Caption: Long-time Brisbane Greyhound Club official Bob Lambert
By ALEX MURPHY
THE Brisbane Greyhound Racing Club’s 50th anniversary comes at another pivotal moment in its existence.
As the industry continues to work towards a new and permanent home for the sport, it pays to reflect on the learnings of the past five decades that got us to this point.
If you have the chance to be at Albion Park for the anniversary meeting on April 14, it might be worth having a chat with Bob Lambert.
The club’s current vice president has been along for the journey, in various roles including that of club manager, since the first meeting was staged at The Gabba on April 6, 1972.
It’s important to learn from people, like Bob, who have seen the enthralling highs and painstaking lows greyhound racing has experienced since that time.
He can tell you about some of the club’s greatest achievements and biggest hurdles.
The swathes of people that once flooded through the gates every Thursday to be greeted by more than 40 bookmakers.
He can tell you about the struggles of being forced out of its spiritual home 21 years into a 40-year lease and the subsequent growth at its current home, in the age of racing broadcast and online bookmaking.
He can also fill you in on the wonderful array of people that, over the past five decades, have helped Brisbane greyhound racing reach its current levels of prosperity.
“There are some wonderful people in the industry. I’ve been involved for 50 years myself and most of the friends I have were made through greyhound racing,” he said.
The club’s gala event next month will give many a chance to catch up, reflect on the past and discuss what lies ahead.
A $50,000 open event over 520m will ensure the racing is befitting of the occasion, while the planned entertainment and $30,000 car giveaway is sure to attract the masses.
It, perhaps, could just be enough to see the club attract one of its biggest crowds since the halcyon days of The Gabba.
“In the early days, if we didn’t get five-to-six thousand people through the gates on a Thursday it was a bad night,” Lambert said.
“But there was no Sky channel.”
While the racing surface wasn’t perfect, The Gabba dogs became a Brisbane institution.
Meetings were frequented by celebrities, sports people and everyday punters alike.
Its institutional status was diminished when the club was forced to make way for a redevelopment at the home of top-flight cricket and Australian Rules Football in Queensland.
While a new racing surface built at Albion Park – then the epicentre of Queensland’s harness racing industry – was a welcome upgrade for the on-track offering, part of the soul was left behind.
“A lot of regulars at The Gabba for 20 years were never seen again,” Lambert said.
“One thing that really appealed at The Gabba was you were right on top of the action.
“In fact, sometimes, if a dog fell on the home turn it could end up in the betting ring.
“On the other hand, often a punter in that same betting ring might end up on the track too!
“It was one of the main attractions there, but when we came here, that was a negative.”
The club faced financial struggles when it was forced to fork out for shortcomings in the original Albion Park track design, with little to no support from the government at the time.
It also went from having the Brisbane Cricket Ground as a landlord, to being tenants of a rival racing code.
However, it wasn’t all bad news.
The quality of racing improved with time and the introduction of Sky Channel allowed people from across the country and indeed, the world, to engage with Brisbane greyhound racing from home.
The funds injected into the club from its international broadcasting rights have ensured its economic stability for years to come.
“The international agreement is generating income in the high six figures now,” Lambert said.
“There’s worldwide interest in greyhound racing and, without trying to bag the trots, we’re generating more turnover than they are now when it used to be the other way around.”
Lambert said Albion Park had served the industry well for almost 30 years.
However, complementing state of the art infrastructure for both participants and fans, the proposed move to a new facility at Purga would provide one thing the club has never had.
A home of its own.
We repeat: The 50th anniversary of the BGRC comes at a pivotal moment for greyhound racing.
Following the closure of public submissions relating to the new facility, the anti-racing movement has become more vocal in its opposition.
That is why Lambert believes its important the industry continues to present a united front and communicate the positive impacts greyhound racing has for both the animals and the community.
“We need the safest possible track and the best veterinary care for dogs,” Lambert said.
“The way people feed and train their dogs is vastly different to 50 years ago.
“It’s the same with any sport, you keep progressing.”
The Brisbane Greyhound Racing Club has been a constant throughout 50 years of prosperity and pain, decline and growth. “We’ve survived for 50 years and hopefully we can survive for another 50,” Lambert said.