CHELSEA SAVED FROM EXTINCTION BY GREYHOUNDS
The mention of Stamford Bridge in conversion today relates directly to Chelsea Football Club, but to many of their followers, probably only a handful can remember that it once hosted Greyhound Racing. OK it is more than fifty years since a greyhound raced around the perimeter of the football pitch, but who knows if it wasn’t for the introduction of the sport during the early 1930’s, there may never have been the Chelsea Football Club of today. The Stamford Bridge Stadium lies four miles south west of London City Centre, situated not very far from the north banks of the River Thames. Originally it was the site of an old market garden, but in 1877 construction began to create The London Athletics Stadium, which would become a venue to stage not just athletics but cycling also. By 1904 athletics had ceased, and with the venues owners looking for other ways of a financing the venue, an agreement had been made with the newly formed Chelsea Football Club to stage its home matches there. The London Athletics Stadium began to change quite considerably, firstly with the reconstruction of its main stand, and then also the three remaining sides which had been nothing more than banks of earth. These three sides began to grow larger and larger over the following few months, as thousand’s of tons of soil and clay, which had been excavated from the nearby newly constructed underground, became dumped along with tons of cinders from a local sewer, which soon began to create some sort of man made natural bowl. In 1905 the newly christened Stamford Bridge Stadium was ready to host football league matches for Chelsea, a venue which was by now huge enough to accommodate 95,000 fans. At the time it had become the second largest sporting venue in the UK, only to be beaten by The Crystal Palace Stadium located on the South side of London. It was so vast that in 1920, 1921 and 1922 the Football Association had made it their choice to stage the FA Cup Final, yet unfortunately lost that status due to the opening of Wembley Stadium in 1923. But the Chelsea venue had been open to criticism also, as crowds had been hovering around a disappointing 50,000 for each Cup Final, the low figure blamed mainly on the inadequate seating arrangements. In 1928 Stamford Bridge applied for a license to stage Greyhound Racing, but it was instantly declined by the FA, stating that no football league ground would have links with the sport. Instead the stadiums owners turned to Motor Cycle Dirt Track Racing for extra income, but the sport lasted for just four seasons only before the idea was dropped in 1932. But by 1932 Chelsea Football Club were in financial trouble with debts having spiralled to around £12,000.
Concerns meant that the club had to look for other ways to improve its financial status, and against all Football League regulations, the Football Clubs committee turned to Greyhound Racing. Stamford Bridge staged its first greyhound meeting on the 31st of July 1933, with attendances increasing at every meeting, sometimes in the excess of 10,000. This instant success of Greyhound Racing with its extra income had clearly saved Chelsea Football Club from extinction. But large crowds did attend football matches also, with Stamford Bridge’s record attendance of 82,905 being set against Arsenal on the 12th of October 1935, and even a midget car event supposedly attracted around 50,000 in 1948. The large attendances at Greyhound Racing meetings also increased the number of Bookmakers standing, who regularly complained that they needed some kind of shelter during poor weather conditions. It was during 1936 that the rear section of terracing behind the Southern goal mouth became covered, and was instantly known as The Shed End, and it was at this end that the majority of the Bookmakers would gather. This section of terracing eventually became well known amongst football followers, and would last until 1994 before it was eventually demolished during the stadiums revamp. In the Summer of 1937, The GRA signed up for a thirty year lease to stage Greyhound Racing at Stamford Bridge, and operating under NGRC Rules, would stage six dog races over distances of 500 and 700 yards, with the hounds chasing an outside Sumner type hare. But 1967 brought good news then bad news for Greyhound Racing at Stamford Bridge, as firstly the track had become one of the first four tracks to serve the newly formed BAGS meetings service. But the good news was short lived, as discussions took place regarding renewing the lease, with the stadiums owners revealing that plans had been submitted to redevelop Stamford Bridge. The main discussion was that the construction of the new three tiered main stand, would mean the removal of the greyhound track, meaning Greyhound Racing would have to end. Sadly, it was to be the case, with The Bridge staging its final meeting on the 1st of August 1968, soon followed by the demolition of the old Eastern grandstand.
Construction began of the new East Stand almost immediately, but the huge cost of its presence had seen Chelsea Football Club almost crippled financially. This time Greyhound Racing was not around to save the club, but the club did struggle to survive financially throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s. So today sees Stamford Bridge as a total contrast from the days of Greyhound Racing, with its once oval shape now replaced with a more rectangular shaped venue that can almost accommodate 42,000 fans. Although the venue is a very modern stadium indeed, Stamford Bridge’s future still remains in the balance, as the media suggests that the site of the old Battersea Power Station could one day become a new home to the present day Chelsea Football Club.