A day at the races is a pleasure for many, but for one Newcastle resident greyhound racing has been at the heart of her life for 33 years – and she’s watched more than 50,000 races.
Donna Thrussell accepted her first role at Newcastle Greyhound Stadium as an Office Junior on October 1, 1990, when Maria McKee was topping the charts with Show Me Heaven and the average family home set a buyer back just £57,000.
She has held almost every role at the Fossway venue since, including time as a waitress, a greyhound parader and COVID-19 safety officer. Donna even held her wedding reception trackside after marrying husband Steven with the stadium’s management footing the bill for the entire evening.
Thirty-three years after completing her studies at Churchill Community College, Donna now helps to oversee the entire operation of the 95-year-old stadium and its five weekly fixtures as Duty Manager.
And ahead of the 73rd running of the All England Cup – one of greyhound racing’s most prestigious competitions dating back to 1938 – next month, Donna remains as enthusiastic for her role as ever.
“I studied Business Administration via a Youth Training Scheme and part of the course meant finding a local placement,” said Donna. “I didn’t know much about greyhound racing at the time – and I certainly didn’t see it becoming my life for the next 33 years!
“So much has changed since that first day, the biggest being digital and the way technology has transformed how people live their lives.
“Like all venues, we have a huge social media following where racegoers engage with our events and promotions and day-to-day tasks have increasingly switched from telephone calls and huge filing records to online.
“The pandemic was a huge challenge too. We were the first sports stadium in the north-east to reopen after lockdown on June 1 and had to follow strict new regulations and procedures.
“It’s been an incredible journey and while I may not be here in another 33 years, I certainly have no plans on leaving just yet!”
From her first pay packet of £55 per week, Donna and Steven are now parents to two children – Shaunna and Ryan – who both caught the greyhound bug growing up and have since worked behind the bar and in the stadium’s racing office.
The sport appears to run in the family with Donna’s late father Donald a former turnstile operator while mum Sheila worked at the snack bar when she retired from full-time work.
Donna said the stadium’s loyal racegoers is what makes Newcastle Stadium such a great place to work.
She added: “I’m a real people person, and love welcoming our regulars and those who have never been racing before trackside.
“It’s an afternoon or evening out like no other, and there really is something for everyone. At the heart of everything we do is greyhound welfare both during racing and in retirement and working closely with our homing partners has been another highlight.
“It’s changed the pathway of my life and I’ve been very fortunate to work with some great people over the years, many of whom I remain friends with today.”
The £20,000 Premier Greyhound Racing All England Cup begins at Newcastle Stadium on Thursday, December 14, and runs across three successive Thursdays with tickets for Round One available online from £7.
Gates open for each fixture at 6pm with the first race due off at 6.19pm.