Saturday, March 16, 2019

Keith Laybourn's "Going to the Dogs"

Keith Laybourn is Diamond Jubilee Professor and Professor of History at the University of Huddersfield.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Going to the Dogs: A history of greyhound racing in Britain 1926-2017, and reported the following:
Going to the Dogs: A History of Greyhound Racing in Britain, 1926-2017 is the first academic book to examine the rise and fall of greyhound racing in Britain, although there have been some popular publications on individual tracks. Greyhound racing began in Britain at Belle Vue in July 1926 and within five years there were more than 200 greyhound tracks in Britain and about twenty-four million attendances per year, peaking at well over 32 million in the late 1930s. In the words of the title of the hit-song of 1927, Everybody's Going to the Dogs. From the start , greyhound racing was essentially a sport for the working classes, offering them easily accessible, and legal, on-track, gambling opportunities, and an 'American Night Out', with the bright lights, excitement and spectacle of six, or eight, dogs racing around an oval track chasing a mechanical hare. Indeed, greyhound racing became 'An Ascot for the common man'.

Portrayed as the 'casinos' and the 'Monte Carlos ' of the working class, greyhound tracks became subject to criticism from the National Anti-Gambling League - which feared that gambling on greyhound racing would cause poverty and corrupt women and children - the churches, and some politicians who regarded greyhound racing not being a rational recreation. Winston Churchill referred to greyhound tracks as 'animated roulette boards', and John Buchan suggested that they were 'illuminated ribbons of turf'. As a result the police were constantly being asked to survey the tracks for signs of illegal gambling by children, dog fixing and gambling rackets amongst the bookies. However, the police found little more than petty corruption at most tracks for they were few crime gangs like the Sabinis (headed by Ottavio Sabini) of the track at Brighton and Hove. In the end greyhound racing declined as a result of the Attlee Labour government of the late 1940s imposing a 10 per cent tax on tote betting and demanding the payment of licence fees for on-track bookies rather than the opposition of the anti-gambling fraternity. Nevertheless, whilst it was at its height, greyhound tracking attracted financial investment from the lower middle-classes, who hoped that they had discovered something more lucrative than 'King Solomon's mines', generated local employment, and stimulated a whole industry in breeding, training and racing greyhounds in which the working-class breeders and trainers were in conflict with the large tracks. Indeed, greyhound racing was deeply divided between the large National Greyhound Racing Society tracks, run to the rules of the National Greyhound Racing Club, and the smaller 'flapping tracks'. Most working -class trainers found it difficult to get their dogs run on the NGRS tracks, where the big races such as the Greyhound Derby were held, and where Entry Bridge and Mick the Miller made their reputations. In other words, greyhound racing was deeply divided sport with the NGRS tracks offering tote betting and trying to exclude the bookies and the 'flapping tracks', where the smaller owner and trainers ran their dogs and where many tracks relied upon the bookies for their gambling activities. This tended to mean that family groups attended the NGRS tracks for leisure as well as gambling whilst the flapping tracks were attended by smaller groups of more ardent male working-class bettors. By the late 1940s greyhound racing may have attracted up to 40 million attendances per year but taxation, alternative gambling opportunities, and changes in betting reduced attendance to about two million in 2017 and there are only about 24 major tracks now in existence, and about 9 smaller 'private' tracks. As a sign of the times, even the famous Wimbledon track was closed and sold off for housing development two year ago. The heyday of greyhound racing occurred between 1926 and 1950, and it has declined ever since and now faces oblivion.
Learn more about Going to the Dogs at the Manchester University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue