Ever wondered why Walthamstow closed?
Was it because the offer of £18.5m was too good to turn down? Was it because there was an eight figure hole in the pension fund that the directors that needed filling? Was it because Waltham Forest were desperate for housing? Was it because it was badly run and crowds and profits were in decline?
In my opinion – all of the above.
But looking back what is now coming up to the eleventh anniversary (!!) of closure in August, was the age of the owners, a major contributory issue?
The many grandchildren of the founder Bill Chandler, who had all “earned” their living from the stadium were all reaching pensionable age and simply wanted to cash in their inheritance.
I ask this because I honestly think the greatest threat to greyhound racing in Britain is not ‘antis’ or ‘decline in profits’ or ‘shortage of dogs’ – but track closures.
We currently have 21 racing under GBGB rules and I cannot imagine there being any additions any time soon. There are no flaps left to switch codes and no businessman is going to think ‘Dog racing, I bet there is an easy few quid in that’.
Walthamstow was simply another victim of greyhound racing’s oldest enemy, the property developer. All the big stadium losses, from White City and Harringay, to Hall Green, Hackney, Wimbledon and the Stow have shut due to a vulnerability of sitting on between seven and a thirteen acres of prime real estate. The sites needed to be that big to accommodate double sided stadiums and crowds of 30,000 upwards.
It was wasn’t just about declining crowds. Even if they had still been attracting attendances of 10,000 per week, the bigger bucks, particularly in the big cities, would be in land prices.
The same thing has happened at football grounds. The big difference though is that most had councils on side who were prepared to donate a few cheap acres ‘out of town’ to relocate. There aren’t any votes in dog racing.
As for greyhound tracks, the juiciest fruit have largely been harvested and we have seen some easing in the threat from the developers. The latest to go, Mildenhall and Towcester have closed for other reasons.
The media rights war brings another factor into play, though to be completely accurate, the issue was already developing before ARC and SIS locked horns. You might even argue it was the reason for the conflict.
Having lost its spectator base, greyhound racing’s dependence on the betting industry is now total and quite simply, the bookies don’t need 21 dog tracks to show in their tracks or broadcast on TV, phones and tablets.
Nobody involved, on either side, seriously believes that there is a demand for four greyhound races every 15 minutes – or the appetite to pay for them.
Sooner or later, one side in the media rights issue will sue for peace and we return to the issue – that there are almost twice as many tracks as are necessary for the bookies’ business model.
I have heard rumours that one side has already offered terms that would include paying off the contracts of the other.
We need to close your track. Your contract is worth £x What would a property developer pay you? Your cheque is in the post.
Who knows, maybe those conversations are already taking place.
For the tracks owned by corporations, the financial adviser will look at the figures and make a recommendation to the board as to whether to cash in.
But many of our tracks are owned/controlled by individuals/ families, and some, like the Chandler family in 2008, might be tempted to walk away.
One who won’t is Kinsley’s John Curran. Despite having retired from ‘front line politics’, John has an agreement with his family that as long as he can take in the Yorkshire air, Kinsley will remain a dog track. He has already turned down several offers for the site. But with two grandsons who are house builders . . .
Nor can I imagine his old mate Billy King packing up his Shawfield chalk any time soon. Though there is outlying planning permission on the site when that day eventually comes.
But there is more than money in play. Many of our promoters have a personal and emotional interest in greyhound racing.
Sure – offer than a zillion quid to sell up, and they would be stupid not to take it. But their commitment to greyhound racing exceeds that of many greyhound owners who choose to bail after a run of bad luck.
Given their ages, I can’t imagine the Cordens relinquishing their lease and being bought out of their ARC contract. Or the Franklin brothers selling up at Yarmouth, or Kevin Boothby, or Jeff McKenna, or Teddy Watson, or . . . . .
Though don’t forget, the Chandler family were also steeped in greyhound history. In the end, their ages became as big a factor as the size of the cheque.
In my view, and that of greater minds than mine . . . the conclusion of the media rights issue will see some track owners tempted to cash in those eight acres of pension.
*The situation is arguably even further advanced in Ireland. A country with a population of around six and a half million, Northern Ireland included, has 17 greyhound tracks.
The Irish Greyhound Board has commissioned an independent report to determine how the industry should be ‘streamlined’ and the process is well advanced.
When the Indecon report recommends the ‘rationalisation’ of God knows how many tracks, the Board executive can at least pass the buck after “complying with the recommendations of an independent body”, and thus avoiding the PR car crash of another Harolds Cross hatchet job.
There has been great interest recently in the Amphlett household over the exploits of the country’s leading open race winner, Swift Biscuit.
The fact is, his half sister Ribble Rush, who was Lord Hesketh’s first open race winner as an owner, is convinced that she could still kick his ass.
Rushy might be six in August but she takes the opportunity to keep herself in shape every day with a bit of a work out just in case one of those family occasions ever comes up and someone uses the words ‘past it’
‘Antis’ should look away now – a greyhound is about to run as fast as it can with the outside possibility of injury.