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Life-long supporters watch final dog race
Buy this photo » The dogs cross the line in one of the final races. Picture: OX56430 Ric Mellis
CYRIL Waite and Bernie Harris saw the first race at Oxford Greyhound Stadium in 1939.
And on Saturday night they were there to see the last ever race as the track shut its doors after 73 years.
Owner the Greyhound Racing Association said the business is not viable and wants to flatten the site to make way for 225 homes.
Mr Waite, 90, and Mr Harris, 78, who have sat by the same table for decades, said the closure would leave a huge hole in their lives.
Mr Waite, from Blackbird Leys, said: “It’s scandalous. They shouldn’t be allowed to do it.”
Former Oxford City winger Mr Harris, from Watlington, said: “It is part of Oxford like the university is, and it should be protected like the university.”
An estimated 2,000 punters came to Saturday’s final night of racing – from those placing bets for the first time to regulars who have been going for generations.
Blackbird Leys pensioner Jack Barry, a regular for more than 50 years, said: “I am going to miss it. It is our social life, it has been for years.”
Norman Hill, 84, from Banbury, said for the first time in half a century he had nothing to do on a Saturday night, adding: “This stadium could be run efficiently and profitably for a long time.”
First-time visitor 20-year-old Ed Sturgess, from Wootton, said: “The amount of people here tonight just shows how good it is and how many people support it.”
The track closure has cost 78 people their jobs, including Tote operator of 42 years Olive Ashley-Morgan, of Haldane Road in Blackbird Leys.
The 65-year-old said: “I have thoroughly enjoyed it and I am very sad it’s all going.”
Bicester-based dog trainer Maurice Massey said: “It’s a big loss for Oxfordshire. It’s been open for 73 years so it must be viable.”
Developer Galliard Homes is expected to submit a planning application soon, but campaigners hope Oxford City Council will reject housing plans and rule the site must remain a leisure facility.
Save Oxford Stadium campaigner Hilary Peasley, who was collecting petition signatures, said she was still hopeful.
The final race was won just before 10.30pm by Moorstown Mystiq, which was trained by Oxford-based Richard Baker.
The crowds then began to leave the stadium, leaving the trackside empty but for betting slips and plastic cups from the bar. Stadium manager Maureen Ridley said the building would be completely stripped today. She said: “We had a brilliant night. The customers did us proud.”
More than 3,300 fans have joined a Facebook campaign to save the stadium while about 1,700 people have signed an online petition.
Yesterday Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said people in the industry had told him the stadium could be profitable.
He said: “The last night was absolutely tragic and the way people have been treated is absolutely disgraceful. We will certainly be stepping up the campaign to save the stadium in the New Year.”