Sittingbourne Greyhound Track
The new Central Park Stadium was built in 1990 to serve as the new home for Sittingbourne FC. The site chosen was in the north-eastern part of Sittingbourne on a redeveloped area on the east side of Church Road. Church Road had consisted of housing but the redevelopment had made the area largely industrial. Sittingbourne FC had sold their old Bull Ground in the town centre to fund the new modern stadium with a capacity of 6,000 excellent car parking facilities.
By 1992 the chairman of the football club Mick Fletcher had revealed plans to construct a greyhound track around the football pitch and build a new 2,000 seated stand at the cost of £2 million subject to planning permission.
Overspending on the facilities by the football club resulted in a £700,000 cash shortfall and a £1.1 million debt by September 1994. In addition the anticipated start to greyhound racing was delayed following a design fault on the roof leading to expensive alterations. With no option but to sell the stadium to Swale Borough Council and lease it back Chief executive Barry Bright and General Manager John Aitken managed to maneuver the stadium finances until finally greyhound racing arrived.
On Tuesday October 3rd 1995 the new facilities could finally be experienced, it included a track side restaurant, fast food outlets, three licensed bars and three private executive suites. Racing would be held on every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening. The first ever race over 475 metres ended with Try My House taking the spoils for trainer Wayne Wilson. Incidentally Wilson would also claim the first major win for the track when he won the Puppy Derby at Wimbledon with Corpo Election soon after. The other trainers supplying runners on the opening night were Sonia Spiers, Derek Millen, Alison Ingram, Peter Galloway, Martin White, Ken Tester, Mick Mew & Tony Palmer and the Racing Manager was P.Nevett
The financial troubles refused to go away with the track being forced to close with no promoter available in 1996 and the future for the new venue looked bleak. However during 1996 Roger Cearns stepped up with his greyhound company to take over and within a few months the stadium was open again. Cearns was the grandson of WJ ‘Bill’ Cearns the founder of Wimbledon stadium way back in 1928. Cearns started to transform the operation into a successful business and in the process sealing a deal that brought the Trainers Championship to the track in 1998 which was won by Ernie Gaskin Sr. for the third time. The football team moved out following clashes with greyhound and football fixtures the same year.
A new group for trainers flew the flag for the track; Paul Garland scooped the Golden Jacket and Owen McKenna (son of the legendary Ger McKenna) took the Oxfordshire Stakes in 1999. Cearns continued to be pro-active introducing the Kent Derby as the tracks principal event and he even managed to secure a second Trainers Championship in 2000. In the next couple of years Cheryl Miller & Maxine Locke joined the training ranks and Jess Packer was brought in as Racing Manager.
Miller reached the 2002 English Derby final with Windgap Java, a first for Sittingbourne; the fawn dog had won the Pall Mall earlier in the year. Another major event was introduced at the track the Kent Silver Salver, rescued from obscurity since it had been shelved following the closure of Canterbury.
In 2003 Sittingbourne staged a third Trainers Championship within a six year period and trainers Sonja Spiers and Kevin Connor returned to the track after long spells away but Maxine Locke left for Wimbledon. The track continued to grow in reputation and aptly took over the running of the WJ Cearns Invitation (formerly Memorial) from Wimbledon. The London track was actively reducing their open race budget and Roger Cearns was only too pleased to take this race.
Rich success covered the period 2007-2008; starting with hurdler Jos Cigar jumping to Grand National glory before trainer Tony Collett and owner Len Ponder released the Lenson’s. Lenson Express won countless opens including the William Hill Classic at Sunderland, not to forget a Derby final appearance as well. Lenson Joker went one better by winning Greyhound of the Year, stayer of the year the Cesarewitch title at Oxford and the William Hill Grand Prix.
A third Derby final appearance in 2011 for Sittingbourne nearly resulted in actually winning it but Westmead Guru trained by Kelly Findlay had to settle for second place behind Taylors Sky. John Mullins won the 2011 TV Trophy on his home track with Knockies Hannah, the first time the event had been held at Sittingbourne. One year later the track saved the Grand National from extinction after taking the famous classic race from Wimbledon.
Mullins left for Yarmouth in 2012 and Tony Taylor had a spell at the track in 2013. The most recent accomplishment of note was a fourth Derby final runner in 2014 with Tony Collett’s Kincraig Rory.