Here be Dragons: Wimbledon Stadium – “A Night at the Dogs”

By NikitaNemygin, November 25, 2016

The nightfall was now just a few dog barks behind.
The moon shows me the way by a faint reflection in the pool of water in the middle of the car park. Distant street lights faint as they reach the surreal brutalist exterior of the Stadium. You can only hear the Moon shining and the dogs barking.

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I pay my dues to a grim gatekeeper and step inside.
Here, by contrast, it’s all lit up and welcoming. Bright light denudes walls painted in primary colours. I go directly to the upper deck.

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Here people sit in theatre rows in front of a giant window over the field. A third of the seat are in an all-booked restaurant, less fortunate have to use long desks on each row to press their betting cards and beers against.

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This is where the greyhound races happen twice a week, the last of its kind in London. This is the place where Wimbledon and Merton collide. While the the crowd does not go to the posh, but definitely every other social class is here. An armless class struggle curated by greyhounds. People-watching at its best.

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As night starts a flood of people arrives here to the upper deck through the swinging doors and proceeds to make a bet and have a beer. The floor is packed, the buzz is never-ending.
Friends meet with dull excitement. Overwhelmingly British, overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly over 40, over fifty, you can see they are here very often. Everyone seems to know each other. Whitewashed blondes greet sturdy-looking guys in tight shirts and grab each other’s asses.
You can clearly see all-British girls’ and boys’ nights out. I don’t belong here. People come and go and you never see the same person twice…

…and then – lights-out!
The track below ignites, the stalls go silent for a split second and then explodes with the double amount of noise, cheering the dogs.
It is so quintessentially British, it is miracle it survived in the cosmopolitanism of modern London. It is as if I tripped back in time, and back in space, finally to Britain that over-sixties reminisce about.

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And then I do.
I trip to Great Yarmouth, where I have spent a year thirteen summers ago. I worked night shifts at the local superstore and took some an unappealing classes in the local college. I did not like it. I would spend my time on the phone with my friends back in Russia. My weekend nights would be filled with series and junk food.
My mum’s second husband used to have greyhounds when he was younger, so he took us out to a Stadium like this once.
Here, now, in this dark hall, amongst the cheering crowd, I felt these ten years going past me, as these dogs in a one-minute circle. Like Vonnegut’s barbershop quartet it triggered the memories I though were long-forgotten.
Thirteen years! Have I really lived all that? Was it really me? And how could I know?
The flashback was sudden and the feeling it brought was…

…the lights are back on.

I look around and feel the chill along my spine.
People came and went and I never saw the same person once. The place is a ghost of the past, of my past, a past participle of itself.

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It all looked exactly the same like it was back in Yarmouth. Have I really returned from my dream? Have I or have I not penetrated time and space?
I look at the field from the top of my place but all I see is the reflection of the stalls in the glass overlooking the pitch. People in the reflection are busy with their betting cards, beers and chat It looks like we are just ghosts appeared in an eerie sweaty dream.

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One more time of lights off – and I want it again, just one more minute of the discreet intimacy of the darkness with these strangers. Please, please, let me feel for less then a minute!

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The Stadium agrees. The lights switch from the inside to the outside ones, again, as in a theatre.
Again, a sacred feat of one-minute intensity
But the feeling is gone, I notice the lights are out only for the show effect, there is really no other reason.
What a relief, I am back in the room.

I go downstairs, outside, right near the track where you can smoke and watch the dogs closer.

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I stop beside the bars that surround the field of play and wait. Towards the chase the space around becomes scarce as more people descend to get pictures with the dogs just after start.
A metallic rabbit passes by, the dog cage opens and greyhounds charge in a swift chase for a short-lived thrilling excitement.
The lights above blind you, so you cannot see into the darkness of the pitch well. A magical misterious world, disconnected from your daily routine that dwells in comfy darkness.
A social context in the middle of an empty space.

It’s cold outside and I go back in.

In the 20 minutes between the runs, you can only collect your winnings, make new bets and drink. There is nothing else to do, so the party quickly gets tipsy, becomes louder. As they drink, boys get rowdy, girls get flirty.
Dull excitement turns into drunk one.
I notice one of the girls beside me, she looks cute. Her whitewashed hair weirdly put up. I notice time and time again that she looks at me discreetly as I write my notes. I do not make any move – in this loud noise my accent will disorientate her, she will not understand what I am saying and I will not hear her – and we will part ways with an impression of strange uncomfortableness. I’ve been there before.
I just wait for another race and make my way out.

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It seems like I am the only one alone.
So let it be like this.

Downstairs, tender is the night, and the car park is full, dogs barking still.
Under this moonlight, I feel found.
I stop for a moment, hear the moon shining and dogs barking. I close my eyes.

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