Greyhound Racing Association
The Greyhound Racing Association (GRA) is a UK-based private company founded in 1925 and involved in the management of sports venues, notably greyhound racing stadia (despite its name, it is not involved in the administration of greyhound racing - that is the responsibility of the Greyhound Board of Great Britain). In recent years, the GRA has been involved in property development of several former stadium sites.
As of 2016, the GRA operated four stadia:
- Wimbledon Stadium, London
- Hall Green Stadium, Birmingham
- Perry Barr Stadium, Birmingham
- Belle Vue Stadium, Manchester
Early racing history
Modern greyhound racing was effectively developed by Owen Patrick Smith, the chamber of commerce director in Hot Springs, South Dakota in the early years of the 20th century. He had been involved in organising local coursing events but did not like the sport, which he felt was inhumane. He began to look for a way to make the sport less bloody by using an artificial lure.
After much trial and error, Smith attracted investors and perfected an artificial lure system in 1912. His tracks allowed for six greyhounds to race at a time, and were circular instead of straight. Although it took some time for the concept to be fully developed and put into practice, by the 1920s, his greyhound racing tracks were spread across the USA and attracted thousands of visitors.
Formation of GRA
Modern greyhound racing was developed in England by the GRA. American businessman Charles A. Munn had secured the rights from Smith for artificial-lure racing in England in the early 1920s. With three others - Alfred Critchley, a Canadian-born World War I flying veteran, Major L Lyne Dixson, a noted coursing judge; and Sir William Gentle, a retired chief constable[Note 1] - he formed the Greyhound Racing Association Trust Ltd in August 1925. Although Gentle was the first company chairman, it was Critchley who took control of the company as managing director, and provided the energy and vision to drive it forward.
The North West of England was chosen to introduce the sport to the country, most likely hoping that the area's coursing tradition would make it attractive to the local population. On 14 October 1925 the association took a seven-year lease on land at the northern end of Kirkmanshulme Lane (an old brickfield), Manchester at an annual rent of £276, leased from the adjacent Belle Vue Zoo. With capital of £22,000, £8,000 of which was borrowed, Belle Vue Stadium was built on the land. The stadium opened on 27 July. Although the attendance at the first meeting was disappointing, by the end of the first season in October, thirty seven meetings had been held, with an average attendance of 11,000.
In 1927, Greyhound racing was taken to London with the acquisition of the near-derelict White City Stadium. GRA also moved its headquarters from Belle Vue to White City at the same time.
The GRA financed its activities by employing the then sophisticated automatic totalisator betting system developed by the British-born but long time Australian resident (the concept of Australian citizenship does date earlier than from the 1970s) George Alfred Julius.
The company's sophisticated commercial structure was quickly evident. From the earliest a complex set of subsidiaries and joint holdings characterised the company structure. The ownership of the Belle Vue track was actually in the hands of a subsidiary, Greyhound Racing Trust (Manchester) Ltd. In many cases Critchley and his co-directors owned a controlling or significant interest in these subsidiaries.
By the end of 1927 the company had acquired an interest in 18 racing tracks. Its relationship to many of these tracks was affiliation, rather than full ownership. Nonetheless, in November 1927, just two years after the company was formed they were able to report that 4,500,000 people had passed through their turnstiles giving gross receipts of £500,000. In the same month the company was approaching its shareholders with plans to take the company public. To effect this plan a new entity, The Greyhound Racing Trust Ltd, was formed. Whilst Critchley and Munn were still directors of this new company, Lyne Dixson no longer featured and Gentle had been replaced by Major General, the Lord Loch, as chairman. The new company issued its prospectus in December of the same year.
Diversification also came quite early in the company's history as they quickly adapted their venues for use as speedway tracks. In 1936 it diversified further by acquiring land next to its stadium in Harringay, north London and building the short-lived Harringay Arena.
The first major challenge for the company came with the 1934 Betting Act which stipulated that greyhound tracks must plan their programme a year in advance and hold no more than 104 meeting a year (two a week). It also required that tracks in the same neighbourhood must hold their meetings on the same evening.
Nonetheless, given the novelty of the sport the GRA, and the industry in general, was able to weather both this and the disruption brought about by World War II.
The popularity of greyhound racing boomed in the post-war years, with 25 million people passing through the turnstiles nationwide each year.
The 1960 Betting and Gaming Act heralded the end of the sport's popularity. The Act allowed alternatives to track-betting including bingo halls, casinos and betting shops. The development of high street betting meant that people could now bet without having to visit tracks. The Act also subjected greyhound track operators and the Greyhound Tote to much higher tax rates than betting shops.
By the end of the decade attendances had declined to 10 million visitors a year. Although this meant that greyhound racing was still the country's second most popular sport after football, it was a dramatic decline on attendances after the war.
Presaged by the sale of the Harringay Arena in 1958, the company soon moved to support it share price in the face of falling attendance by focussing the market on the value of its property portfolio. In the summer of 1969 it renamed itself the Greyhound Racing Property Trust. This move, together with a contemporaneous improvement of tax conditions for the industry by Chancellor Jim Callaghan, saw the GRA's share price improve dramatically.
Despite this, in the 1950s and 1960s the GRA's strategy was to buy up tracks which raised the value of the company’s stock. This continued into the early 1970s when the price of property boomed. The company renamed itself GRA Property Trust in the summer of 1969 in order to focus the stock market on the potential of its property portfolio and support its share price.
Foreseeing that industry rationalisation would be required, the company embarked on a strategy that would allow them to control this phase, buying up competing tracks. As part of this spate of buying, in March 1972, GRA Property Trust acquired Wimbledon Stadium, later its flagship venue.
In this period, the GRA also began to apply for planning permission of some of its London sites to secure their development value. However, a slump in the property market caused shares in property companies to free-fall. At the beginning of 1975 GRA Property Trust was suspended from the Stock Exchange following news of debts said to be in the region of £20 million.
In 1987 GRA was the subject of a £68.5 million reverse takeover by Wembley Stadium. Wembley assumed control of GRA and in February 1988 the GRA Group was renamed Wembley plc.
The company went through a period of reorganisation and modernisation during the 1990s, and in 1998 GRA purchased Oxford Stadium. 2003 saw the acquisition of another new track, Perry Barr Stadium, in north Birmingham. At the same time the Catford Stadium track was closed.
Tracks operated by the GRA
The list shows all tracks that the GRA either owned or had a financial stake in since greyhound racing began in 1926.    The final column indicates when the GRA either closed the stadium or sold/ended their stake in the stadium.
+ Lease Retained
Risk Capital Partners takeover
In 2005 GRA Ltd was sold by Wembley PLC to venture capitalists Risk Capital Partners Ltd for £50 million, though it later emerged that the purchase was part-financed by property developer Galliard Homes.
As a result, there has been speculation that GRA could cease to operate as a greyhound stadium operator, with some stadia sold off or closed. In 2009 the Portsmouth Stadium track was sold by Risk Capital to pay down debt; it closed the same year. Around two months after news of loan problems, on 29 December 2012 the GRA closed Oxford.
Since the appointment of Clive Feltham as Managing Director, the GRA have closed four stadiums with four remaining and three of these are in jeopardy. Belle Vue survives on a short-term lease with Wimbledon and Hall Green facing imminent closure.
Notes and references
- Gentle was also chairman of the neighbouring Belle Vue Gardens and Zoo.
- "A history of Greyhound Racing in the UK". LoveGreyHounds.co.uk. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
- The Guardian, Page 13, April 1st, 1926
- The Guardian, Page 15, November 21st, 1927
- The Guardian, Page 16, November 16th, 1927
- Business Observer, Page 12, February 15th, 1970.
- Genders, Roy (1981). The Encyclopedia of Greyhound Racing. Pelham Books Ltd. ISBN 07207-1106-1.
- Barnes, Julia (1988). Daily Mirror Greyhound Fact File. Ringpress Books. ISBN 0-948955-15-5.
- Hobbs, Jonathan (2007). Greyhound Annual 2008. Raceform. ISBN 978-1-905153-53-4.
- Bowers, Simon "C4 chairman buys greyhound tracks", '"The Guardian", 1 March 2005, accessed 29 July 2011.
- "GRA Leisure buyout". Risk Capital Partners. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
- "Risk Capital chases down GRA". Growth Business. 1 March 2005. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
- "Hume Consulting statement, August 2013" (PDF). London Borough of Merton. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
- Winch, Jessica (9 October 2012). "Expired £49m loan unleashes doubts over dog-race group". The Telegraph. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
- "Clive Frank Feltham". Companies House.
- "Plans for Wimbledon Stadium may be subject to change". Sky Sports.
- Nicholls, Robert (1992). The Belle Vue Story. Manchester: Neil Richardson. ISBN 1-85216-070-5.
- Greyhound Racing Association
- Ticher, Mike (2002). The Story of Harringay Stadium and Arena. Hornsey Historical Society. ISBN 0 905794 29 X.