“There is no problem in giving free admission for the daytime meetings. We have four a week. As a stadium, we are being paid anyway and can afford to do so. But it is a big mistake not to charge for the evening meetings.
“You cheapen the product and you don’t gain; quite the opposite. We actually saw crowd numbers fall when we stopped charging admission for SKY meetings.
“A greyhound meeting is an event that has to be valued and if you don’t have a decent crowd creating an exciting atmosphere, the whole evening is soulless.”
After 39 years at Crayford, there is little that Diana Illingworth hasn’t experienced in her rise from ‘tote seller’ (the next step up the ladder was ‘tote seller and payer’) all the way to Stadium Operations Manager.
On Saturday she retires from a job that has played a major influence in hers, and her family’s, life over nearly four decades.
She says: “I was originally looking for a job with William Hill but a friend had a job at Crayford and suggested I try there. The money was reasonable and with stock car and speedway also taking place, it was five nights per week.
“I started working in the office was doing all kinds of jobs around the stadium including payroll.”
The old Crayford Stadium, under the management of Stan Wolfe, was knocked down in 1985 and when it re-opened a year later, Diana became tote manager with responsibility for 45 staff.
In 2003 she switched to marketing and her department is widely acknowledged as being one of the most innovative and successful in the industry.
Within the last two years, the proud Ops Manager has seen the stadium take Bexley Council’s ‘Best Business – Food Leisure and Hospitality’ and the ‘Customer Service’ awards.
Diana said: “The racing office rightly receive the kudos when they stage a successful open race competition. For the rest of the stadium staff, these awards represent an acknowledgement of their hard word and dedication.
Diana admits there have been hiccups and funny moments along the way.
Like the ‘brilliant idea at the time’ to boost disappointing Saturday night restaurant figures with with a Valentines Day promotion. It was a complete sell-out. . . with all 70 tables booked up – with just two people on each.
Or the hundreds of gold balloons, each containing a lucky number, as a big promotion for the 11am Golden Jacket meeting. Until they all deflated overnight. . .
Or the specially commissioned birthday cake, which was presented and then swiftly whisked away, as the wrong birthday boy, on the wrong table, was about to blow out ‘his’ candles.
Or the sauce spilled on a lady’s “£3,000” handbag, that actually turned out to be a £3,000 handbag.
So, what has Mrs Illingworth learned after four decades of serving the Crayford public?
She said: “Well the customer profile has changed completely since the early days when you had people who were simply turning up to watch the greyhounds. They have largely gone.
“Everyone is looking for value for money so don’t oversell what you have or you are asking for trouble. If it’s fish and chips, then call it ‘fish and chips’.
“Things like the Six-Pack were supposed to be the ‘be all and end all’ but we struggled with them until we reduced the price to £10.
“The down side, if you have too many, is that they irritate your regulars. You have people simply turn up for a bargain night out. They don’t even look out of the windows when the races are on.
“As for things like ‘the penny meal deal’, what was the benefit of that? People turning up for a cheap meal and then going home.”
Returning to the subject of admission prices, Diana believes that the reluctance to charge a reasonable amount comes as a hangover from the days when track regulars would attend every meeting in order to follow form.
She believes that the occasional racegoer – by now the massive majority – is much less fazed by an admission charge.
She said: “We charge £7 for adults, which is less than a packet of cigarettes. If you go to horse racing, it will be £15 to £20, and nobody bats an eyelid. Their fast food is also a ridiculous price.
“We also charge for children because it means they value the experience and also it sends out the right message to the gambling authorities.”
It isn’t only Diana’s life that was changed by her impulse to join Crayford.
At 16, and looking for a part-time job, Diane’s oldest son Paul became a dog walker at the track. He then progressed to the racing office. He followed the GM Stephen Rea onto Hackney, then joined the Romford racing office before signing up to the NGRC. He is now the senior steward at GBGB.
Younger brother Anthony and dad Richard, are members of the Champagne Club. The younger twin brothers are graphic designers whose craft can be found in literature within the stadium, and at various football grounds.
(Four boys all within three and a half years of each other – no wonder Diana spent most evenings at a dog track – Ed)
Understandably, Diana knows that leaving her job will prove an enormous wrench.
She said: “I worked for Stan Wolfe, Roger Lakey, Stephen Rea, Barry Stanton and Richard Brankley and have got on well with all of them.
“I am quite sad not to be working for Ian Smyth because he has made a great impression.
“He is a ‘doer’ and in a position to bring some new ideas and changes to freshen everything up. But I can say I leave a great enthusiastic and professional team behind.
“But I will continue to get around the tracks and intend to play an active role in the Crayford homefinders schemes.
“After all these years, greyhound racing is my family. I could never leave completely.”