ONE of the borough's most famous sporting arenas has been gutted by fire.

Catford Greyhound Stadium burnt down after it was engulfed by flames in the early hours of Friday morning.

Now a heritage group has attacked the government for failing to afford the 73-year-old track protection by making it a listed building.

Fire crews from Lewisham, Downham and Forest Hill were called to the stadium, in Adenmore Road, just after 1am.

It took them more than two hours to control the flames but by then the fire had destroyed the four stories of the stadium.

The stadium last staged a race in November 2003 and was in the process of being demolished.

The Twentieth Century Society had campaigned for the stadium's Tote board building to be granted listed status.

Director Catherine Croft says she is "extremely disappointed" and claims the department for Culture Media and Sport did not act quickly enough.

She said: "The fire is dreadful news and it highlights the need for greater interim protection for our buildings.

Mrs Croft says if it had been listed sooner this may have acted as a deterrent to would-be criminals.

Leading figures in greyhound racing have expressed their disappointment.

British Greyhound Racing Board chairman Lord Lipsey said: "Catford was a favourite track of mine. It is a symbol of an earlier era in the sport.

"It is such a shame a fire could have scuppered the chance of the building being protected for future generations."

John Haynes, who trained winners at Catford for more than 40 years, said: "In its heyday Catford was a lovely track and the atmosphere was buzzing.

"It's a shame what has happened but I suppose it will be easier to bulldoze now."

Lewisham police are treating the fire as suspicious and an investigation is underway. No arrests have yet been made.

Arena rich in history

  • The stadium staged its first meeting on July 30, 1932, when legendary greyhound Mick the Miller was paraded around the track;
  • In 1973 it became the first track in Britain to stage eight-dog racing;
  • Catford was famous for holding a Boxing Day meeting, where up to 80 bookmakers would line up to take punters' money;
  • The track was closed in November 2003, due to a decline in attendance;
  • In February, the British Greyhound Racing Board said they wanted to preserve the Tote building and "save a piece of sporting history".