Jenner Park the home of… greyhounds?Posted: March 9, 2014
In line with celebrating the old ground’s 100th year of use, it’s high time we looked in the role that dog racing, specifically greyhound racing played in keeping Jenner Park open to senior football.
It’s a known fact, but one lost in the mists of time, that senior football in Barry owed its survival, certainly in the post-war years, to dog racing. A case of Jenner park literally having gone to the dogs.
The first recorded instance of any form of dog racing at Jenner Park took place in June 1922.
Then the football club, in dire need of funds, held a race meeting of whippets. The race day was held to help raise funds to reduce the club debts and was deemed to be a great success. Over 80 dogs were entered in a single race alone; that in itself must have been a sight to see! (Having seen live Whippet racing in Cumbria some 30 years ago, how they controlled 80 dogs is beyond me).
Historian Brian Lee has noted that official greyhound racing first came to Wales at the old Welsh White City Stadium on Sloper Road, in Grangetown, in 1928 and later at the Cardiff Arms Park . Indeed, the club on several occasions during the 1920s under the stewardship of Chairman Alderman Cllr, C.B. Griffiths OBE, tried to get a licence to race dogs at the ground, only to be rebuffed by his own council.
Worse still, his own directors on the Board at Barry AFC turned the idea down flat. Despite the powers that be being highly content to support the destruction of a generation during World War 1, not to mention to subject it to its infinite horrors, the horror of dog racing was just too much for the good Councillors and Directors who were keen to protect the moral well-being of the townsfolk, and defend it from a sinful outbreak of gambling!
There were unofficial ‘flapping’ meetings at other places like Pontypridd and Swansea, but it wasn’t until 1932 that greyhound racing was first accepted onto Jenner Park.
Interestingly, there wasn’t a running track at the ground then but, given the space available at the ground, it would have been relatively easy to mark out a track if needed. The Barry Herald newspaper reported on August 26th 1932, that the club/council had approved licensed Greyhound racing at Jenner Park.
The decision was met with uproar by the populace of Barry with notable citizens complaining about the plan in the local press. One writer commented that the venture “would affect the uplift of the social and moral welfare of the town”.
On September 9th 1932, a report covered the visit of one Reverend E.K. Blythe (of the Windsor Road Congregational Church, Barry) to watch the inaugural race meeting (Saturday evening, Sept 3, 1932). The reverend describes his evening at the dogs thus:
“I went there to enjoy the sport without an ounce of prejudice but I am compelled to say it was the dullest sporting event of my life. We had six minutes racing and 2 hours bookmaking.”
“The crowd was comprised mainly of middle-class working people and there were more women there than one would find at a football match and some of them had babies in their arms. There were also a number of children who should have been in bed hours before.”
So ended the reverend’s dismissive comment on greyhound racing in Barry.
Race meetings were often held after the football had finished and to the chagrin of the football club owners, crowds were often bigger than those who chose to watch Barry AFC.
Financial crises, in another parallel with recent seasons, were not uncommon in the 1930s and 1940s and the dog racing income was crucial to the club’s survival.
With the onset of World War Two in 1939, and unlike the years of the First World War when the club managed to play a whole series of friendlies, the ground was used as a general military depot and no football was played. No football meant no income, and in 1944 the original Barry AFC company (Barry Association Football and Sports Club Limited) was wound up
With war still raging through 1944-45, the ownership of the ground passed into the hands of the Welsh Greyhound Association and their tenure lasted almost 12 years.
C.B. Griffiths offered the ground to the tenants, the Welsh Greyhounds Association Ltd, who initially bid £3,000 for the ground in December 1943 (£115,000 at today’s prices). The offer was rejected as it was insufficient to meet the football club’s debts to creditors, notably two Directors who were owed substantial sums, which they were determined to pay off.
By mid January 1944, the council had also bid £3,000 for the ground, but were also rejected, especially when the Association came back with an improved bid of £5,000 (£187,500 today) and a promise that the ground would still be used for football.
The deal was done and Jenner Park was sold, with the Jenner family rubber-stamping the deal as under the terms of the initial lease of the ground to the football club, dog racing was covered by the broad term of the lease : that it be used for “sporting activities”.
The Greyhound Association were generous owners, charging a zero rent to the newly-named Barry Town AFC which had been reformed due to the sterling efforts of major Harry Blondell, a well-known citizen, Home guard Major and former player. Mr Blondell also managed the side in the late 1940s.
In August 1947 post-war restrictions meant that the Greyhound Association, who surrendered their Saturday afternoon slot for meets at Jenner Park to allow Barry to play, were hit financially.
Worse still, the Home Secretary of the time, James Chuter Ede, a key member of Clem Attlee’s Labour party, used full war-time emergency powers available to him, to prevent the Greyhound Association from holding meets on Friday evenings or during midweek
Having referred the case to the Regional Industry Council, he decreed that the impact on local industry, still struggling to recover from the war, would be to great so banned Friday night meets fearing production would be adversely impacted.
Despite this setback and the fierce counter attack led by Barry AFC Secretary Sid Dowdall, club Chairman Ben Lobley and Director Frank Hudson, the decision stood and in a remarkable act of generosity, and despite the fact it would succumb to severe losses itself, the Greyhound Association accepted the decision and put its interest second to that of football, something several recent ex-owners were quite incapable of doing!
Barry’s board of directors expressed their gratitude by the proverbial bucket-load to the Association’s chief Director Mr EH Fine.
So not once, had the good men of organised Dog Racing saved senior football at Jenner Park but twice.
The War Time restrictions soon eased and a Wednesday and Friday evening at the track became a familiar past-time for many a Barrian. A Mr Farmer was one of the track’s more regular trainers and owner of several winning dogs but the sport at Jenner Park came to an abrupt end in the summer of 1955.
Thwarted in its bid to secure the ground in 1944, the Council bought the ground from the Welsh Greyhound Association in a surprise move in July 1955, just weeks after Barry Town lifted the Welsh Cup for the first time.
Then Town Chairman Arthur Palser had been completely wrong-footed by the Aberdare Greyhounds Association leader Mr H De Lacy. Only days before the sale to Barry Council, De Lacy’s Aberdare based company had acquired the ownership of Jenner Park from the Welsh Greyhounds Association Limited.
Palser tried to put in a belated bid of £5,000 to buy the ground back but with the council offering a rumoured £9,000 for the ground (£200,000 at today’s prices) the deal was done and the council owned the ground it had coveted for decades.
So why did the dogs depart ? Simply because the council felt that by taking Greyhound Racing away from Jenner, the football club would have no further barriers to overcome if it were to try to join the English Football league again. And we know how that dream ended too It goes without saying that, without the generosity of the local Greyhound racing community, senior football in Barry was saved by a most unlikely source.
(by Jeff McInery)
This article first appeared in the 5 October 2013 Barry Town United matchday programme.