A veteran greyhound man has said that it is important that the culture of dog racing at the Brandywell is not lost amid concerns over the future of the race track.
Tommy Mullan, who was born and grew up in the Brandywell, said the stadium grounds and the greyhound fraternity in Derry had a joint history going back decades.
He also said that the ‘doggie men’ of Derry as they are called locally helped secure the future of the site back when it was in danger of being wrecked for good by vandals back in the 1970s.
Mr Mullan said that there had previously been assurances given from Derry City Council that there would always be a track at the Brandywell.
He expressed concerns however that the plans for a new dog track seemed to have slipped down the rankings in the overall plans for the site.
He was speaking after other greyhound enthusiasts voiced concerns that the Brandywell’s historic racing track may be facing closure.
Derry City Council has told the Journal that plans to create a new race track at the Brandywell are ‘currently’ still part of the overall masterplan.
Last month it emerged that work on a new multi-million pound redevelopment at the Brandywell stadium will begin in May. At the time it was said that work on the dog track was scheduled for October, but there are now fears this may not happen.
Mr Mullan said he hoped the plans would not be shelved.
He said: “I was born in 6 Brandywell Avenue and the Brandywell stadium played a big part in the community in those days.
“The Brandywell was part of the community. As young boys growing up it was entertainment. On a Saturday evening you would have Derry City or Derry City Reserves playing. Then you had the greyhound racing Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A lot of people were involved in the greyhound racing.
“You had Duffy’s Circus, Fawcett’s Circus, they all came to the Brandywell, the Showgrounds every year. You had also Chipperfield’s that came during the 60’s because there was foot in mouth in Europe.
“During the Troubles, the early 70’s the Brandywell was lying empty, the gates lying open. It was being vandalised.
“There was a meeting called on the Brandywell. There were seven people there and I was one of them. The seven people met and they closed the gates in the Brandywell. That was 1973/ 74.
“The place was lying being wrecked and all the rest of it and it was the doggy men that secured the grounds at that stage.
“In the 80s/ 90s it was suggested we will do away with the greyhound track so we’ll get more seats in. So I got in touch with Derry City Council and it was made very clear, I got a letter, that while Derry City Council owned the Brandywell there would always be greyhound racing there.”
Mr Mullan said the council have been kind to the greyhound men over the years: “We campaigned for the greyhound gallop and that is up and running now this last 15/ 16 years out at Ballyarnett so the council have been very good.”
“This is a tradition there. There is no point having a greyhound gallop if there is no greyhound track in Derry. It has been there since 1937, it has been under the Irish greyhound racing rules for a lifetime as well. It’s been a fixture on the scene. The big sign outside always was ‘sport for all’ so let’s hope greyhound racing will stay there. It’s very important that it stays for the north west.”
A Council spokesperson said recently they were “ committed to progressing with its redevelopment plans for the Brandywell site, which currently includes plans to move the Greyhound Track to a new location around the Showgrounds’ pitch and replacing the existing grass pitch with a synthetic surface to allow year-round use for games and training.”