- Address: Plough Lane, Wimbledon, London SW17 0BL
- Status: Permanently Closed
Located in the area of Wimbledon in south west London, Wimbledon Stadium, which was also known as Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium, opened its doors for the first time on the 19th of May in 1928. It was renovated in the 1950s and closed its doors for the final time on the 25th of March, 2017. Within a year, it had been demolished and any hope of greyhound racing returning to that part of the capital was demolished with it. As well as greyhound racing, Wimbledon Stadium was also used to host the liked of speedway and stock car racing.
As with so many greyhound stadiums around the country, its eventual sale was to a property developer, specifically Galliard Homes Limited. They planned to build 600 homes and apartments, in addition to a new stadium for AFC Wimbledon, the phoenix club that was created out of the ashes that were left behind when Wimbledon moved to become the MK Dons. Wimbledon was one of London’s last remaining greyhound racing venues, with just Crayford and Romford left behind after its closure, following in the footsteps of Catford Stadium and Walthamstow Stadium.
Major Races & Events
As you might imagine, Wimbledon Stadium used its status as one of the premier greyhound racing venues in the south of the country in order to host some of the sport’s biggest events. It also hosted a number of smaller greyhound races that were important to the locals, such as the Wimbledon Gold Cup and the Wimbledon Spring Cup. Both of these were well-loved by the trainers and spectators that called Wimbledon their home, but they were as nothing when compared to some of the big races hosted at the track over the years.
English Greyhound Derby
With a history stretching back as far as 1927, the English Greyhound Derby is the greyhound racing calendar’s most prestigious event. First held at White City Stadium, it was moved to Wimbledon in 1985 and remained there until the track’s closure more than 30 years later. A race won by the likes of Mick the Miller and Patricias Hope, Rapid Ranger and Westmead Hawk joined them in the record books when they won it twice each during its time at Wimbledon. Nowadays, the event is run over 500 metres at Towcester Greyhound Stadium.
The St Leger is one of greyhound racing’s original Classics and took place at Wembley Stadium until 1998. It was then moved to Wimbledon Stadium, where it remained until it closed its doors for the final time. Since then, the race has taken place at Perry Barr, having seen its prize money reduced several times over the years. Run over 710 metres, the race currently boasts a prize purse of £20,000 for the winner. It was run over three different lengths during its time at Wimbledon, which were 660 metres, 698 metres and 687 metres.
As with its equivalent in the horse racing world, the greyhound version of the Grand National is run over hurdles. First run in 1927, it was one of the crown jewells of White City before moving to Hall Green in 1985 and then Wimbledon in 1999. It remained there until 2012, at which point the Greyhound Racing Association allowed it to leave their portfolio of races and it switched to Sittingbourne’s Central Park Stadium. It remains there to this day, being run over 480 metres with hurdles on the course, whilst the winner gets £7,500.
Another of the original Classics of greyhound racing, the Laurels was run at Wimbledon from its inauguration in 1930 until 1997. At that point, it was switched to Belle Vue before switching to Newcastle Stadium. It has taken place at Perry Barr since 2021, regaining the Category 1 status, which it had lost, in 2022. Ballymac Ball won the race in 1949 and 1950, following in the footsteps of Ballyhennessey Sandhills who had won it back-to-back more than decade earlier. Duet Leader and Conna Count have also pulled off the achievement.
A good rule of thumb is that if a greyhound event shares a name with a Classic from horse racing, it is probably a Classic in its own sport too. That is very much the case with the Oaks, which was first run at White City before moving to Harringay and then Wimbledon. It took place at the south London venue between 1988 and 2012, with the Greyhound Racing Association deciding to shift it to Belle Vue in 2013. It has been run at Perry Barr since 2021, taking place on the sand surface over 480 metres.
Held at Wimbledon between 1929, when it was inaugurated, until 2016, the puppy derby is the original race for young greyhounds. There have been other puppy derbies run at racetracks over the years, with some of them even offering a larger prize pool than this, but its status as the first such event arguably makes it the most prestigious. It moved to Towcester Racecourse in 2017, with its prize money increasing to £20,000 as a result, though it has since dropped to £10,000. It is, as you might expect, only open to puppies aged between 15 and 24 months.
Another competition that now takes place at Towcester, the Juvenile is also only open to puppies aged between 15 and 24 months. It was first run at Wimbledon when it was known as the Greyhound Express Merit Puppy Trophy, taking on its current moniker in 1964. It switched to Central Park Stadium in Sittingbourne when Wimbledon closed, moving briefly to Owlerton Stadium before shifting to Towcester Greyhound Stadium in 2021. Run over 500 metres, the prize for the winner is around £5,000.
As the name suggests, this is another hurdling event like the Grand National. It was held at Wimbledon between its first running in 1990 and the closure of the stadium in 2017, moving to Towcester before it was taken up by Central Park Stadium. It is the third most prestigious hurdling event and takes place on a sand track over 480 metres, with hurdles challenging the greyhounds. It culminated on the evening of the English Greyhound Derby final, having been run over both 460 metre hurdles and 480 metre hurdles during its time at Wimbledon.
WJ & JE Cearns Invitation
Inaugurated at Wimbledon in 1950, it originally boasted the title of the W. J. Cearns Memorial Trophy following the death of Bill Cearns the year before. He has been the founder of Wimbledon Stadium and the chairman of West Ham United Football Club, hence the feeling that he should have an event named in his honour. It was moved to Sittingbourne by Cearns’ grandson in 2006, at which point it took on its current title when Roger Cearns’ added his father’s initials. John Cearns had also been important to the founding of Wimbledon Stadium.
In many ways, the history of the Champion Stakes is less to do with Wimbledon and more to do with Romford Greyhound Stadium. That is because it was inaugurated at Wimbledon Stadium in 1947, but discontinued in 1973. That remained the case until Romford decided to resurrect it in 1988, with the event taking place there ever since. The likes of Endless Gossip helped to put the race on the map with a win in 1953, unsurprisingly starting the race as the 1/6 favourite given the dog’s previous exploits elsewhere.
English Greyhound Derby Invitation
Formerly known as the Derby Consolation Stakes, the English Greyhound Derby Invitation was a long-standing competition that was offered to dogs that had been eliminated from the English Greyhound Derby during the events later rounds. It was originally intended to be a race for the six dogs that dropped out of the main race during the semi-final stage, but then changed to be for dogs invited by the racecourse. Even though this usually remains the six dogs from the semi-final, it added something interesting to the race that moved to Wimbledon in 1985.
One of the few races on this list that spent its entire history taking place at Wimbledon, the International was first run in 1929 and was devised as a race between the winners of the English Greyhound Derby, the Scottish Greyhound Derby and the Welsh Greyhound Derby. The first ever winner was Mick the Miller, who defeated Back Isle and Cleveralitz. Between 1986 and 2003 it was known as the Byrne International, largely thanks to sponsorship of the event by the trainer Patsy Byrne. As you might imagine, some big-name greyhounds won the race over the years.
In the News
As you might imagine, there are few stories about Wimbledon Stadium in the modern era. At the time of writing, it has been closed for more than five years, so it is hardly surprising that it doesn’t make for interesting headlines. Indeed, other than a brief mention in a piece about the most famous greyhound racing owners in the history of the sport, the only other reason someone wrote about Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium was when it closed down. At that point, a nostalgic piece was written entitled, Farewell To The Wimbledon Dogs.
About Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium
It is fair to say that there is plenty to write about when it comes to Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium, so we’ll move to make this fairly concise. It was originally constructed on a piece of land to the east of the River Wandle, which had previously been considered too difficult to build on on account of the fact that it was marsh land and prone to flooding. That didn’t put off South London Greyhound Racecourses Limited, however. They built the new stadium ready for its opening night in May of 1928, rescued from financially difficulties by a consortium led by Bill ‘WJ’ Cearns.
The first race saw a dog called Ballindura winning and making history. It was the first track in the country to introduce weighing scales, which allowed the public to be given weight information before every race. In the years that followed, Wimbledon established itself as one of the country’s leading stadiums, leading to the arrival of Mick the Miller in 1929. During the Second World War, the stadium continued racing in spite of the fact that it had suffered bomb damage. In the wake of the war, a new grandstand was built.
The Years Pass
For a long time, life at Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium passed by relatively unremarkably. New races arrived and old ones left, with the 1960s briefly threatening its existence as redevelopment looked likely. The Greyhound Racing Association purchased part of the venue and that put the kibosh on such plans. The GRA soon put investment money into the development of the stadium, including an increase in prize money in order to see more big-name dogs brought to there to take part in its races.
One of the biggest changes took place in 1976, which was when the stadium became one of the first in the country to use a system of grading instead of sectional timing. In 1985 the English Greyhound Derby moved to Wimbledon, which was considered to be a big decision at the time. Two years later and the Oaks followed suit, with the race for bitches arriving following the closure of Harringay. Still nothing overly exciting took place at Wimbledon, seeing the stadium head into the 1990s as one of the GRA’s premier venues.
The Modern Era
In 1993, the Greyhound Racing Association’s parent company, Wembley Plc, announced £8 million in losses in spite of the UK operation making £13 million profit. Three years later and the inter-track betting service was introduced, which allowed punters to place bets on races taking place at other tracks to bet on them at the track they were at. A new extension to the Paddock Bar opened in 1998 at a cost of £500,000, seeing the kennels moved to the first bend in order to make room for it.
More chances took place five years later, with £70,000 spent on track improvements. Major changes happened in 2010, including a switch of the grandstand to the far side of the track. That cost around £400,000, though the stadium did receive just shy of £200,000 from the British Greyhound Racing Fund. Until 2005, the stadium had also operated as a speedway course and was home to the Wimbledon Dons speedway team. Similarly, it was occasionally used to host stock car racing and was used as the location for the filming of the Queen song Bicycle Race in 1978.
Track Records at Wimbledon
Wimbledon was one of the country’s most prestigious greyhound racing stadium’s during its existence. It is therefore not overly surprising that it has countless records next to its name over some of the countless distances that it hosted during its years. Rather than list them all, which would take far too long, here is a look at ten of the standout records posted during the post-metric era. The pre-metric era offers a wealth of records of its own, which we’re ignoring for obvious reasons of modernity.
|Distance||Record Time||Date Set|
|252 Metres||14.95 Seconds||16th March 1994|
|276 Metres||16.26 Seconds||7th July 2007|
|480 Metres||27.95 Seconds*||30th May 2015|
|660 Metres||40.12 Seconds||8th March 1994|
|680 Metres||41.73 Seconds||24th June 1995|
|868 Metres||54.11 Seconds||6th May 1983|
|1,068 Metres||68.55 Seconds||8th February 1990|
|412 Metre Hurdles||25.38 Seconds||5th August 1989|
|480 Metre Hurdles||28.89 Seconds||25th February 2016|
|668 Metre Hurdles||41.68 Seconds||2nd July 2005|
*Record was set during the English Greyhound Derby heats
The Closing of the Track: What Happened to Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium?
Ultimately, as is the case for so many greyhound racing venues, Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium fell foul of the falling interest in the sport. It certainly didn’t help that the Greyhound Racing Association allowed big races to leave, such as the Grand National shifting to Central Park Stadium in Sittingbourne in 2012. Attendances fell year-on-year, with the stadium itself becoming somewhat dilapidated as a result of falling investment into it. It was, therefore, hardly a surprise when the GRA announced that it would be closing.
The final meeting was confirmed for the 25th of March in 2017, with a huge crowd turning up to see it off. The problem was that the stadium’s poor state meant that much of it was closed off to the public, meaning that many people had to be turned away. The final race was won by Glitzy King, who had been trained by Brian Nicholls, the trainer who had supplied many dogs in the final few months of the venue’s existence. It was eventually closed down and demolished in order to turn it into housing.