Sport on TV: Old Tricky still has plenty to teach the new dogs
Sunday 22 June 2008
"Tricky" Russell, the former impresario of the Highgate greyhound track in South Yorkshire, reflects on the decline in interest in the sport. "There's no new blood coming through," he said on 'The Flapping Track' (BBC4, Thursday). "Young lads are more into cars now." They go faster, and they don't poo on the concourse so that Tricky has to get his shovel out.
Flapping tracks are not recognised by the National Greyhound Racing Club but they are legal – and in steep decline. After the war there were more than 130 in the country; there were 60 left in 1984, now there are 11. The demise of the mining industry is to blame, since the bond was inextricable. You might say the sport has been shafted. But Tricky is still very capable of digging a big hole for himself.
There were mutterings among the crowd about the handicapping system, which should be carried out by the official handicapper Ann, but the punters reckon Tricky does it himself – and Ann does not deny this. Yet the buck stops with her when it comes to ruses such as owners putting two similar-looking dogs on the card under one name, a slower one running early on, then the fast dog appearing for the big race. "There's only 30 per cent run it straight," she said, but you can't teach an old dog new tricks.
A major difference between flapping and officially sanctioned racing is that under the NGRC's auspices the owners have to hand their dogs over for other people to train them. For the Highgate Tykes such as Stan, such an idea is unthinkable. "If it weren't for these greyhounds, I may as well not be on earth," he said. "I've lost jobs because of dogs. I'd rather be out with them." Perhaps he could become one of those people who walk busier people's dogs for a living, although the chihuahuas might struggle to keep up with the pace.
Stan, a traditionalist, was not impressed when Tricky put on a special race for the Afghan breed on Boxing Day. "What made you put fucking Afghans in between races?" screeched Stan, as if Tricky was involved in a kind of canine terrorism.
Tricky finally had enough of it all and sold the track to the Myers family. One of the new mob, Daniel, then got into a fight with Tricky's 14-year-old grandson, and Tricky ended up on bail for conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm after Daniel was slashed across the back of the neck. The charges were later dropped due to lack of evidence.
It began as a nostalgic look at one of Britain's great dying sports, but by the end you had the feeling that it really had gone to the dogs. The way Daniel's wife was chugging down the cigarettes after giving birth suggests that the future will remain bleak.
The flapper-track WAGs might not win many prizes in the fashion paddock at Ascot, but they might get a few tails wagging, if not a few tongues.
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