The history of officially licenced greyhound racing in the UK is now closing in on its centenary. There are many highlights contained within that near 100-year lifespan, but in recent times, a significant negative has begun to emerge – namely an ever-increasing list of tracks being forced into closure. There are a number of reasons for that and even some of the most successful tracks have been affected.
Indeed, almost all areas of the country have been hit to some degree, seeing the total number of stadiums fall to just 20. Contained within that list of sadly defunct tracks are a whole host of smaller venues, but also some of the biggest and most famous circuits in the sport.
Falling firmly into that latter category is the track previously located in the Birmingham suburb of Hall Green. First opening in 1927, and shining brightly for the majority of its lifetime, the track began to decline with the sport in general and then more rapidly in the 21st century, and finally met its demise in 2017. Here we take a look at this formerly great greyhound racing venue and the events which led to its closure.
Former Greyhound Racing at Hall Green
Having already opened a trailblazing track at Belle Vue in 1926, Greyhound Racing Association Ltd (GRA) were looking to expand their horizons beyond that wildly successful Greater Manchester venue. High up on the list of priorities was the establishment of a greyhound facility in England’s second city of Birmingham. The land chosen for the project was that of the Olympia Sports Grounds in Hall Green, which GRA purchased in early 1927.
The first purpose-built greyhound track in Birmingham – and one of the first in the whole of the UK – Hall Green staged its inaugural meeting on the 24th of August 1927, with a bumper crowd of 20,000 turning up to take in the action. In 2020, admittedly an unusual year, the average attendance was 116 in the UK!
Also acting as the home of the Birmingham Bulldogs speedway outfit between 1928 and 1938, and the Hall Green Amateurs football team from 1951 through to 1965, Hall Green Stadium soon become a cornerstone of the local sporting and social scene. These early decades of the sport really were a golden era for greyhound racing and bringing in money aside from the dogs only accentuated its success.
Improvements to the Track
Consistently excellent crowds put the stadium on a firm financial footing, and in 1970 the GRA oversaw a major £750,000 upgrade of the site. This involved replacing the main grandstand with a new four-tier facility containing an a la carte restaurant, glass-fronted seating area, bar, fast food facilities and executive suites.
Further improvements were to come with the addition of a £400,000 snooker club in 1987, and a £1m investment in 1989 which saw the building of a 48-room hotel close to the third and fourth bends. This also saw an extension to the existing restaurant, and the laying of a new racing surface.
Famous Events at Hall Green
Over the years the off-track facilities were matched by the quality of the racing action, with Hall Green hosting several prestigious events. Prestigious contests including the Produce, Blue Riband, Gymcrack, Prestige, Grand National, Midland Flat were held at the venue, as well as the TV Trophy on three occasions.
What Happened to Hall Green Stadium?
Unfortunately for Birmingham racegoers, the good times were not to last forever. Towards the end of the 20th century the sport’s popularity decreased, with concerns over animal welfare, as well as the myriad other entertainment options available to punters.
Moving into the 21st century, average attendances began to dwindle, leading to rumours concerning the long-term future of one of British Greyhound racing’s longest-running tracks.
2014: Ownership Change
2014 then saw the first ownership change in the history of the stadium when the National Asset Management Agency – who were the company behind the GRA – sold Hall Green to Euro Property Investments Ltd for £3m.
That sale did not immediately signal the end for racing at the site, with the GRA originally leasing the stadium back from Euro Property Investments Ltd and continuing to stage its regular program of meetings. However, considering the new owners were a property investment firm, the writing was very much on the soon-to-be-demolished wall, and it wasn’t long before the fears of greyhound fans were realised.
2016: Talk of Housing Development Plans
On the 23rd of February, 2016, the announcement came that the stadium would be pulled down, with the land set to be repurposed as a housing development. Those against the proposal were granted a glimmer of hope when the housing planning application was initially rejected by Birmingham City Council in June 2016, only for the decision to be overturned on appeal just one month later.
Supporters of the track continued to fight the development, with former track manager, Stephen Rea, heading up a campaign and gaining significant backing from the local community. Refusing to give in, the anti-development group handed in a near 5,000-signature petition to the local council, in the hope that they may reconsider their decision.
2017: The Very Last Race
However, the protests ultimately proved to be to no avail. In June of 2017, the track officially announced that it would be closing permanently the following month, with all staff set to be made redundant. The traps then opened and closed for the final time at Hall Green on the 29th of July, 2017.
2018: Demolition Begins
Any hopes for an unlikely turnaround were finally extinguished in 2018 when the bulldozers descended upon Hall Green and the demolition process began, marking the end of the road for the 90-year-old track. Another nail in the coffin of the sport too, with such a large venue closing surely a sign of things to come for other tracks.
The Current Site
Beginning in late 2018, the proposed building works were completed following three years of work in 2021. These days the site is home to 210 new properties, featuring a mix of shared ownership and affordable homes, apartments, and 2- and 3-bedroom houses.
Located close to local amenities, including schools, shops and Birmingham New Street train station, the site has proved hugely popular with prospective homeowners. All of which is likely of little consolation to those who hark back to the golden days of one of Britain’s original big tracks.