks sooner?
Instead I would like to put on record my knowledge of Charlie ‘the person’. Charlie is one of those people who does not come across accurately on TV. Sure he can be a grumpy old sod, but he is someone who cares passionately about so many things.
The mounting injury list is undoubtedly the match that burnt his licence. Having spent many dozens of hours treating an injured greyhound, he believed, rightly or wrongly, that track staff didn’t always show the same dedication as him and his staff.
He feels that his dogs are not always given the credit that they are due, because he doesn’t always engage with the media.
He spent – or doesn’t spend – every penny of his owners money as though it were his own, missing out of potential stars when their Irish owners are looking for £50K, for a dog that he valued at £20K, with the best hope of winning a race worth £2K.
I suspect he also wonders why the phone stopped ringing when new owners were looking for a trainer. Maybe they couldn’t cope with a Lister no-nonsense assessment of their dog, or his refusal to put the owners’ demands in front of the dog’s best interests.
To understand Charlie (you know you’ve made it when a whole industry knows who you are by your first name) you need to understands his love of the animals.
I have previously written a couple of articles about the young hardcase who loved a bare knuckle row, but would be reduced to tears if one of his dogs had to be put to sleep. The fists might not move as quick these days (probably!), but the old softie remains.
When he is asked to name his favourite dog he has trained, it is like asking him to pick a favourite child. If you really want to flummox him, ask if he ever trained a better greyhound than Some Picture. Or a better stayer than Spring Rose.
To me, Charlie has always been an absolute gent. Always prepared to find time for a big race quote or give a view on any subject asked of him. He would seek out my parents table at Yarmouth and spend the evening chatting to them. Every phone call was always acoompanied by ‘How’s your mum and dad.’
It is that compassion that has seen him transfer the licence to his long serving assistant Chris Akers, rather than simply shutting down the kennel.
In truth, Charlie has been winding down for a while. He and partner Pat have been spending a lot of time at their holiday home in Filey, and he feels Chris deserves the limelight and credit.
The fact that the name ‘Lister C’ will no longer appear on racecards will be a source of sadness for many. But I cannot imagine he will be able to stay away altogether.
If you spot him, and have never met him before, introduce yourself to a living breathing legend of greyhound racing.