Hinckley Flapping Track on verge of collapse:

Leicester Mercury, 11.12.06

It was once as English as eating fish and chips from newspaper. No longer. As developers eye up Hinckley greyhound track, Cat Turnell goes to the dogs.

There's a chill in the air at Hinckley Greyhound Stadium, but it's nothing to do with the temperature outside. While men in flat caps pat each other firmly on the back and square up to the racing oval to watch eight of the night's races, there's dark talk over the track's future. Muttering abounds of houses, planning applications and eras ending.

"We don't want to lose it," confirms an earnest regular, when he spies my reporter's notebook.

In racing parlance, Hinckley's a "flapper track". A circuit where chaps with caps can bring their hounds, put them in the race and have a punt with the bookies in the process.

Hinckley's track is one of a few of its kind left in England.

"You bring your own dog, you keep it yourself, you ring me up and you put it in the race," explains Tom Grant, the ground's owner, as the evening gets underway.

Greyhounds are part of a family tradition for Tom, whose son Chris and daughter-in-law Natalie now run the business. Tom's dad Joe ran two tracks in the town before starting the one in Nutts Lane in the early 1940s.

Back then the sport was in as rude health as the greyhounds seen sprinting around the course tonight.

Times have changed, says Tom.

"In Leicestershire, we had Leicester stadium, Melton, Syston, Coalville and me. There's me left, that's all," he sighs as the minutes build up to the first race at 7.30pm.

.......Whippet racing has already gone, Tom says. And greyhound racing will be the same. "Regardless of planning," he adds.

Planning is the word on everyone's lips tonight. The housebuilder Crest Nicholson wants to see 89 homes on Tom's land.

At Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council last Tuesday, the plan was turned down. Reasons included its loss to the community and the site's proximity to open countryside.

However, it doesn't stop the builder coming back with a revised plan - and, although Tom loves racing, he's got his retirement to think of.

Tonight, there are about 100 people braving the trackside chill. They are mostly men aged 40 plus, although there's a few women and a dozen or so children milling about the clubhouse or holding on to
the dogs.......

......The greyhound track holds eight races on Wednesday and Saturday nights, it used to be 14.......

......Robert Maltby, from Nottinghamshire, is one of four bookies here tonight. He's been taking bets at Hinckley for 14 years.

"A lot of people haven't been coming because there's been that much talk of it shutting. If the planning hadn't been brought up there would be more here. There would be at least 150 people."

...........But there's luck and there's real luck, surmises Tom later, as another greyhound belts across the finish line.

"Unless a miracle happens," he says, "once I start losing money, I shall stop racing.

"People say it's a tragedy, but it's how things have gone throughout the country," he says looking around. "Y'know, it's just the same as jousting. It's a thing of the past."

Note from Greyhound Action: In December 2004, when greyhound "executioner" Andrew Gough was sentenced to 6 months imprisonment at Caerphilly Magistrates Court, for the torture and mutilation of an ex-racing dog called Rusty, it emerged in evidence that his £10 fee for "getting rid" of Rusty was handed over to Gough by the dog's owner at the Hinckley track. Click here for more about this.