Somewhere among the industrial estates of South West London lies a piece of the capital’s history that may soon disappear for good. Wimbledon Stadium is the last greyhound racing venue left open in London; even Walthamstow’s famous dog track has closed its doors in recent years. The current plight of greyhound racing elsewhere suggests that Wimbledon’s chances of survival are slim.
Living only a short walk from the stadium, I had always been put off by the impression that greyhound racing was a dying enterprise and a little bit of a dirty sport. When I first went I was expecting a dingy track and storage units, I couldn’t have been more wrong! As soon as we were through the turnstiles, it was clear this wasn’t the case. A gleaming new grandstand rises up from the track side, with glass fronted booths for diners to watch the races while they eat. The stadium also boasts a number of bars and takeaway outlets, all packed with paying customers. The track side is a melee of activity, with the ground’s own betting floor crammed with punters, whilst a number of bookies set up shop on the concourse.
The races themselves come along every 15 minutes, with a maximum of 6 runners per race. Betting is easy – pick a dog to win, with a minimum Â£2 bet. The bookmakers'stalls will give you a receipt telling you exactly what you’ll get back. When it’s race time, the grandstand lights go down and the crowd jostle for position at track side. One of the best things about a night at the stadium is the freedom to wander around – you can watch from right beside the track or head up into the stand for a bird’s eye view. There are very few of the restrictions you often find at sports events, which all adds to the entertaining party atmosphere around the track.
Greyhound racing as a sport is basically centred on gambling, and there are no limits on the amounts you can bet, so caution is advised. It feels low-risk however – most of us came out with more or less the same amount that we went in. With 13 races a night, you’d be unlucky to not experience victory at some point. Entry costs just a fiver, and with regular discounts and vouchers available, going to the dogs is an exciting and affordable night out. Heading out amongst the hordes of people heading to hired limos and cabs outside, it was hard to imagine that greyhound racing doesn’t have a future in this corner of the capital.
Find out more about Wimbledon Stadium’s greyhound racing nights at www.lovethedogs.co.uk