Farewell To The Stowe
Even those who do not follow greyhound racing will, in all probability, have heard of Walthamstow Stadium, or as those in the locals call it The Stow.
After 75 Years of racing it very much looks as though Saturday's meeting will be the last, at the history steeped London venue is set to close its doors for the last time.
The current owners have sold the site to property developers and, despite a concerted Save our Stow Campaign who are convinced then can save the stadium, the future looks bleak for followers of the sport. Especially as most of the fixtures and fittings have either been sold or are about to be sold.
The irony is the closing meetings have attracted crowds the like of which have not been seen since the course's heyday. Had the track attracted such crowds in the normal course of events then, in all probability, closure would probably not now be on the agenda.
I decided to spend a night at the Stow to get a taste of what is going to disappear. So Thursday evening I eschewed an evening's horse racing at Stratford , Chepstow or Great Leighs to go to the dogs.
Most seats in the stadium were taken a good half hour before the start of racing. I also strongly suspected the vast majority of people here tonight are racing virgins, something soon confirmed after a few conversations.
As a horse racing man the first thing that strikes me is how short the races, are a five furlong sprint looks positively long distance in comparison. Even a hurdle race is over in around 30 seconds.
The stadium has an aged feel, the tote windows look to be uninviting and the system painfully slow which, combined with large crowds, resulted in some massive queues. The lady who served me must have been at least the same age as the stadium. A quick last minute bet would have been out of the question.
In its heyday there were over 50 layers at the track, this evening there were only five and they were all going minimum bet £5
The seedy feel, in a perverse way, added to the appeal of the place. Ascot it ain’t but greyhound racing does not have such pretentions. It was a generally a working mans sport and the stadia reflect it. One can imagine, in the context of the 1930’s, the stadium being grand. I have to be honest and say when it became dark it was much more attractive and when the iconic sign was lit it looked almost beautiful.
It seemed most people here didn't have or clue what is going on. They seem to be enjoying themselves and anything that moved receives a rapturous reception – even the track smoothing tractor whose progress could be followed by following the cheers.
The biggest reception of the evening was reserved for the SOS campaign. Before race six the organizers were on the podium offering Churchillian pledges (coincidentally the great man himself held election rallies here) which had the crowd on their feet and cheering.
This was followed by a procession round the track with. If emotion and passion was enough to Save The Stow then its future would be assured in perpetuity. However we live in times of harsh economic reality and saving the Stow may not be so easy.
How many of those there on Thursday evening will come back on a regular basis if the course is saved?
The final scheduled day of racing on Saturday is to be marked by a march from the stadium to Walthamstow Town Hall.
The final evening is going to be an emotional affair, non more so than for bookies Ron Bazell (79) who has been standing at the track for 40 years. However he is a newcomer in contrast to 90 year old Dougie Tyler who has had a pitch at the course since 1946 and I will leave the final words to him:- "I feel sick, this place means everything to me - I'll be crying my eyes out when it closes.".