Fading glory: Inside the North’s forgotten dog racing scene

Fading glory: Inside the North’s forgotten dog racing scene

‘A massive dysfunctional family’ — Once an integral part of Newcastle’s cultural heritage, whippet racing is now facing extinction. Here, we pay tribute to one of Northern England’s most novel subcultures.

“I just love to watch the speed of them. Win or lose, I just love it,” enthuses 22-year-old Josh in Dan Emmerson’s sensory new short, Gannin Hyem. The seven-minute film, co-produced by the Huck team here at TCO and Somesuch, tells the story of Newcastle’s Whippet racing scene – a north-eastern subculture currently at risk of extinction. “There are not many young people coming in, it’s more for the older generation,” the Geordie adds, holding his dog close. “Eventually it will die out because there’s no new blood coming in.”

In Gannin Hyem, viewers get an insight into the UK’s gaping generational differences. The film features interviews with the old guards of the Whippet racing scene – now entering their 60s – as well as the modern-day teens who have chosen to reject it. “My granddad tried to get me into racing when I was a bairn but it wasn’t my cup of tea,” shrugs an unnamed teen in the short. “Now I’m into buying designer clothes. Stone Island, Carhartt, Patta, Supreme…”

Just 45 years ago, though, Whippet racing was a dominant part of the Newcastle social scene. Before the age of smartphones, Supreme, and the internet, young people in the north east came together in more novel ways – with ‘fancier’ communities (pigeon racing, falconry and giant vegetable growing) popping up throughout the region. Whippet racing, as a result, became a popular working class pastime.

These days, the scene is struggling to survive, with interest in the sport steadily declining. However, there are moves being made to increase take-up rates. “There are some dedicated people in whippet racing who work hard to modernise it and move it along with the times,” Josh tells Spaces In-Between. “There’s a monthly magazine, Whippet News, that keeps everyone up to date with everything going on. This is in addition to everything that gets posted on social media.”

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The moves appear to at least be having some effect. For Daniel Appleby, a 21-year-old from Newcastle, the whippet racing scene is an important part of Newcastle’s cultural heritage. “Being a part of racing gives me another perspective,” he explains to Spaces In-Between. “Don’t get me wrong, I like going out to clubs, but going out to a pub with the whippet racing lot is a different experience. You’ve got loads of different personalities, with loads of different senses of humour… It’s like a massive dysfunctional family.”

But what lies ahead? Is the scene – as Emmerson’s film suggests – facing the final throes of extinction? Can a subculture that’s nearly half a century old survive such a seismic digital revolution? Its enthusiasts haven’t given up hope just yet. “Things like Facebook are being used more to promote the sport and get more people into it,” adds Daniel. “I think that can help whippet racing survive longer and stop this important sport from dying out. It would be such a loss for the history and culture of the North, and the UK.”

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Gannin Hyem was commissioned by Spaces In-Between, the new quarterly print publication and digital channel from size?. Spaces In-Between is a collaboration between size? and TCO, publishers of Huck magazine.

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