Going to the dogs

A history of greyhound racing in Britain, 1926–2017

Keith Laybourn
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Modern greyhound racing in Britain, with an electronic hare whirraxing round a circular track being chased by greyhounds, began at Belle Vue Stadium, Manchester, in 1926. It became an overnight sensation attracting around thirty-eight million attendees per year in the late 1930s. It mainly attracted male working-class bettors, and sometimes their families, for an ‘American night out’, watching the likes of Mick the Miller, and offering the bright lights and the gambling opportunities that were normally denied them. However, from the start its mushrooming growth led to religious and municipal opposition from those who felt that it was an immoral activity causing poverty, fecklessness amongst youth, corrupting women and children, encouraging the vision of a ‘something for nothing mentality’, leading to criminality. It was not for them a rational recreation. They opposed tote betting and the construction of tracks but were unsuccessful in stopping its growth until discriminatory actions and taxation in the 1940s tipped it into decline as betting on the greyhound moved off-course and into the betting shops, and as scandals developed around the treatment of greyhounds. There are now only two million attendances per year. Yet for a quarter of a century it played an important part in the leisure of a small proportion of the working classes attracted to the middle-class financed tracks. It provided employment opportunities for communities and it was far from being the den of iniquity it was often portrayed as being, despite the presence of a few small on-course gangs like the Sabinis at Brighton.

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