A short bus ride from Walthamstow Central station, just past the shop selling racing gear for greyhounds and
their owners, is the magnificent East End stadium where canines participate in this sport of the pedigrees.
Eschewing the snobbery of the main enclosure(£6) for the more proletarian vibe of the popular enclosure (£3),
we found some seats near an intense-looking group of pensioners who didn't say a word all night and watched
the dogs go about their practice runs and warming up exercises.
It soon becomes apparent that any 'scientific' approach to determining which greyhound to bet on is fairly pointless. The past performance listings were all over the shop and the types of betting made no sense to me, beyond maybe putting some money on a dog 'to win' which we stuck to all night out of ignorance and fear. Similarly, there appeared to be no means of determining which odds were on offer without some sort of post-grad qualification in statistics. A couple of large scoreboards displayed threads of figures and letters but they were like something out of the stock exchange (only more complicated) and no help whatsoever. I thought this was supposed to be a working class pastime? Maybe the secrets of knowing how to place money at the track are passed down through generations of proles in hushed whispers. And maybe I was too busy playing Manic Miner when my father tried to impart the wisdom to me.
Whatever, we decided not to bet on the first race until we got the lay of the land and instead observed the dogs being paraded by specially trained wranglers. This is a good point to change your bet if the dog you've put
money on appears to be limping or be generally disorientated. The creatures are then stuffed into tiny traps where they eagerly howl for the fake rabbit thing as excitement in the crowd builds palpably.
Home Defence UK
A Symptom of a Greater Malaise
The View From The Dog Track
with Al Likilla
The Walthamstow Stadium Races, 21st June 2003
Dogs. Faithful pets, earthquake helpers, stick retrievers, an old-school weapon in the fight against crime or just something to stroke. But there is another use for today's dog. Place this animal in a competitive context and it can be used as a reason for humans
to come together, gamble and eat pies. This sounded like my kind of sport. So here's what happened when Home Defence's intrepid reporting team took themselves trackside with an incomprehensible form card in one hand and a half-pint of mild in the other....
If we had bet it would have been on the feisty number five, 'Extreme Girl' who sounded like a bit of a
goer. Predictably enough she wins by a country mile.
Races 2 & 3
Right, time to take up the mantle and try not to be distracted by the overweight woman mopping the
sweat from her brow with a £5 note, the East End equivalent of rolling naked in your winnings. Both dogs we bet on come last. Time for more ale.
Not only did the dog we put a pound "on the nose" come last again, but it didn't even make it to the finish line, giving up around the mid-point of the race and having to be escorted from the track by its dejected handler. What on earth was the matter with it? This was a professional racing dog that couldn't keep running for 475 metres to finish one race. For the record the greyhound's name was Ceemarriott, and if I ever 'Cee' that dog again only one of us is going to come away the loser this time, let me tell you.
Disgusted by our run of what could only be bad luck, we failed to place any bets on this race. It ended up being voided anyway when an unseemly 6-dog melee erupted over which dog should go home with the simulated hare. About ten dog wranglers had to step in to break up the ill-temperedness. Sad and unfortunate, no one likes to see that in the game.
Time for another go, and we spread our betting across two dogs to give ourselves a one in three chance of winning. One of the racers comes second to last while the other somehow manages to overshoot a corner and fall over in a cloud of dirt. In a move more quixotic than practical the plucky outsider then gets back up to carry on. Sadly, by this point, 'Smoking Pamba' was so far behind the leaders it was in danger of being lapped.
Not sure what happened with this one, although I do remember taking a piss about this time in some of the largest toilets I've ever visited, toilets which were without a single mirror in all their many acres. There's no room for vanity at the dog track.
The big one. Fed up with being the losers we gamble big again, three dogs with four pounds sterling spread across them. At this point it's patently obvious that all our logical attempts to pick a winner using things like reason and probability have failed dismally to pay off, so instead we go for the three greyhounds with the stupidest names. (Note: Although these dogs adopt strange stage monickers like 'Droopy's Shakira' or 'Kosher Biscuit', while off-duty they are almost always called either 'Poppy' or 'Dave').
Money passed to the middle-aged women in the booths, we decide to go trackside for the first time in order to cheer on our lads. There's nothing like feeling the wind of the dogs on your face as they stampede past, although you do get showered with wet sand every lap.
As they conclude it looks like the lithe No. 2, 'Aughacasla Tom', is victorious, but we don't really know where the finish line is so it's no big surprise when the tannoy announces that actually, No. 3, won the race. For some reason our £2 on this dog, which sounds like a cross between an Islamic Militant and a mood-enhancing drug, pays up big - £13.60! Still singing the praises of Xamax Ayam Zaman, we decide to quit while we're ahead and happily leave the stadium to blow our winnings in lap dancing clubs and a nearby Korean restaurant.
In the end a night out at the dogs has a lot to teach even the most knowledgeable of sports fans, but perhaps
the five most important facts Home Defence gleaned from our time in the canines' company are these:
1. Placing your bet on the basis of how silly the animal's name is seems to be as good a way of approaching it as any.
2. The dog track is not a place for the fashion conscious, but they do a lovely bowl of scampi.
3. If you start cheering because you think your dog has won and it turns out it hasn't you look a bit stupid.
4. You can lose all night, flukily win on the final race and still make a profit without ever really understanding why.
5. Charlie Chan's Classy Chingford Nightclub can be very enticing after six beers and a big win on an unpronounceable