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Coleman retires with blast at industry powerbrokers.

Byline: By Paul Brown

JOHN COLEMAN became the first confirmed casualty of the impending closure of Walthamstow when he announced his retirement yesterday with a blast at the way the industry has been allowed to decline.

The respected former chairman of the Greyhound Trainers' Association attributed the decline since the sport's 'golden years' to various factors, pointing out that since starting his training career in 1966, 13 stadia have closed in London - Catford, Charlton, Clapton, Hackney, Harringay, Hendon, New Cross, Park Royal, Stamford Bridge, Wandsworth, Wembley, West Ham and White City - and in the same period 26 other stadia across the whole of the UK.

"I've lost count of the number of times over the last few days that people have asked me my views on the closure of Walthamstow, and although I am deeply saddened, my reply would have to be 'I've seen it all before'," he stated.

"Those of us fortunate to have seen Derby finals at White City, the greatest stadium there has ever been, will take the memory to their graves. Nothing that has happened since has come anywhere near.

"After the war greyhound racing was at its peak, attendances were high, as were profits, but very few managements remembered to feed the goose that laid the golden eggs, especially the GRA, owners of White City, who preferred to plough their profits into property.

"At the time it seemed like a good idea, but not when the property crash of 1979 came along. Without boring everyone with the sad details, that led eventually to the demise of White City and a slow lingering death in London of the sport itself.

"However catastrophic last week's news of the forthcoming closure of the Stow, it was inevitable in the scheme of things.

The closure of the world-famous White City, known for its other sporting events as well as greyhound racing, was the mortal blow that sent the sport into a freefall from which it has never really recovered."

Coleman took pains to point out his view that those running the tracks were not solely responsible for the state of the industry. "All the closures that have taken place over the years were certainly not always the fault of managements," he continued.

"The greyhound racing industry has laboured under unfavourable government legislation since its inception, and although governments down the decades have been happy to take their taxes, they resolutely refused to legislate for a greyhound levy to put the sport on a solid foundation.

"As a result of that misjudgement we have an industry in rapid decline due to underfunding, prize-money at embarrassing levels and all sections of the industry on the breadline.

"Contrast that with the offcourse bookmakers, who make huge annual profits helped by turnover on greyhounds owned by individuals who receive no direct payment for showing them on the screens in betting shops.

"I am obviously aware that the bookmakers make a voluntary annual payment to the BGRF, but it is voluntary and, as a result, derisory. One thing I have learned over the years is that negotiators for the bookmakers are in a different league to those representing us, something of the order of Premiership and nonleague.

"The bookmakers also ensure they have the ear of government through their dealings with lords, ministers and even backbench politicians. They leave no stone unturned to ensure everything goes their way and they get everything as cheap as possible.

"During my 21 years as chairman of the GTA, I strived to raise a lot of issues within the sport, and although the authorities were good listeners, very seldom was anything done."

Coleman is clearly less than impressed with the way his old organisation has been handled since, fuming: "Today trainers presently haven't even got a demo craticall yelected organisation, and what's gone on in recent months has made us a laughing stock, a disgrace to those who allowed it to happen, and that includes the BGRB.

"I found it ironic that on the very day the closure of Walthamstow was headline news in the Racing Post, on page 25 there was a half page advert seeking three senior positions on the mooted GBGB.

They are being sourced through a headhunting organisation, who will probably appoint people with no background in greyhound racing.

"Recent years have seen a constant battle for power between the NGRC and BGRB which has seriously damaged the image of greyhound racing. If the controlling bodies cannot agree on the way forward, what hope is there for the rest of us?

"BGRB chairman Lord Lipsey outlined his vision for the future in his glossy brochure Vision 2010. I am not for one minute saying he is responsible for the loss of the Stow, but his action in cutting prize-money grants certainly had a spin-off effect.

"When he is distributing the grants in 2009, he would be well advised to allocate a large percentage to prize-money rather than stadium grants that may well be subject to a demolition hammer, or directly to the RGT in the name of welfare. In my opinion, that organisation seems accountable to nobody.

"I would finally advise him not to be cajoled into always singing from the same songsheet as the bookmakers, and instead to properly represent us in our fight for proper funding - our right for the product and service we provide.

"Personally I am keen to leave the sport, forgetting all the jostling for power, political wrangling, squabbles over who is going to get their hands on the bookmakers' paltry handouts rather than collectively funding the future of our sport.

"Instead, I am going with great memories of all the great people I was fortunate to meet, all the characters that made racing great but are sadly now long gone. And, of course, the stars of the whole show, the greyhounds themselves, who have given me so much pleasure over the last 60 years.

"Despite all the ups and downs, given the opportunity I would do it all over again, because I can truthfully say I love this game and always will."

'. . . a slow, lingering death in London of the sport itself'

'Very few managements remembered to feed the goose that laid the golden eggs'

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John Coleman has reached the end of the training road
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 21, 2008
Words:1049
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