LONDON  For 75 years, sleek greyhounds have chased the mechanical 'hare' round the sandy track at Walthamstow Stadium in east London, roared on by hopeful punters standing just a few steps away. But a proud tradition has been snuffed out. On Saturday, the stadium closed its doors, almost certainly never to open again. In the late 1940s, Britain boasted 77 greyhound racing tracks and 50 million mainly working-class punters would stream into the stadiums each year. Walthamstow, deep in the densely populated East End, is one of the best known " and even gave a young David Beckham his first pay packet collecting beer glasses at the track. But changing leisure habits and the rise of online betting have caused a near terminal decline in greyhound racing and just 30 tracks remain in Britain. The stadium was packed with 5,000 spectators on Thursday in a cruel reminder of what used to be, but most were only there for a last, and sometimes first, look. Dave Carter, 61, who works for a greyhound trainer, has seen Walthamstow in better days. "I've been coming down here since the '60s, two or three times a week," he said. "If all these people were here every night there would never have been a problem. But on a normal Thursday down here you might get no more than 200 in. "To be honest, I'd say greyhound racing is dying everywhere. "I used to work with a trainer in Sydney and when I went back to Australia recently there was only a tiny crowd there too. It's very sad." A night "at the dogs" is a unique occasion. Admission costs no more than six pounds (7.5 euros, 11 dollars) and there is little of the sartorial finery associated with horse racing " most people wear jeans as they munch hot dogs and drink beer. The action is up close, with the dogs thundering after the prey they will never catch just the other side of a fence. The trackside bookmakers, or bookies, mainly elderly men in shiny but still smart suits, signal to their colleagues with a series of hand gestures that are incomprehensible to all but the aficionados. The names of the greyhounds " Droopys Marylou and Sherbourne Ellie were just two of the dogs running on Thursday " are also reminiscent of a bygone era. Walthamstow has played host to the stars over the years. The Kray brothers, infamous London gangsters of the 1960s, were regulars in their heyday and Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt was a more recent visitor. David Beckham grew up not far away and long before football brought him his millions he used to earn pocket money at the track. He said he was sad to see it close. "It's a real shame to see it go as it means so much to the area," Beckham told reporters from his home in California. "Even though I haven't lived in the East End for many years, I have great memories of Walthamstow and I know many people will miss it, including me." Andrew Neofitou, who was enjoying a last night out at what locals affectionately call the 'Stow, remembers Beckham well. "David was what we call a 'pot boy'," the 37-year-old recalls. "He was a quiet lad. I used to lock him in the lift for a laugh." Andrew's friend Steve Tatam, also 37, used to run along the roof of one of the stands at the stadium after climbing up from his parent's garden which backed onto the venue. He said: "I'm getting really quite emotional about the track, but they won't be able to save it. It's gone, I think. In a year's time it'll all be houses and flats here. "I'm a window fitter, so my only hope now is that I get the contract to fit out the houses" The stadium's owners have sold the land to a housing association " a builder of low-cost housing " for a rumoured 22 million pounds. A spirited campaign to save the track has been launched, backed by a multi-millionaire businessman who wants to buy it from its new owners. For the moment, the housing association insists it will go ahead with its plans and most neutral observers believe the efforts to save the track are doomed. One element of the stadium that will be staying is its whitewashed front, complete with pink and green neon lettering, which has protected architectural status. But the future for many of the dogs seemed to be spelled out by a forlorn advertising hoarding in the track's infield. It reads: "Greyhounds make Great Pets."