Wimbledon, London, SW17|
|Owned by||Greyhound Racing Association, AFC Wimbledon in 2018|
|Operated by||Greyhound Racing Association|
|Date opened||1928 (2018 as a football stadium)|
|Race type||Greyhound racing|
|Attendance||11,000 (possible expansion to 20,000)|
The site will be closed in March 2017 and AFC Wimbledon are going to turn it into a football stadium and flats. The club intend to play at the site from 2018.
The facilities include a brick fronted grandstand seating 8,000, executive suites, several bars and catering facilities, including a large waiter-service restaurant. The stadium is surrounded by a large open-air car park.
The greyhound stadium was constructed east of the River Wandle on a section of land that was difficult to build on due to the fact that it was marsh land and was prone to flooding. The only buildings near this plot of land were a chamois leather mills, a large sewage works and the Plough public house. Slightly to the east was Summerstown Road which held the only housing in the immediate area.
The difficult plot did not deter South London Greyhound Racecourses Ltd who went ahead with plans to build a large stadium ready for 1928. However financial difficulties halted the project until a consortium headed by Bill 'WJ' Cearns whose firm had been responsible for the construction of the stadium stepped in with a sufficient funds to save the project.
The opening night was on 19 May 1928 with the first race being won by a greyhound called Ballindura trained by Harry Leader. The Burhill kennels in Walton-on-Thames would become renowned within the industry housing the hounds for Wimbledon and were initially used by trainers Stanley Biss, Harry Leader and Ken Appleton. Paddy McEllistrim a Norfolk farmer and breeder of greyhounds and Sidney Orton would soon join the training kennels soon after.
Wimbledon was the first track to introduce weighing scales in 1929 at their kennels so that the racing public could be issued with the greyhounds weights before racing. The same year Harry Leader returned to Ireland and was replaced by Sidney Orton. New events called the Puppy Derby, International, Wimbledon Gold Cup and Wimbledon Spring Stakes were all inaugurated.
In December 1929 Arundel Kempton purchased Mick the Miller for £2,000 as a present for his wife placing him with Sidney Orton. The track had already been associated with Mick the Miller because the champion took up residence at the kennels of Paddy McEllistrim during the duration of the 1929 English Greyhound Derby. Con Stevens was the first Racing Manager and was instrumental in bringing the first classic race to Wimbledon in the form of the Laurels in 1930. Mick the Miller claimed his second Derby crown in 1930 propelling himself, the sport and Wimbledon into national fame.
Trainer Joe Harmon arrived from White City in 1934 and Paddy Fortune another new trainer at Wimbledon claimed a second Derby victory for the track in 1939 after the greyhound Highland Rum won the race. The 'Two Year Old Produce Stakes' was introduced in 1935 and another event called 'The Key' started in 1936.
During World War II the stadium suffered bomb damage but continued to race. The well known Irish dog Tanist was put with Paddy McEllistrim but found it hard to cope with the sharp turns at Wimbledon and failed to win a single race by the end of June 1940. In contrast Ballynennan Moon became a Wimbledon greyhound after Billy Quinn negotiated a sale to Mrs Cearns, wife of the managing director of Wimbledon Stadium and the greyhound became a household name during the war years. In 1942 after a winter rest he won the Walthamstow Stakes and Wimbledon Spring Cup before embarking on forty wins and seven second places from 48 starts. After finishing first fourteen times in succession he was beaten a neck by Laughing Lackey failing to beat Mick the Miller's 19 straight wins record.
A new puppy called Ballyhennessy Seal first came to the scene in 1943 after moving from Catford Stadium to Wimbledon and was placed in the care of Stan Martin. Martin had joined the Wimbledon training ranks following the death of Joe Harmon in 1942. Martin guided Ballyhennessy Seal to a third Derby success for the track in 1945.
After the war the Wimbledon management constructed a new grandstand in place of the war damaged section of the stadium. They also introduced new perforated tote tickets following continual losses on forged tote tickets every Saturday to the tune of £1,000. Ballymac Ball was the next greyhound to win the Derby for Wimbledon, the brindle dog won the 1950 event for Stan Martin. In 1950 the Instaprint photo timer that was tested at Wimbledon and given the seal of approval to use throughout Britain.
Con Stevens continued to manage the stadium throughout the fifties overseeing the success of the track and a fifth Derby success came in 1957 after the Dennis Hannafin (brother of Jerry) trained Ford Spartan took the title. In 1958 Paddy Fortune passed away and his kennels would be taken over by George Waterman. Within a few months Sidney Orton retired and his son Clare Orton took up his position at Wimbledon. Clare had been a trainer in his own right for nearly ten years.
Phil Rees Sr. joined the track as a trainer in the sixties following the retirement of Dennis Hannafin and the Greyhound Express Merit Puppy Championship was renamed the Juvenile in 1963. George Waterman died and his Burhill kennel range was given to new trainer Nora Gleeson. The three times Derby winning trainer Paddy McEvoy also joined the track in the late sixties. Towards the end of 1969 the possibility of the stadium being redeveloped was a possibility but the Greyhound Racing Association bought a major part of Wimbledon after a prolonged battle against developers.
The redevelopment issue could still not be discounted because the GRA Property Trust was buying and selling stadiums but the GRA invested into the stadium and raised the winning prize money levels of the Laurels to £2,000 in 1970 and £5,000 one year later. In 1972 the GRA sealed a deal to buy Wimbledon outright and bring the track fully under the GRA banner. Paddy McEllistrim and Stan Martin both retired in 1974 replaced by Paddy's daughter Norah and Sam Sykes a former head lad to Clare Orton. Con Stevens resigned from the board of directors at Wimbledon bringing to an end his 46 years of association with the track.
Wimbledon introduced new technology in 1976 after using a sectional timing mechanism and they were one of the first tracks to use the system of grading (selecting greyhounds in classes on ability). In the same year Mutts Silver won the Derby when trained by Phil Rees Sr.; Rees would hand his kennels to his son Philip Rees Jr. just two years later after retiring.
In 1985 Wimbledon was chosen to host the sport's premier event, the Greyhound Derby, following the closure of White City. Industry support for Wembley to be given the premier race was inconsequential because GRA owned the rights to the competition and would not allow a non-GRA track to have the race. Bob Rowe the Chief Racing Manager for the GRA was also the Racing Manager at Wimbledon when the track was handed the Derby and trainers Tom Foster and David Kinchett both joined from White City. The first Derby at Wimbledon was held over a new distance of 480 metres and ended with a seventh success for the track, Pagan Swallow won the competition and the Rees family became the second father and son to each win the Derby. Arthur Hitch joined the tack in 1987 when Slough Stadium closed and then following the closure of Harringay the prestigious Oaks for bitches was switched to Wimbledon.
In 1990 a greyhound called Druids Johno was given to H.R.H Prince Edward, the half share of the black dog had been given to the Prince by Patsy Byrne during a charity meeting at Canterbury. Byrne would join Wimbledon as a trainer in 1991 and sponsor the long running International in the process. This appointment brought about the last ever Derby triumph for the track. Ballinderry Ash took the 1991 title bringing the total to eight just one behind Wembley.
In 1992 GRA parent company Wembley plc announced losses of £8m despite a £13m profit in its UK operation. Simon Harris became Racing Manager arriving from Hall Green, Bob Rowe remained based at Wimbledon in his role of Chief Racing Manager of the GRA. In 1996 the Intertrack betting service was introduced for the first time enabling race-goers at other tracks around the country to view the racing and place bets direct into the Wimbledon tote. In 1998 the Laurels switched to sister track Belle Vue Stadium and one year later Sky Sports screened their first greyhound meeting at Wimbledon which included the Springbok final. The GRA switched the Grand National to Wimbledon from Hall Green in 1999.
Rapid Ranger completed two Derby successes in 2001 emulating Mick the Miller and Patricias Hope before both Seamus Cahill and Bernie Doyle joined Wimbledon from Catford and Reading Stadium respectively in 2002. Catford closed in 2003 resulting in three new trainers, John Simpson, Tony Taylor and John Walsh. Catford Racing Manager Derek Hope took over from the departing Simon Harris who left for Coventry. In 2003 Wimbledon underwent £70,000 track improvements following criticism received during the 2002 Derby, consequently the 680m trip changes to 688m and the 868m changed to 872m. In 2004 trainer Tommy Foster retired.
Westmead Hawk won the 2005 & 2006 Greyhound Derby becoming the fourth greyhound to complete two wins and in 2007 trainer Ray Peacock died. Racing Manager Derek Hope left to join William Hill and was replaced by Gary Matthews and in 2008 Richard Rees, son of Philip Rees Jr became a third generation trainer at Wimbledon; Philip Rees Jr. retired due to ill health. Tony Morris who stood as a track bookmaker also retired after a long career at Wimbledon. In 2010 Wimbledon underwent major changes in time for the Derby, the grandstand was switched to the far side of the stadium and the physical make-up of the track altered meaning new track records would be set.
The GRA allowed the Grand National to go to Sittingbourne in 2012 and leading trainer Norah McEllistrim left for Brighton & Hove Greyhound Stadium. Bob Rowe switched to Belle Vue as the Racing Manager along with the Oaks.
- The English Greyhound Derby
- The Puppy Derby
- The St Leger (original classic)
- Champion Hurdle
- The Juvenile
- The Laurels (original classic)
- Grand National (original classic)
- Oaks (original classic)
- The International
- WJ Cearns Memorial
- Champion Stakes
- Wimbledon Gold Cup
- Wimbledon Spring Cup
- Wimbledon Produce Stakes
|480m||Greenane Squire||28.21||12.07.1994||Old Course|
|480m||Eden The Kid||27.95||30.05.2015|
Until 2005, the stadium was also home for over 50 years to the now defunct Wimbledon Dons speedway team and was famous for hosting the Internationale meeting every season. from 1962 until 1981. though they did hold a qualifying round of this competition in 1961. Speedway arrived at Wimbledon in the 1928 pioneer season and a team was entered in the league competitions from 1929 to 1939. The team was re-formed after the war and the Dons raced in the top flight National League Division One from 1946 to 1964. The Dons were multiple winners of the league in the 1950s. The Dons were founder members of the British League in 1965. Upon their reopening after the war, in 1946, average weekly attendances were in excess of 30,000, until the early 1950s, when the sport declined rapidly in popularity. Still Wimbledon were one of the top teams with healthy crowd figures, and upon the closure of Wembley in 1956 remained the only team in London (apart from sporadic appearances by New Cross in 1959/1960 and 1963) until 1963 when Hackney entered the Provincial League, and 1964 when West Ham reopened in the National League (now known as the 1st Division Elite League).
Wimbledon's tenure in the top flight came to an end in the 1980s and the Greyhound Racing Association (the owners of the stadium at the time) decreed that speedway would end at the end of the 1986 season. However, a London stockbroker, David Pickles, gathered together a consortium in the 1986/87 close season who ensured that the famous Dons would continue to run. They employed the ex-England team manager John Berry and enjoyed reasonable success on and off the track in their first season. After a disagreement with Berry and the other members of the board, Pickles dramatically resigned as chairman of the club during the match with Exeter in September 1987, selling his shares back to the other members. With a few reshuffles at board level and the leaving of Berry, the remaining members eventually took Wimbledon back to the British League Division One in 1991, but the move proved disastrous and with only a couple of months of the season having been ridden, the financial losses proved to be so great that they were forced to disband the team. In June 1991 Wimbledon rode their final meeting, which was eventually curtailed due to the weather.
Having been defunct for eleven years, the team were then reopened again in 2002 but were finally disbanded completely in 2005 as a result of the dispute between the team's promoters and the owners of the stadium, the Greyhound Racing Association, over a proposed large rent increase.
Stock car racing
Plough Lane also hosts Motor Racing events promoted by Spedeworth International, including Superstox, Stock Cars, Hot Rods and Bangers. The first stock car meeting at Wimbledon was on 29 September 1962 (the Superstox World Championship) and the circuit quickly became Spedeworth's flagship venue with the World Final being held there every year up to and including 1974. The World Championship, along with other key race meetings such as Carnival Night became very popular and were often 'ticket only' events filled to capacity. The stadium also boasted its own stock car racing teams in 1966 (London Sparrows) and 1971/72 (Canaries/Dons). The 1966 team shared its base with New Cross stadium. The Unlimited engine capacity Banger racing World Championship also used to take place at Wimbledon until the event moved to Ipswich Stadium in 2008. This was due to the introduction of the London low emission zone which made it too expensive for the transporters to travel to the venue.
Other notable events
Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium is currently owned by Galliard Homes Limited; who purchased the site from Wembley plc when their subsidiary company Greyhound Racing Association was put up for sale in 2007. Since that time, local professional football team AFC Wimbledon have expressed interest in building their new football stadium on the site of the greyhound track. A joint planning application made by both interested parties, AFC Wimbledon and Galliard Homes, to build the new football stadium together with 600 residences on the site was approved by the London Borough of Merton in December 2015. A £20 million rival plan submitted by Paschal Taggart owner of Shelbourne Park failed.
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