Stand opening marks new era

STEPHEN PULLINGER One of Norfolk's top sports arenas entered a bright new era last night with the formal opening and naming of its £2.5m grandstand. The long-planned project at Yarmouth Stadium has provided three executive lounges, seating up to 90, and a 248-seater restaurant on the first floor.

STEPHEN PULLINGER

One of Norfolk's top sports arenas entered a bright new era last night with the formal opening and naming of its £2.5m grandstand.

The long-planned project at Yarmouth Stadium has provided three executive lounges, seating up to 90, and a 248-seater restaurant on the first floor.

The stand, replacing one built when the stadium opened in 1940, has generated about 50 jobs, ranging from chefs and waiters to porters.

Stadium owner Stephen Franklin, who runs the greyhound and stock car racing business with his wife Pamela and sons Justin and Simon, said: "This has taken us up into the premier league of tracks and the investment is also a statement of my confidence in Yarmouth's future with the outer harbour and other exciting developments taking place."

He said the stand would enable them to cash in on the market for conferences and parties, with the offer of greyhound racing being an additional attraction.

Most Read

Yarmouth MP Tony Wright and Lord David Lipsey, chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board, formally unveiled the plaque naming the facility the Len Franklin Grandstand, in memory of Stephen's father and the stadium's founder.

Also on hand at the ceremony, which preceded the normal Friday night greyhound meeting, was legendary British speedway star Billy Bales, who graced the stadium for the short period Yarmouth had a speedway team in the British league third division.

Mr Bales, now 77 and living in Norwich, recalled: "I rode for Yarmouth during the 1948, 1949 and 1951 seasons.

"I don't remember much about the old grandstand because when we had finished riding we tended just to get changed and washed and go home."

The speedway era, which continued into the 1960s with non-league meets, was remembered at the ceremony with a vintage speedway bike placed in the stand's reception.

Mr Franklin said: "Nowadays our biggest crowd of nearly 5,000 comes on the stock car racing gala night in November, and that looks packed.

"But I remember one speedway fixture between Yarmouth and Coventry in the 1950s, during the factory fortnight holiday season, when we had 11,000 spectators in here."

The stadium was built on farmland off Caister Road in 1940, but because of the war greyhound racing did not start until 1946 with its 60th anniversary coming in December.

Mr Franklin, 63, said: "I first worked here as a nine-year-old when I was paid half a crown by my father for walking greyhounds from the boarding kennels we had here then."