Gone to the Dogs…..

The iconic Walthamstow frontage

For those outside London it probably doesn’t mean much. In fact, until last weekend it probably hadn’t even entered the radar of those in Watford, but on Saturday, 16th of August 2008, an era came to an end in North-East London. Since 1933, when William Chandler first opened the track with its famous art-deco frontage, the venue’s been a hub for the community, and has survived after many others had fallen. In fact, the statistics show it’s still one of the best-attended stadia in the country, and that alone shows just what a battle the sport is facing in these modern times.

Changes to betting laws, and increased overheads meant that, despite great attendances in recent weeks, the writing had been on the wall for a long time, with a 500,000 pound loss last year alone. And London, not the mention the local community, will much poorer for it. Vociferous campaigns from locals to collect money and keep the revered venue open have come to nothing, not least because of the work that the stadium did to rehouse and look after retired greyhounds, and on the 16th, a final Saturday, it was time for the place to close it doors for the last time. There was, fittingly, an invasion onto the track as the last race finished. Fans young and old, up to the bookies that still operated in their 80s, down to the grandchildren of racegoers in the tracks first days, tearfully gathered for once last time.

I was lucky enough to attend on the final week, on the Tuesday night. And, while I’ve only lived here for a few years, it doesn’t take a local to understand the significance of the place, and the black hole that will be left when it is no more. There are 80 permanent jobs lost, and hundreds of temporary. The track gave David Beckham his first paid job, and formed the backdrop for Blur’s classic Parklife album. It’s given millions joy over the years, a constant in changing times, its neon lights a throwback to less fraught and more innocent times.

And now the curtain’s come down, with the track being sold to property developers (though, apparently, the frontage is listed and must stay, which would be at least a reminder of the glory days). Ironic, as it is, that the lights go off in the middle of the worst housing slump since the last recession. The community will feel like it’s lost one of its own, and time will be spoken in terms of when it was open, and when it was not. It’s a sad, sad day for the community, for the capital, the sport, and the country. Let’s at least allow some sentimentality in these cyncial years and remember the Stow, as it was.

Walthamstow Dog Track

The betting board.


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