Norfolk

Great Yarmouth greyhound stadium celebrates 70 years

Poster Image copyright Yarmouth stadium

A greyhound stadium is charging 1946 prices to celebrate its 70th anniversary.

Among other offers, punters at Yarmouth Stadium will be charged just five pence for their first pint of beer at Wednesday's meeting.

The Norfolk stadium has bucked the national trend of greyhound stadium closures over recent years.

The number of venues in England has dropped from around 80 to 25 over the past 65 years

Well-known venues such as Harringay, Walthamstow and White City are among those to have shut their door.

But Yarmouth owner Stephen Franklin believes the sport is again gaining a growing audience.

He said: "Races starting in the mornings and being streamed for an international audience and online betting will lead to more future success."

Image copyright Yarmouth Stadium

Yarmouth Stadium has provided a livelihood for four generations of the Franklin family.

Built in 1939, just a handful of races were held before World War Two - but on 7 December 1946, the crowds flocked back for its first proper meet.

The year also saw the launch of the first East Anglian greyhound derby, the competition rapidly evolving to be a 'must win' event.

The prize money for this year's race was £12,000, considerably more than in 1947.

Image copyright Yarmouth stadium

Speedway also became part of the sporting mix in 1949 and when the Yarmouth Bloaters team raced against Coventry in a league meeting it was watched by 11,000 spectators, according to records.

Image copyright Yarmouth Stadium
Image caption Yarmouth speedway rider Reg Morgan in 1950

Non league speedway gave way to stock car racing in 1963 and races are still held at the stadium today on the tarmac raceway.

Image copyright Yarmouth Stadium
Image caption Stock cars of yesteryear getting ready to race
Image copyright Yarmouth Stadium
Image caption Len Franklin set up the business with Ernie Wedon and Cliff Yaxley in 1939

The 1960s proved to be a pivotal time for greyhound and horse racing after High Street betting shops were licensed.

Stephen Franklin said their rapid growth saw punters move away from racecourses and into the shops.

Mr Franklin said "without the financial support of a levy on bets placed in the betting shops, which were given to horse racing, more greyhound tracks succumbed to property developers."

He added that temptation to sell is not really there for the Yarmouth Stadium as the site is on marshes and is not prime development land.

Image copyright Yarmouth Stadium

The 1970s brought several changes including the refinement of sand racecourses. Originally racing took place on grass.

New rules were adopted at Yarmouth in 1975 under the auspices of the National Greyhound Racing Club, now known as the Greyhound Board of Great Britain.

Holiday makers were the back bone of the business then and today Yarmouth Stadium is still one of the town's biggest evening attractions.

Improved bar and restaurant facilities were part of an 80s re-vamp while the 1990s saw the introduction of the hare system developed in nearby Swaffham and now virtually universal in Britain and Ireland.

In 1999 the family set up Homefinders for retired greyhounds and Mr Franklin says this is of great pride to him having begun his career tending the dogs.

He is still involved with the business but has handed over day-to-day running to his sons Justin and Simon.

Image copyright Yarmouth Stadium

Today his grand-daughter Paige is keeping it a family affair and is the fourth generation working for the business in its 270 seat restaurant and executive lounges which Mr Franklin says has made a huge difference to the stadium's success as an entertainment venue.

Image copyright Yarmouth Stadium

Racing at Yarmouth saw a first in 2007 when Sky Sports asked it to host the Television Trophy, a marathon race originated on the BBC.

It was also the start of a contract to broadcast races live to betting shops.

Looking ahead to the next 70 years Mr Franklin envisages more digital involvement if greyhound racing to continue to succeed.

But he believes the uniqueness of the seaside town will still attract punters looking for live interactive entertainment.

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