MAYOR NOW SUPPORTING GREYHOUNDS STADIUM
However, a large gathering is vital and it will be a quiet gathering which will illustrate the popularity of greyhound racing and also form a thank you to the Mayor for his vital support in the battle to keep Wimbledon Stadium as a greyhound venue.
The facilities include a brick fronted grandstand seating 8,000, and several bars and catering facilities including a waiter-service restaurant. The stadium is surrounded by a large open-air car park. The local football team AFC Wimbledon has considered a move here, after the stadium was put up for sale in 2007. Currently, however, any pitch would be of inadequate size and would impinge upon the existing dog track, so such a move would necessitate costly rebuilding. Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium is currently owned by the Greyhound Racing Association (GRA).
Racing was first held on 19 May 1928. The site had been purchased by South London Greyhound Racecourses Ltd who then experienced financial difficulties. W J Cearns, owner of the building firm, put in a large sum of money to help get the stadium up and running. Wimbledon became one of the major tracks of Britain after a new grandstand was constructed to replace the war damaged section of the stadium.
Many famous trainers helped the track gain a first class reputation for good racing including Paddy McEllistrim, Sidney Orton, Joe Harmon and Paddy Fortune. The track originally held the classic race The Laurels and the prestigious race The Puppy Derby. Eventually the Greyhound Racing Association would purchase the stadium and it would hold the English Greyhound Derby following the demise of White City Stadium.
During the year there are four main greyhound events held at Wimbledon, they are –
- The English Greyhound Derby (May – 480m)
- The prestigious race for puppies, The Puppy Derby (August – 480m)
- The original classic race for stayers, the St Leger (October – 687m)
- The original classic race for bitches, the Oaks (December – 480m)
The track also held two more original classic races The Laurels until 1997 when GRA switched the event to sister track Belle Vue and the classic race for hurdlers, the Grand National which moved to Sittingbourne in 2012.
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. 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 GRA (owners of the stadium) 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 managerJohn 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 were so great they were forced to disband the team. In June 1991 Wimbledon rode their final meeting, which was eventually curtailed due to the weather.
The team were disbanded following a dispute between the team’s promoters and the owners of the stadium over a 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