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Harringay Stadium was the third greyhound racing stadium to open in Britain. It was owned by the Greyhound Racing Association Ltd (GRA). After great success with their first track at Belle Vue in Manchester in 1926, they opened both White City and Harringay stadiums in 1927.
The driving force behind the GRA, and its Managing Director until the 1960s, was Brigadier-General Alfred Critchley who wrote in his autobiography that, when he first learned of greyhound racing, "It immediately occurred to me that this might prove to be the poor man's racecourse". Apparently his interest in how the lower paid classes were losing money by backing horses was born out of concern for his valet who lost large sums betting on horse racing.
Harringay Stadium was constructed by Messrs T.G. Simpson of Victoria Street, London, at a cost of £35,000. The 23-acre (93,000 m2) site had been the Williamson's Pottery Works from the late 18th century through to the early 1900s. It was then used as a dumping ground for the spoil from the construction of the Piccadilly line to Finsbury Park.
On completion, the rather awkward structure had a capacity of 50,000. The main stand running along the north of the site seated 3,000. The remaining 47,000 spectators were accommodated on terracing constructed on earth banking. When it opened the stadium was originally called Harringay Park.
There were a number of additions to the stadium in the years after construction including a number of smaller stands around the track and the construction of a restaurant in the main stand. One of the most renowned additions was the Australian-invented Julius totalisator. This electro-mechanical computer, installed in 1930 and extended and upgraded in 1948, saw continuous service until the stadium was closed in 1987.
Greyhound racing was run continuously at the stadium from 1927 until its closure 60 years later. In 1935 Harringay held its first major race, the Pall Mall Stakes which moved to Oxford Stadium in 1987 after closure. In 1940 it hosted the prestigious greyhound race, the Derby. Such was Harringay's reputation that in the 1950s Sporting Life called the track "the best running circuit in Britain".
Although the sport was in decline from the 1960s onwards, Harringay had a brief spell of fame when the stadium became the home of Greyhound racing on London Weekend Television's World of Sport between 1972 and 1982.
The last greyhound meeting was held on 25 September 1987.
Cheetah Racing at Harringay
In 1937, Harringay Stadium was part of a scheme by the owner of the Romford greyhound, track, Arthur Leggett, to increase attendance at his venue.
Twelve cheetahs were imported into the UK from Kenya in December 1936 by explorer Kenneth Gandar-Dower. After six months' quarantine the cheetahs were given a year to acclimatise and for training at Harringay and Staines stadia. The cheetahs ran in public for the first time to a packed house at the Romford track, on Saturday, 11 December 1937. After this initial race, the cheetahs had only one further outing. Needless to say they consistently beat the greyhounds.
The reason for the failure of the enterprise is not known, though it is believed that complaints from local residents and pressure generated by other track owners had some bearing on the decision. Other speculation suggests the experiment failed because the animals had no interest in racing.
A speedway track was laid inside the greyhound track and speedway events began at Harringay Stadium on 29 May 1928, three months after the first speedway event was held in the UK. After four years, with mixed success, the events were discontinued. However, they resumed in 1935 and, after a break during the war, speedway events ran from 4 April 1947 until 1954. During the 1930s, many events were promoted by sports promoter Mr Tom Bradbury-Pratt.
The home team was known as the Canaries, then the Tigers, and finally the Harringay Racers. Australian Vic Duggan was the top star from 1947 to 1950. When he retired Split Waterman took over as Racers star rider.
The huge postwar popularity of speedway declined through the early 1950s and Harringay was one of many tracks that discontinued their involvement in the sport in that period. The stadium was last used for speedway when it staged the Provincial League Riders' Championship on 16 September 1961.
Stock car racing
The first BriSCA Formula 1 Stock Cars World Championship world final for stock cars took place at Harringay on 24 June 1955, won by Mac McDonnell. The World Final returned to Harringay in 1963, won by Doug Wardropper, in 1967, won by George Ansell, in 1970, won by Jim Esau and for the last time in 1973, won by Dave Chisholm.
In 1979 the stadium enjoyed a brief spell of fame of a different kind when a stock car event at the stadium was used as one of the locations for the film The Long Good Friday.
Banger racing (in which team tactics and more deliberate interception of opposing cars was permitted) also flourished at the stadium, featuring teams such as the North London Teddy Bears and the "Ahern Rats". The last Banger world final at Harringay took place in 1979.
Historical accounts paint a colourful picture of life around the stadium. Joe Coral, the founder of Coral Bookmakers, started his business at Harringay Stadium and other similar venues. Coral is supposed to have come up against organised crime boss Darby Sabini at Harringay but held his ground by holding a gun to Sabini's stomach.
Contemporary newspaper reports suggest that the crowds at the stadium could also be prone to violent disorder. There were at least three documented incidents of serious crowd disorder between 1938 and 1957. On 14 May 1938, when speedway racing was stopped early due to an accident, a crowd of 2,000 demanded their money back. When their demands were ignored the crowd broke onto the track, smashing and damaging parts of the stadium and setting fire to the track's tractor.
Eight years later a crowd attending a greyhound racing event ran riot after a second-placed dog was disqualified. According to The Guardian, the crowd
|“||invaded the track and for over half an hour indulged in senseless destruction. They started bonfires which they fed with pieces of the hare trap...smashed electric lamps and arc lights, tore down telephone wires, and broke windows, wrecked the inside of the judge's box, overturned the starting trap...They also attacked the tote offices...||”|
In June 1957 another disqualification provoked a further riot at a greyhound racing event. Similar levels of disorder as the previous riot were dealt with on this occasion by firemen from six fire appliances who turned their hoses on the crowd. Apparently the angry crowd was quickly dispersed, but they left quite a trail of destruction.
Closure & demolition
The popularity of greyhound racing started to decline in the 1960s. Both this and some poor investment decisions by the GRA left the company almost £20 million in debt by 1975. In spite of this, the company was talking about major investment in Harringay as late as 1970. However, it had also been in talks with "a leading supermarket chain" about the sale of the land as early as 1967. In any event the stadium received little investment and as a result became quickly dilapidated.
In line with its property disinvestment strategy, the GRA sold the Harringay site in 1985 to Sainsbury's for £10.5 million. Two years later, on 27 September 1987, the stadium finally closed down. The site was cleared and in its place a Sainsbury's store and some new housing was built . The only remaining trace of the stadium is a very small area of open land to the south and east of the Sainsbury's car park, called Harringay Stadium Slopes.
- Despite the name the GRA was in fact a private company rather than a sports governing body.
- Ticher, Mike (2002). The Story of Harringay Stadium and Arena. Hornsey Historical Society. ISBN 0 905794 29 X.
- "Harringay Greyhound Stadium Totalisator". The Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society. Retrieved 2007-11-12.
- Bamford, R & Jarvis J.(2001). Homes of British Speedway. ISBN 0-7524-2210-3
- The day big cats went to the dogs, Mark Barber, Financial Times, 5 August 2003.
- The Times, Racing Cheetahs, 11 December 1937.
- Bradbury Pratt promoted both Speedway and Greyhound racing at various venues, including Harringay, Walthamstow, Wimbledon, Middlesborogh, Portsmouth and others, sometimes together with Mr Charles Knott.
- Jacobs, N.(2001). Speedway in London ISBN 0-7524-2221-9
- Speedway information on Harringay
- BriSCA Formula One - The first 50 years 1954-2004 Keith Barber p 160-161
- Saperstein-Newbury Thrill Show, First In, Clicks in London, Billboard, 14 May 1955
- The Guardian, 15 May 1938
- The Guardian, 23 July 1946
- The Guardian, 25 June 1957
- Business Observer, Page 12, 15 February 1970.
- The Guardian, Page 9, 9 August 1967
- The illustrated London news, Volume 275
- London Wildweb - Harringay Stadium Slopes- accessible from Surrey Gardens, off Finsbury Park Avenue.
- Harringay Online's Harringay Timeline
- Harringay greyhound racing photo archive at TopFoto
- TopFoto photo archive of Billy Graham's 1954 visit to Harringay Arena with opening show at Harringay Stadium
- The Julius Totalisator at Harringay Stadium
- Video clips of Julius Totalisator
- Harringay Online - a local networking site with lots of information about Harringay
- Speedway Researcher