greyhound racing

How the Midlands became the new home of greyhound racing

The last 18 months have been difficult to handle for so many people. With the coronavirus pandemic overshadowing most elements of life with newly implemented lockdowns and restrictions, the whole sporting landscape suffered — essentially spending the best part of two seasons behind closed doors.

Greyhound racing particularly fell to the severest of blows throughout this time of uncertainty. With racetracks eerily falling silent for some of the sport’s biggest races, its dwindling audience, while still passionate and dedicated, suffered a long absence from the field, forced to stay and bet on greyhounds from the comfort of their homes. Flash forward and while attendances are on the rise, they are a far cry from the number’s stadia used to see when the sport was in its heyday, and the vast number of empty seats almost personify the current state of affairs that greyhound racing is experiencing.

To provide some context, there was once a time where going to the races was a popular pastime, with some of the best tracks emanating from London — once a pantheon for the biggest races around. The capital city was the hub for all things greyhounds, with the likes of Wimbledon and White City often packed to maximum capacity. As London’s love of greyhounds eventually faded, financial struggles inevitably set in due to poor attendances. The glitz and glamour of the Walthamstow entrance now dull and listless, left to gather cobwebs before inevitable closures.

Only the East End can say it still has a working greyhound track, and with London no longer a viable option, somewhere had to pick up the pieces and adopt the sports biggest events — thankfully the Midlands was on hand to oblige. Since 2016 The English Greyhound Derby, the most prestigious race on the greyhound racing calendar, has bounced back and forth between Northamptonshire and Nottinghamshire, with Towcester hosting the most recent edition of the competition. Coming up to its 95th anniversary, the Midlands have welcomed the race with open arms, while also having several other tracks in the area such as Perry Barr in Birmingham, which has been modernised and renovated to fit the 21st century audience.

The Midlands appetite for greyhound racing has proved to be a lifeline for the sport and has been able to allow spectators back for the last three months, thanks to changes in coronavirus guidelines. Towcester felt the effects of the pandemic as much as anyone, with their promoters, including Kevin Boothby extremely grateful the Northamptonshire based ground has been given that responsibility:

“Greyhound racing, like all sports, has felt the effects of Covid and although we have been successfully racing behind closed doors since June,” Boothby said. “It has not been the same without our owners and fans. It will be incredibly special to see the stadium buzzing once again and everyone experiencing the joy of watching these amazing athletes.”

While it remains to be seen whether greyhound racing will pick up again in popularity, especially now living in this digital age, the Midlands has provided suitable refuge for a sport cast adrift from the capital and looks set to do so for the foreseeable future.

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