What brings me here isn’t so much the chance of walking away with a bit of extra money in my pocket – chance would be a fine thing – instead it’s more for the fun of it. I’ve always had a love of greyhound racing. It’s an important part of my life; just like it was for my father. I was only a young kid when he took me to my first race – it’s something I remember clearly even now. Dogs or horses, there’s no denying he loved betting – especially if he’d managed to shift a car that week. You see, my old man was in the motor trade. Every Sunday he’d have a car for sale down at Petticoat Lane Market, the drawback being myself and my brothers having to arrive late Saturday night and keep hold of a pitch, so my father could roll up next morning with the car he hoped to sell.
I came to Harlow as part of the London overflow in 1961. From the off I was working for Key Glassworks, which meant I qualified for a house. It was a lovely two-bedroomed house with an ample garden – it was a lovely pad, I couldn’t fault it.
As for greyhound racing, I’ve been coming to Harlow Stadium ever since its doors opened in 1995. I’m lucky to have this place on my doorstep, especially when you consider that Rye House stadium shut in 2004. Plus, over the past decade a string of other stadiums were closing in and around London to make way for housing. With fewer venues, those who love the sport have further to travel, much like a mate of mine who regularly travels up to Harlow from Ebbsfleet near Dartford.
Was this place busier back then? Weren’t it just – you wouldn’t believe it! It was packed to the rafters with punters and a line of trackside bookies that rivalled that of stadiums in London. It was a magic time. However, now it’s not only the stadiums that are disappearing – people just don’t come in the numbers they once did. So, by no fault of their own, the management put the entrance prices up just to make ends meet. So no longer is it the cheap night out it once was, which then puts even more people off – you’re stuck with a proper Catch-22 situation. We’ve gotta protect and hold on to the stadiums that are left, otherwise greyhound racing will just disappear up its own proverbial!
I’ve experienced a similar situation before. Take Key Glassworks, where I worked for thirty-seven years. Back when I was there each shift would comprise of several hundred workers. Now, same place, still making bottles (albeit now owned by another company) has tiny fraction of the staff it once did. They’re still churning out tens of thousands of glass bottles, if not more, each week but with a fraction of the workforce – that’s automation for you. Putting aside the job losses, it also knocked the bottom out of the Key Glassworks Sports and Social Club. It was a blinding place, one of the best clubs in Harlow. Archery, shooting, proper professional wrestling and boxing. But no club can offer that and survive with ever-decreasing numbers. When it closed those employees who were left spread out to other clubs around town; the Memorial Club and the British Legion.
I can’t knock Harlow; well, maybe a little bit ... But I know a lot of its problems are to do with a change of people’s habits and way of life – I know you can’t change that. But on the whole, Harlow has been good to me – I’ve got great memories of the town.