THE CAVALRY CHARGE IN MANCHESTER.
OK i may never have seen a cavalry charge or even sampled the start of a Grand National at Aintree, but the nearest I have come to it was when Belle Vue Manchester introduced 8 dog racing in May 1971. Although I was only twelve at the time, I was there, and I remember it quite well, certainly the new colours of traps 7 and 8 were very appealing in itself. As I was learning my trade on the flaps at the time, 8 dogs in stead of the regular 5 was certainly something different, even my father’s regular comments said that ” I cant pick a winner with five never mind eight” and I’m sure many others would have said the same. Yet the green and yellow jacket of the seven and even more eye catching red and white chequered jacket of the 8 was an eyeopener in itself. May be down to picking more losers than winners was probably the reason why 8 dog racing never caught on, although Towcester gave it a go in more recent times, but that didn’t last either.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF BELLE VUE GREYHOUND STADIUM
The present Belle Vue Greyhound Stadium is located two and a half miles east of Manchester city centre, situated just off the A57 Hyde Road in the district of Gorton. Sometimes known to regulars as “The Zoo”, due to its once close proximity of a zoo that ceased operations in 1977, which had become a part of a huge amusement park that dominated the site for over a century. Although greyhound racing had been experienced in the UK prior to the days of Belle Vue, normally seen run at unauthorised meetings on straight courses, but what was about to happen in Manchester was something different and no doubt would certainly attract the attention of the British public. It was during October 1925 that a meadow situated between the amusement park and Higher Catsknoll Farm, was purchased by a group of businessmen, with a view to promote a new sporting product. Within nine months of its purchase and at a cost of £22,000, the new purpose built greyhound stadium was up and ready for operation. The new venue would be managed by the newly formed Greyhound Racing Association and all events were to be run under rules very similar to those of the NGRC, who incidentally were formed two years later. Belle Vue’s first meeting came on the 24th of July 1926, when a mere 1700 racegoers witnessed a greyhound called “Mistley” win the first ever race. Although I describe the 1700 as mere, you may say the figure was respectable compared to today’s numbers, but the second meeting’s attendance figure of 16,000, explained why. By October 1926, 37 meetings had taken place, with attendances averaging 11,000, the sport was no doubt proving a success. As greyhound racing dominated events at Belle Vue, other sports moved in as tenants, firstly in 1928 when Dirt Track Speedway was experimented, then featuring again sixty years later in 1988, and also Stock Car Racing which first appeared in 1999. But the main sport that had its links with Belle Vue greyhounds was Speedway Racing. Less than a mile away from the greyhound track was the Belle Vue Aces Speedway Stadium, its roar of motor bike engines regularly outgunned the greyhound fraternity at Saturday night meetings, a noise which created a unique atmosphere totally different to any other dog track in Britain. But that atmosphere was lost in 1987 when the Speedway Stadium was condemned by inspectors and closed down, although devastating it was an event that brought an even closer partnership between the dogs and the bikes as the Aces moved in as tenants. The first forty years of Belle Vue’s life would see the stadium develop in to a respectable venue, and make a name for itself as one of the top greyhound tracks in Britain. But good and bad changes came once the 1970’s decade approached, although attendances figures had dropped slightly, the interest was still there, with racegoers packing both its main stands on Saturday evenings. 1971 witnessed the opening of a brand new totalisator board complete with its brightly coloured numbers which was credited more with its appearance than its purpose. It was designed to operate an eight digit totalisator system, after eight dog racing had been introduced on the 8th of May 1971. When in operation’s its colourful numerals flickered over the west bend, and with the professionally arranged flower beds and waterfalls, which lay within the infield of the greyhound track, Belle Vue was a colourful spectacle indeed. The new tote board meant the old white scoreboard that overlooked the eastern bend was now redundant, and remained unused and derelict until 1980 when a large fire contributed to its demolition. Another part of Belle Vue’s history was lost in 1991, after the stand on the back straight known as the Chieftain Stand, named after one of Belle Vue’s legend “Hack Up Chieftain”, had been condemned by building inspectors. The cost of replacing its asbestos roof and refurbishing its run down condition overshadowed the need of the stand, which lead to the structure being demolished soon after. Concrete foundations of both the Chieftain Stand and the old toteboard still remain clearly evident, with the latter set back at the top of the terracing overlooking the eastern bend. Over the years Belle Vue has staged category race events such as the Cock Of The North, an event once run over 880 yards. The Cesarewitch which proved a crowd puller, having been transferred north due to the closure of the West Ham track in 1972, with Belle Vue hosting the event up until 1994 before being transferred to Catford. Up until recently, Belle Vue has staged The Laurels and The Oaks, but sadly due to limited sponsershp they category competitions have now been transferred to other venues. Today’s big events are the Scurry Gold Cup run over 260 metres, an event once held at London’s Clapton Stadium, and The Northern Flat both contested duing October. Races consist of six greyhounds chasing a Swaffham type outside hare, over regular distances of 260, 470 and 590 metres. Racing had seen a reduction to just three meetings per week, with a healthy crowd still supporting saturday evenings meetings, which still attracts clusters of racegoers from all ages. It has a large restaurant which can easily accommodate 400, complete with extra seating which offers panoramic views from inside the glass fronted main stand. The lower level of terracing in front, gives the punter a closer view of the bookmakers, but if you do like a bit of piece and quiet, then the BAGS meetings on Wednesdays and Sundays which includes free entrance, may be the place for you as there is hardly anybody there.