Greyhound Racing Association

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The Greyhound Racing Association (GRA Acquisition Limited) 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). The company now trades as GRA Acquisition following the sale of the GRA by parent company Wembley plc in 2005. [1]

As of 2019, the Greyhound Racing Association operates two stadia; the Belle Vue Stadium in Manchester (which is leased), and the Perry Barr Stadium in Birmingham.

History[edit]

Early racing history[edit]

The first meeting

Greyhound racing was developed from coursing in 18th-century Britain. The first official coursing club was the Swaffham Coursing Society in Norfolk, England, which put on its first event in 1776.

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[edit]

Alfred Critchley

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 - Brigadier-General 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.[2] 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 other directors were Robert Grant Jr., Francis Steward Gentle, F A Lumley, Henry Haworth Hardman and Charles A Munn.

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 Zoological Gardens.[3] 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.[2]

UK expansion[edit]

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.[4] Its relationship to many of these tracks was affiliation, rather than full ownership.[5][2] 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.[4] 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. During 1942, Alfred Critchley became the Chairman in place of the late Edward Loch, 2nd Baron Loch.[6]

Post-war development[edit]

The popularity of greyhound racing boomed in the post-war years, with 25 million people passing through the turnstiles nationwide each year.[7] The sport peaked in 1946, with White City alone recording a turnover of £17,576,190.[8]

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.[2]

By the end of the decade attendances had declined to 10 million visitors a year.[2] 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 focusing the market on the value of its property portfolio. In 1965 John Sutton became Managing Director and the GRA extended its board by adding Major Percy Brown, John Cearns (son of WJ Cearns) and Charles Chandler Jr. to the directors but sold the Kingsfurze breeding establishment at Naas in County Kildare, the seven acre grounds had been breeding greyhounds for over 17 years. They then sold Upper Childown Farm and Fan Court Farm grounds in Longcross near Chertsey. The two properties were used as a nursery and rearing establishment by the GRA. Further cutbacks by the GRA included the sacking of two advertising executives and five trainers from the Hook Estate and Kennels.[9] [10]

In the summer of 1969 it traded as 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. The GRA's strategy was to buy up tracks which raised the value of the company’s stock and to sell when the price of property boomed. They sold six tracks from 1970-1974 (Charlton, Kings Heath, West Ham, Reading, Liverpool and Clapton) and had previously agreed the sale of their flagship track White City.[9] 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.

Despite the track sales the company secured various loans and 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.[2] The management of the company during this period was inept, the assets were sold but they still accumulated debts of £18.4 million. A scheme of arrangement was organised in 1976 in order to avoid liquidation.[11] They then sold their third share in Walthamstow and their 23% stake in Coral.[12] [13]

The company survived in part through 1980s sale of a number of leading GRA venues, including White City, Slough, Shawfield, Harringay, and Powderhall. 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.[14] 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. Wembley Plc sold the GRA to Risk Capital Partners in 2005 and it is now called GRA Acquisition Ltd.

Stadiums[edit]

Stadiums owned / operated by the GRA[edit]

The list shows all tracks that have been owned and operated by the Greyhound Racing Association since greyhound racing commenced in 1926.[9] [15] [16]

Notes
  • Bold denotes that a stadium is still operated by the Greyhound Racing Association.
  • Italics denotes that a stadium is still in operation but is now operated under a different franchise.
  • * Belle Vue Stadium, whilst still operated by the Greyhound Racing Association, is no longer owned by the GRA.

Stadiums which the GRA held a financial stake in[edit]

The following is a list of tracks that were not fully owned or operated by the Greyhound Racing Association, but which the GRA still held a financial stake in at some point during their history.

Pre-1939

The GRA had conceded its' financial stake in the following stadiums by 1939:

Post-1945

The GRA gained its' financial stake in the following stadiums post-1945:

Notes
  • Italics denotes that a stadium is still in operation but is now operated under a different franchise.

Risk Capital Partners takeover[edit]

In 2005 GRA Ltd was sold by Wembley PLC to venture capitalists Risk Capital Partners Ltd for £50 million,[18][19][20] though it later emerged that the purchase was part-financed by property developer Galliard Homes.[21]

As a result, there has been speculation that GRA could cease to operate as a greyhound stadium operator, with stadia sold off or closed.[22] In 2009 the Portsmouth Stadium track was sold by Risk Capital to pay down debt; it closed early the following year.[23] Around two months after news of loan problems,[24] on 29 December 2012 the GRA closed Oxford. 2017 saw the closures' of both Wimbledon and Hall Green, on 25 March and on 29 July, respectively.[25][26][27][28]

Of the remaining two stadiums still operating under the Greyhound Racing Association banner, Perry Barr remains within the property portfolio of the association's parent company, which is currently the National Asset Management Agency;[29] whilst Belle Vue continues to operate on a short-term lease from the stadium's current owners' the Crown Oil Pension Fund.[30]

Notes and references[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ Gentle was also chairman of the neighbouring Belle Vue Zoological Gardens.

References

  1. ^ "Expired £49m loan unleashes doubts over dog-race group". The Telegraph.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "A history of Greyhound Racing in the UK". LoveGreyHounds.co.uk. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  3. ^ The Guardian, Page 13, April 1st, 1926
  4. ^ a b The Guardian, Page 15, November 21st, 1927
  5. ^ The Guardian, Page 16, November 16th, 1927
  6. ^ ""City News In Brief." Times, 22 Oct. 1942, p. 9". The Times Digital Archive.
  7. ^ Business Observer, Page 12, February 15th, 1970.
  8. ^ Particulars of Licensed tracks, table 1 Licensed Dog Racecourses. Licensing Authorities. 1946.
  9. ^ a b c Genders, Roy (1981). The Encyclopedia of Greyhound Racing. Pelham Books Ltd. ISBN 07207-1106-1.
  10. ^ Genders, Roy (1990). NGRC book of Greyhound Racing. Pelham Books Ltd. ISBN 0-7207-1804-X.
  11. ^ "Walters, Margaret. "GRA Trust puts forward plan to avoid liquidation." Times, 15 May 1976, p. 17". Times Digital Archives.
  12. ^ "Maughan, Ray. "GRA sells its stake in Coral to repay loan." Times, 7 May 1977, p. 21". Times Digital Archives.
  13. ^ "GRA sells shares - 5 January". Aberdeen Press and Journal. 1977.
  14. ^ "Remember When - October 1987". Greyhound Star.
  15. ^ Barnes, Julia (1988). Daily Mirror Greyhound Fact File. Ringpress Books. ISBN 0-948955-15-5.
  16. ^ Hobbs, Jonathan (2007). Greyhound Annual 2008. Raceform. ISBN 978-1-905153-53-4.
  17. ^ ""Greyhound Racing Association Trust." Times, 1 Feb. 1938". The Times Digital Archive.
  18. ^ Bowers, Simon "C4 chairman buys greyhound tracks", '"The Guardian", 1 March 2005, accessed 29 July 2011.
  19. ^ "GRA Leisure buyout". Risk Capital Partners. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  20. ^ "Risk Capital chases down GRA". Growth Business. 1 March 2005. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  21. ^ "Hume Consulting statement, August 2013" (PDF). London Borough of Merton. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  22. ^ http://www.gobata.co.uk/1/post/2012/8/mission-impossible-for-feltham.html
  23. ^ http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/portsmouth-greyhound-track-set-to-close-for-redevelopment-1-1252767
  24. ^ Winch, Jessica (9 October 2012). "Expired £49m loan unleashes doubts over dog-race group". The Telegraph. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  25. ^ "A farewell to Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium, London's last dog track". London Evening Standard. 24 March 2017.
  26. ^ "Greyhound racing in London on its last legs with Wimbledon dog track to close this weekend after 90 years". The Sun. 24 March 2017.
  27. ^ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-40755704
  28. ^ http://www.itv.com/news/central/2017-07-29/end-of-an-era-for-hall-green-greyhound-stadium/
  29. ^ "New lease deal will keep the GRA tracks racing". Racing Post.
  30. ^ "CBRE advises on Stadia Sale". Headline Communications.

Sources

  • 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.

External links[edit]