Well, love it or loathe it, the 2017 young bird racing season is almost upon us and what with training and various other things going on it just seems that there are not enough hours in the day. 

Although I am confined to a wheelchair I like to keep busy and when you have pigeons there is plenty to do especially when it comes to young birds. Initially training seems to take up a great deal of time. Dad and I have a good arrangement when it comes to training which works as follows - when he has arrived at our training point he calls me on the mobile, once this has happened I go and wait for the birds. 

Aviaries breathe fresh life into our pigeons

As I am sat at my desk it is a dull October day; October the 23rd to be exact, and today like every day at this time of year I can look out of the window and observe the birds in the aviary. The pigeons spend the majority of the daylight hours in the aviary and it does them no harm whatsoever. They say wisdom comes with age and the older I get the more I realise that life is all about the simple things.

Pigeon racing is a sport in which two things happen; you never stop learning, and you cannot afford not to try and improve, because if you don’t you will never reach the top. In pigeon sport today, the press and internet are full of all manner of supplements and medicines, but we should only use these if and when it is absolutely necessary.  Mother Nature has a wonderful way of providing us with everything we need that is essential for producing and sustaining life. The problem is that due to constant interference by meddling mankind through the improper use of such things as antibiotics nature is fighting back, hence the rise in so-called 'superbugs' like MRSA in humans.  

Not only in terms of physicality but also mental attributes because, let’s face it, pigeons taking part in such races have to be at the height of all their powers and therefore are obliged to have what I shall refer to as that 'extra spark' of intellect. Not only must they have the physique to win but also the will to win, and only when these two essential elements combine do we fanciers have in our charge a true champion racing pigeon that has at its disposal the capacity to compete against and conquer all its racing rivals. Of course it is here that the pigeon fancier must play their part and ensure the birds are given the best of everything available, and believe me dear reader, you would be hard pressed to find a fancier in the sport of pigeon racing (a game in which you only get out what you are prepared to put into it) who is more concerned with the microscopic details of professional pigeon management and racing than my mentor at Universal Lofts .

Upon talking as I do most days to 'The Boss' it immediately becomes as clear as a fine piece of Waterford crystal that, in him, we find a fancier who is more than prepared to put the work in and to go that extra mile more than his fellow fanciers for he knows that within this great sport of ours nothing can be left chance and there is little by way of a margin of error. Ours is a game in which every second counts and there is an extremely fine line between victory and defeat!

As I said earlier in this article, the pigeons and the pigeon fanciers of the Emerald Isle are in my opinion some of the very best in the world. Not only must they be on the ball when it comes to the daily aspects of the sport but also mindful of the tough geographical conditions and location of Ireland, which without doubt make Ireland one of the hardest places to practice the pigeon sport. That is why winning a National in Ireland takes guts and determination and above all else dedication - something that the new 'dynamic duo' of Leonard and De Ridder has in spades.

When we look at all these factors I am sure that readers will by now realise just why it was that in the 2017 season - the 'maiden voyage' for this new dedicated partnership of Leonard and De Ridder - it came as no surprise this partnership won...not one but two (!) 1st Nationals with their youngsters. To win a national is an amazing achievement. To win two is outstanding. But to win two 1st Nationals in just three days in a new partnership's first season of racing (coupled with the fact this is the first year in a long time that Sheldon has raced a team of youngsters) then it is quite simply mind-blowing! When they won 1st Irish National Skibbereen and then 1st Barely Cove in a short timeframe, this serves as a great testament to the skill of two of the most dedicated fanciers in Europe; Sheldon Leonard and Yannick De Ridder. This partnership has proven from day one that it is a real tour de force in Irish pigeon racing today, and I am absolutely certain that this is only the beginning of a bright and illustrious career for two of the greatest fanciers in pigeon racing! Earlier this year I penned an article for this website in which I stated it would not be long before Sheldon’s name would be engraved upon an exquisite Waterford Crystal trophy. I should have known my friend never does things by halves...he now has two awards to collect!

On a personal note, me and my family are over the moon to see our great friend Sheldon and his racing partner Yannick reaping the rewards of success that is so richly deserved! “Well done Boss. I look forward to toasting your success when we see each other soon, but until then Sláinte my friend.”

I hope readers have gained a little insight into this loft and their quality birds, and this article will be the first of many, not only on this top partnership but on the incredible pigeons and performances of the Irish fanciers. The land of Ireland and her people hold a special place in my heart and I truly believe that the pigeons we find here have the hearts of lions!

Éirinn go Brách! (Ireland forever!) 

Chris Williams - October 2017    

I think you will have grasped by now that the Janssen brothers feature heavily on my list of sporting heroes, but another fancier that I am also in awe of is the legendary selector Piet de Weerd. He was to the pigeon world what Albert Einstein and Professor Stephen Hawking are to the field of theoretical physics; quite simply a genius. Nowadays fanciers are driven by pedigree and the exaggerated notion of 'purity of a strain' but study any of these strains and you will find two or three champion pigeons from various fanciers. One of the most prolific distance families is that of Jan Aarden, which de Weerd helped to create by obtaining birds from various lofts, including Maurice Delbar of Mons, and crossing them to create the pigeons we know today as Jan Aarden. History is full of human examples of dynasties who have perished due to inbreeding and the pigeon world is no different. If one inbreeds for several generations without bringing in fresh blood it will result in a depression or breakdown in quality and vigour, which if left unchecked may render the subject, in this case a pigeon, useless for the task of racing or breeding. The phrase that springs to my mind here is 'you cannot beat nature', as there is always a price to pay somewhere along the line. How many of us fanciers have had the same family of pigeons for many years, only for our loft's performance to go down and then a cross is introduced which puts the snap back into their wings! Of course, one must be careful when crossing. In short it is a very delicate balancing act, but one thing is clear; purity in pigeon breeds is a questionable one at best and at its worst a fallacy that is leading us up the garden path. I will leave to you to decide if you agree with me. It would be a dull world indeed if we all thought the same and variety is the spice of life and it never hurts to think outside the box now and then. In the words of a wise man; “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Albert Einstein.  

One of 'the magnificent seven' Charles Janssen who had a passion for pigeons with soft feathering!

ABOVE RIGHT: The king himself Leo van Rijn surrounded by his beautiful trophies; symbols of a glittering career at the very top of professional pigeon sport. Nobody does it better!

(above) Yannick De Ridder & Sheldon Leonard in ​partnership

Leo Van Rijn the undisputed King of the Dutch pigeon sport

I have always had the greatest admiration for men with a small basket and big results and this is most definitely the order of the day for the phenomenon and fanatical fancier who is the victorious Van Rijn from De Lier in the Southwest of Holland , a stone’s throw away from the port of Rotterdam. The lofts at De Lier contain no more than 24 cocks raced on the classic widowhood system which, by modern Dutch standards, is a microscopic amount of pigeons, and yet these pigeons don’t just race - in fact they set the heavens ablaze for Leo, who is a master in the art of motivating pigeons. He is a fancier of the old school, in as far as he has a finely tuned instinct for quality which enables him to produce pigeons with the capacity to excel in the premier races the Dutch pigeon sport has on offer!

Like the majority of fanciers the roots of my passion for pigeon racing stems from my father who, today, is as fanatical about what the great Piet De Weerd referred to as “the Racehorse of the sky” as he was when he first began racing competitively at the tender age of seven years old under the tutelage of an elderly neighbour by the name of Syd Brown. It is fair to say that our present partnership owes the late Mr Brown a great debt for, without him, me and Dad would not know anything about the sport that continues to enrich our lives to the present day! Throughout his years in the sport my Dad has encountered success right up to National level. Winning the British Barcelona Club's Nantes race back in year 2004 with a pigeon that I had the great honour of naming 'The Don', some events are such turning points in our lives that the good Lord permits us to recall every microscopic detail in a fashion similar to the masters of the renaissance who have a clear image imprinted upon their minds eye long before the brush and paint touch the canvas. That moment was special to me for several reasons, firstly I had seen my Dad win one of the premier clubs in the country and the hard work and dedication that such a task requires and I had the exhilarating thrill of seeing a National winner hurtle home to victory. Truth be told, I think this event is the reason for the vast extent of my obsession with racing pigeons; the greatest and most rewarding drug there is!

'The Don' contained the premiere bloodlines of a fancier with an outstanding reputation for excellence at the very top of the Dutch pigeon sport, a reputation that has gone from strength to strength season after season, while many pretenders to his crown have fallen upon their swords, leaving the one and only Leo Van Rijn to be crowned the undisputed 'Pigeon King' of the Netherlands . Leo van Rijn, like most boys of his generation was already fascinated by nature. There were no X-boxes or other forms of technology to pollute the minds of the young in those far-off innocent days. So it was easy for a young and inquisitive mind such as Leo’s to be captivated by the spirit of competitive pigeon racing which marks his native Holland as a hotbed for our beloved sport. In a recent conversation he told me that one of his father’s employees introduced him to pigeons. The close contact with a living animal plus the racing aspect made pigeon racing and all it entails an intoxicating passion for the young lad from De Lier and the rest, as they say, is history. Over time the name Leo Van Rijn was to become a name linked with top performances, reaching the attention of one of the true characters and astute stud owners ever to come from the British Isles - the late Mr Eddy Wright of Fountainhead Lofts - a man we had the privilege to call a dear friend. I believe if my memory is correct it was in the late 80s to early 90s that Eddy Wright and my father first visited Leo's lofts. At this time he was already considered a champion, thanks largely to the successes of his tremendous pigeons such as 'The King', best middle distance pigeon of all Holland in the prestigious WHZB competition , which roughly translates as “who has the best”. Well in the 1991 season it was Leo and 'The King' who reigned supreme .This truly remarkable pigeon scored top prizes in his racing career, racing against the top lofts in the Netherlands, against something in the region of 30 thousand pigeons . I am sure readers will appreciate that as a writer there are not enough sufficient adjectives in the English language adequate enough to describe this excellent example of a true champion and typical example of the competitive strain that is the racing pigeons of Van Rijn. These pigeons don’t just win, they break and indeed make records. There is no doubt in mind that these birds and the fancier behind them are amongst the very best in the history of pigeon racing anywhere in the world. One might say that the lofts of our subject are steeped in Royal blood, as is proven by the standard of top quality racing pigeons Leo has had over the years. Believe me, my friends, once you have seen these pigeons work their magic it is something that you will remember for a lifetime. Over the years the colony Van Rijn has continued to grow in strength with an array of stars that have helped to cement the name firmly at the very top of the podium of professional pigeon racing.

In the 2014 season a beautiful blue hen with all the classic attributes that are the calling card of his winged warriors, with the number 653 on her band, set the skyline of De Lier alight with prolific performances. She would later be known as 'Marja 653' after she won the 1st Ace pigeon in the mighty WHZB 2014. As previously stated the WHZB is a jewel in the crown of pigeon racing in the Netherlands and quite simply only the best of the best are capable of winning this great title. Now let us take a closer look at some of her racing results :

26-07-2014 Asse-Zellik 123 km 5 - 4815 p.
16-08-2014 Peronne 247 km 8 - 3678 p.
23-08-2014 Roye 275 km 39 - 3225 p.
30-08-2014 Pt.-St.-Maxence 321 km 22 - 2655 p.
07-09-2014 Moeskroen 153 km 6 - 2185 p.

She truly is a hen to be proud of and one that most fanciers are only capable of dreaming about, but as a wise man once said “if you can dream it you can do it” and when it comes to the sport of pigeon racing , Mr Leo Van Rijn really is the man with the Midas touch!

Within these lofts is a solid foundation of producers. This highlights the fact that not only is the winning of major prizes a top priority for this fancier but he also wishes to secure the genetic future of the colony by ensuring he has enough first prize winners present in the breeding loft. This is something he has down to a fine art indeed. The base of the Van Rijn birds stretches back to the 1970s and it is this line that produced the famous 'Benjamin', a 1994 pigeon who raced with great success but proved the old adage of “racing is silver but breeding is gold” and 'Benjamin' certainly proved to be worth his weight in gold when he was moved into the breading loft . His name runs like a golden thread linking the dynasty of Leo van Rijn with sporting success. There are a great many fanciers within the British Isles who owe this champion breeder a debt of gratitude, as thanks to him their lofts have won some of the greatest races in the top and strongest competitions that the British fancy has on its racing calendar.

Leo was the proprietor of an extremely successful glasshouse business. Throughout this time he continued to dominate the Dutch racing scene. Retirement from his business commitments has now enabled him to devote his time to his life’s passion; pigeon sport at the highest level. In turn his pigeons have responded in their hallmark fashion by winning top prizes in strong and challenging competition. Nine times out of ten the bigger the number of birds the better these remarkable specimens of pure racing machines perform. They seem to thrive in tough competition and when the going gets tough the Van Rijn birds get going. To prove this let’s have a look at some of the successes achieved by Leo with his old pigeons in the 2017 season - they are simply sensational!

1-2-3-5-13-16 etc against 4084 pigeons
1-2-8-14-34-39 etc against 8471 pigeons
1-2-26 etc against 8543 pigeons
1-2-7 against 3874 pigeons

My own journey in the pigeon sport began in my early teens and I have been hooked on this fascinating and at times frustrating sport ever since. In recent years, I have developed a desire to take my passion for the pigeon sport to the next level, with my mind set on giving distance racing a go. I began to search through the internet and the fancy press where I came across the name of Daniel Aerens from Drongen in Belgium, the winner of First International Old Hens Barcelona 2013. The more I read the more certain I became that these pigeons were something special after all Daniel's results from this race point are second to none! With my mind made up I made contact with Sheldon Leonard of Universal Lofts in County Wicklow as he has the best examples of this bloodline outside of Daniel's own loft. Over the time that Sheldon and I have known each other a friendship has developed between us that has truly changed the way I look at the sport of pigeon racing . In the Winter of 2017 , after much thought Dad and myself decided to form a partnership, with the main objectives being to compete in National and Classic racing. Due to my disability; being a full-time wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, I have always had to go about the sport of pigeon racing by playing to my strengths , so when it was decided that a partnership would be formed I immediately began the process of turning my loft into a natural loft. I believe that this is a positive step particularly as I am fancier who likes to have as much contact with the pigeons as possible.  Not only this but, in my view, pigeons that are required to compete in distance racing from legendary race points such as Tarbes and Barcelona require that extra incentive! Of course only time will tell if this strategy will pay off but every journey begins with a single step. I have been fortunate enough to visit Sheldon, or 'The Boss' as I call him, on two occasions to date and each time both Dad and I have been blown away at the quality housed within his loft! In all honesty, I have never seen pigeons of such quality all under the one roof, it really is a cave of wonders in which the finest jewels of the modern pigeon sport are kept. To this day, I still dream of the first time I handled these fantastic specimens; each one screamed quality. I am sure we have at one time or another visited a loft and immediately begun to re-evaluate our own lofts and birds and this certainly is the case with me after seeing the way things are done at Universal Lofts it certainly gave me a great deal of food for thought.

It is impossible for me to talk about Sheldon without mentioning his close friend and a fancier who truly deserves to be regarded as one of the greatest champions to grace our sport in any era, as time and again this master fancier has rewritten the record books. The man I am speaking of is of course André Roodhooft. André, from what I have read and been told, is a fancier who is meticulous in every aspect of our hobby. It is little wonder then that he has achieved the title of King of the Antwerp Union a phenomenal 16, yes 16! times and he has been crowned Union Emperor 9 times. This is something that has never been done before in the history of the famous Union of Antwerp, the place that is regarded by many fanciers as the academy of pigeon racing. In an age where our sport is driven by commerce it is, for a young fancier like myself, refreshing to see that there are still fanciers such as André and Daniel who are driven only by their passion for pigeons and all that counts is results, after all it is results that determine a pigeon’s true value and this of course counts for both racing and breeding. The three fanciers I have spoken of are all dedicated individuals and it is this dedication that has set them apart from the crowd and they have and continue to leave no stone unturned on this quest for success. This is something that in my own way I am trying to emulate as I begin the next chapter of my pigeon racing journey.

At the present time the breeders are now paired and the distance cocks are settling into the Natural loft. As I said previously it is this loft that I shall be taking care of and the sprint and middle distance birds will be left in my Dad's hands. His legs are much quicker than mine, but then again I was not built for speed! Now one thing that is essential in pigeon racing at any level that one wishes to compete in is a sense of humour, something that in my view is a little lacking in today’s sport. Thank goodness I have had the fortune to know some great characters in pigeon racing who have taught me to enjoy the simple pleasures of pigeon racing. Just think about it for a minute... what is better than feeling the sun on your face, cup of tea or maybe something stronger in hand watching our feathered friends hurtle homeward, our hearts beating faster with every stroke of their wings. I admit here and now that such a sight is one of the great joys of my life and I am counting the days until racing. But for now, we must turn our attention to the breeding the next generation of what each fancier hope will be champions. During my time in this great sport I have always tried to read as much as I can about the breeding of the “perfect pigeon" and the many theories that throughout generations fanciers with knowledge far superior to my own have developed in order try and select the ultimate example in racing and breeding qualities; be it through the use of the wing theory, the eye or any other method one wishes to choose. It is, like the type of pigeon we all keep, a matter of personal preference. My own view, for what it’s worth - and I am only a young back garden fancier- is that all these theories are only a guide and it is important to look at the pigeon as whole. Now please don’t think I am being discourteous by stating the obvious but I am making this point to try and aid the novice who may, as we have all done at one time or another, become somewhat bogged down with the minefield that these topics can sometimes be. That being said they are always lively topics of debate and it never hurts to keep our minds open to new ideas. Keeping an open mind is something that the fanciers at the very top of the sport seem to do more than most, and they are continually pushing the boundaries of convention in order to reach their objectives, not through fancy trends or the latest gadgets but with good old fashioned common sense. Which makes me wonder if at times we fanciers complicate matters? The short answer is, of course, Yes!"

Chris Williams 

We have just received word that the Dorset South Road Federation have liberated at Littlehampton on the 15th of April at 11.15am in a strong west north west wind. Now the real fun starts, I cannot tell you how good it feels to be racing again. To my mind the pigeon sport has always possessed a somewhat mystical quality due to the fact that it has the ability to bring generations and indeed families together in a way few other sports can . Dad and I have always enjoyed the simple pleasures of pigeon racing and included in this is the laughs we share on a race day. Although we are now in partnership the fact that each of us has his own loft to care for still means that come race day there is still a great deal of rivalry between us which certainly helps spice up the proceedings and above all else this helps keep us motivated.  Motivation is an essential element of pigeon racing not only in terms of getting the best we fanciers can out of our racers but it also goes a long way in keeping fanciers focused on achieving his or her individual goals , so that even when things don’t go according to plan which more often than not in the pigeon game is nine times out of ten, we are able to keep pushing toward success which of course is 

(right) 1st National Barley Cove BOLTA

As I have grown, my love for Ireland and her people has continued to go from strength to strength, particularly their exploits with the great passion of my life that is the racing pigeon. Several years ago now I had something of a revelation when looking at the distances and arduous terrain that the Irish pigeon must encounter and overcome to conquer all and attain victory, particularly from the French race points, as these winged warriors and the brave men who breed them have to cover a truly breath-taking expanse of water that must be seen to be believed and appreciated; for it is only then can we truly see the pigeons and fanciers of the Emerald Isle are primus inter pares, or first among equals. Without doubt they are right up there with the continental aces of Holland and Belgium who without question have set the standard when it comes to modern and competitive pigeon sport. But for me it is 'the land of saints and scholars' where fanciers with distance racing particularly in mind who will find pigeons that are in possession of a will of iron and nerves of steel, which in my opinion are key attributes we are looking to clock from any long distances racing event. This was further confirmed to me when I spoke with Tommy and Roger Gregory, who are themselves excellent pigeon men. They told me that when an Irish bird is timed from France it can be akin to a British bird being timed from Barcelona. This provides us with conclusive proof that Irish pigeons are in a class of their own, as they must compete not only against other race birds but also the rugged geography of this ancient and beautiful land - it really is one of the wonders of God’s creation.

I have had the pleasure of calling Sheldon Leonard my friend for almost four years now but to be perfectly honest I feel as if I have known him all my life. Not only is he a firm friend who from day one has treated me with the utmost kindness and respect, but he is also an excellent mentor who has helped me considerably as I strive towards competing in the top distance races in England. It is said you should judge a man based on their actions and the way in which they treat their fellow man and if I was to apply this to Sheldon Leonard, who from day one has been 'The Boss', I wouldn’t hesitate to say he is, quite simply, one in a million!

Sheldon Leonard of Universal Lofts in Arklow County, Wicklow took his first steps into the enthralling world of racing pigeons at the tender age of seven when a stray pigeon decided to take up residence in the family shed. This singular event would dramatically alter the course of his life and as a result would see Sheldon mixing with the elite of the European pigeon fancy where, over subsequent years, he has honed his skills as a fancier and collected an encyclopaedic wealth of knowledge on every aspect of modern pigeon sport. This empirical approach has enabled Sheldon to obtain some outstanding specimens as you are likely to find anywhere in the world, containing the premier winning bloodlines of the most potent strains of racing pigeons in the present era. When I first contacted Sheldon he taught me a very valuable lesson. When it comes to obtaining stock birds he follows a loft's performance over a ten-year period, taking note of how many pigeons they enter, the distance at which they excel and most important of all the number of prizes they gain over this timeframe. Once all this essential data has been collected and analysed sufficiently he will strive to obtain the very best that these winning lofts have to offer, thus proving the Irish expression of 'measure twice, cut the once', which simply means take your time and never rush a job. Wise words indeed, particularly when it comes to sourcing champion racing pigeons. How refreshing it is in this, the commercial age of pigeon racing, for us to encounter a Champion fancier who is not swayed by the suave and sophisticated trickery of the marketing men, some of whom it would seem have within their sights the sole objective of subversively separating a fancier from his or her hard-earned cash. Instead, within 'The Boss', the reader will find a fancier who’s selections are systematically centred upon pigeons who can perform at the highest levels. After all, at the end of the day a racing pigeon is only as good as its last race and in this great game it is only top results that count.

The next step is that, as soon as the birds arrive, I give dad what the famous northern comedian Peter Kay refers to as “three rings”.  We came up with this idea due to the fact that my cerebral palsy makes it difficult for me to gauge the passage of time, and so all Dad has to do is check what time I called and this provides us with a rough guide as to the time it takes for the youngsters to complete their training flight. If I am to be completely honest with you all, I admit here and now that I don’t enjoy the training aspect of the pigeon sport. This is due mainly to the ever increasing attacks by the growing raptor problem. In spite of this however I do believe that a certain degree of training for young racing pigeons is indeed a necessary evil, after all one cannot write with a blunt pencil and training aids not only in keeping the youngsters on their toes but also forms part of the selection process.  If one wishes to be successful in pigeon racing as a sport in which many are called but few are chosen, and as we are looking for the strongest progeny to carry forward into the future, then training must take place.  Mr Basket is after all completely neutral and he is not influenced by origin , strain nor colour or any of the fickle theories that many “experts” have devised in the centuries in which pigeon racing has developed into the competitive sport we know today!  So it is a case of “Keep calm and train on regardless".

​I get a great deal of pleasure from reading about the old Belgian fanciers.  I often refer to them as the “old masters.”  This is not something I do out of sentimentality as if I were searching for what many regard as the “golden age of the pigeon game", where a loft could be found on every street corner throughout the land.  No, my reasoning for referencing the old masters is both out of respect for the legacy that names such as the Janssen brothers have left upon the pigeon world.  But perhaps more importantly the common sense, and indeed passion, with which they pursued their hobby, which for many of these greats was something more akin to a vocation rather than a mere pastime.  These were craftsmen who moulded the raw materials of 9 – 13 ounces of flesh and feathers into winged warriors of the sky to compete and conquer over all manner of terrain.  This is all the more remarkable when one considers that many of these individuals received little in the way of formal education and yet by adhering to Darwin’s hypothesis as prescribed in his work Origin of the Species (published on 24th November in the year 1859 and dealing with the concept of a continual selection process based upon “the survival of the fittest”) these fanciers created what we know today as the racing pigeon.  A prime example of the type of fancier I am attempting to describe and who fits perfectly into this category is a man that was known as “the lion of Flanders”, the late Pol Bostyn, who was a specialist from Pau.  This illiterate farmer was a master of pigeon racing who attained phenomenal success producing champion pigeons such as “Passport “.  Like the grandfather of the pigeon sport, Karel Wegge of Lier, Bostyn sought the top fanciers and strains of the day to lay the genetic foundations for his family of successful marathon specimens.  This is indeed comforting for a small back-garden fancier such as myself as it illustrates that fancy pedigrees are not of prime importance when it comes to sourcing stock.  I am young, yes, but at times even I am taken aback with surprise at the fanciers of this generation who purchase the latest fashion in strain that pales into insignificance when in competition against pigeons and fanciers whose pigeon’s results have continued to improve.  The great André Roodhooft is a prime example of this, as season after season he is in the winners’ enclosure leaving many of today's “big names” behind - who I may add send vast amounts of pigeons, while André sends only a few, but of exceptional quality. The results of fanciers of such high standing are never the result of luck.  Oh no, they are down to the implementation of a stringent selection process which ensures that only those strong and capable enough to win at the sports highest level remain and thus pass their superior genetic traits on to subsequent generations which strengthens the lofts dominance for seasons to come! This then, is why the young bird racing season is of the utmost importance, as it is here that our young charges are given their first taste of what it is to be a competitive athlete and are given the vital education which we hope will be of great benefit to them in the future years of their racing lives.  It is a matter of three key principles in my opinion; education, education and education.

At our own lofts, the sprint and middle distance young bird team have had several training spins and overall, we are pleased with their progress.

When it was decided to enter into the partnership of Steve & Chris Williams we planned that each of us would have a loft dedicated to a specific purpose, enabling us to consolidate our efforts more effectively in the seasons to come.  Dad takes care of the sprint and middle-distance team, while it is my objective to focus on the long-distance racing on the Natural system. In the long run, I am looking to target events such as Tarbes at just over 500 miles and then ultimately the Barcelona international at roughly 700 miles! We are under no illusions this is a feat not for the faint-hearted, but to use the motto of the Special Air Service “Who Dares, Wins”, we both know there is a long road before us that will require both patience and persistence but my mind is made up and I am determined to pursue my dream of competing in some of the most testing and prestigious pigeon races on the planet!

​The long-distance youngsters have now started their road work in preparation for the commencement of domestic Club racing.  Having studied the racing programme I think at this stage I will enter them in the so called “come back races”, after all the real work for this loft will not begin until later in their lives with a little more extensive work as yearlings, and then hopefully those who reach two years old and beyond will be sent to the target races at various stages of the nesting cycle.

In the grand scheme of things our youngsters are only young birds for a relatively short time-frame.  It is because of this consideration that we have elected not to place our 2017 young bird team on the darkness system, in my opinion this method pushes the natural laws too far and as someone once told me “you may fool Mother Nature but you won’t beat her” and in my opinion fanciers these days have enough trouble to contend with so let’s not complicate the matter any further. Ever since the dawn of time the Sun has played a key role in helping people and animals navigate, so here is my first question - Why deny our youngsters access to sunlight when we want them to navigate as quickly as possible?

Secondly vitamin D as found in sunlight is an essential element for the development of a sound skeletal structure so, again, why deny our pigeons this natural element in their years of development after all do we not want our racing pigeons to be of a sound athletic physique? It is a scientific fact that sunlight also possesses germ killing qualities and today in the modern and competitive pigeon sport with the number of cases of “young bird sickness" seemingly on the increase, surely this is something that is worth a great deal of consideration, after all young pigeons when mixing with birds from other loft environments are no different to a class of primary school children that pass on coughs and colds etc.  A good friend of mine in the teaching profession was ill in her first term as a newly qualified teacher. Upon visiting the GP she was told it would take her immune system at least a term to acclimatise to the different germs and so on that inevitably fly round a school.  Now apply this concept to our young racers who spend a great deal of time in the basket mixing with other birds, not to mention sharing a water supply.   Surely, then, we want then our young pigeons to have a strong and healthy constitution and if, as scientific data suggests, sunlight aids in this matter then surely the question we must ask ourselves is why darken? I will point out here and now, dear readers, I am in no way attempting to criticise those fanciers who practice this method but I am merely offering food for thought and a different perspective on matters, after all how dull it would be if we were all the same?

Nothing is more disheartening to us fanciers than when youngsters refuse to trap.  I find these days I have very little time for such youngsters who continually fail in toeing the line.  The only way to solve this issue is to be rigorously rationing the food supply, after all an army marches on its stomach and just like the armed forces require discipline, the same must apply to our racers if we are to expect them to achieve anything in the way of results.  It is also important to keep in mind that in race conditions every second counts therefore it is imperative that our pigeons enter the lofts directly and, as the skills our youngsters learn stay with them in the course of their racing lives, they must be taught from day one to enter the loft as soon as they return.  The most effective way of attaining this is via the feeding trough .

In a short time the last of the distance youngsters shall be weaned off and the breading loft shall be closed for 2017.  At the time of writing I have roughly 19-20 young birds containing premiere examples of bloodlines from some of the cream of continental long-distance racing today, many of which have been purchased directly from, or with the help and much appreciated guidance of, my friend and mentor Sheldon Leonard of Universal Lofts in Arklow, County Wicklow.  Thanks boss I owe you one!  It’s great to have Sheldon as part of my support network in my quest for long-distance success.  I feel that if the general fancy was willing to help each other then I am sure the state of pigeon racing would be all the better for it!

Well the weather here in Weymouth is being far from conducive for preparing young racing pigeons for the first race of their lives, so it is more than likely we shall miss the first young bird race. Missing the first young bird race doesn’t concern us too much because we feel it is better to err on the side of caution after all the youngsters of today are the yearlings and old birds of tomorrow so it is better to be safe than sorry!  Isn’t it funny how one’s attitude can change?  Well they do say wisdom comes with age, but I recall when I first started to race, the idea of missing the first race filled me with dread.  However to my shame I now realise that due to the impulsiveness of my novice status within the sport at that time, I tended to throw away decent pigeons.  With the tremendous benefit of hindsight I now see that such fundamental errors of judgement have without doubt significantly delayed progress towards my long-term goals.  Therefore, I would urge the novice to be extremely cautious before making any decision and if it is at all possible seek advice from an experienced fancier.  While I am on the subject, I would remind all novices that there is no such thing as stupid question.  It is however, stupid to remain silent and unsure, after all “knowledge is power" and in the pigeon fancy one cannot afford to stand still, for to do so means giving way to one’s opponents; something that the true champions of our great sport seldom do, as they are aware that the methods used in our sport are in a continual state of evolution.  A prime example of this is the vast number of fanciers here and on the continent who specialise in using the Widowhood method exclusively with hens, with devastating results.

​Pigeon racing is a highly enjoyable and indeed social activity and I derive a great deal of pleasure from it.  For me it goes far beyond taking the top honours on a race day, because believe me if it was just about winning races then I’m sure that I and many other fanciers would not be in the game.  No, there is the fantastic social side with events such as the brilliant Blackpool Show which I have attended for as long as I can remember.  There is nothing like being in the company of fellow fanciers from all four corners of the pigeon racing world, talking about pigeons and having a good laugh over a pint or six until the wee small hours.  I shall never forget when the cabaret had finished for the evening the singer had left the mic plugged in.  Now I don’t know what it is, but there is something in Jack Daniels that makes me think I am Dean Martin, and a crowed of us decided to host the Blackpool Pigeon Weekend's Eurovision Song Contest.  What a night that was; lasting till 3am.  Had the staff at the Elgin Hotel not asked us to stop to allow them to set the dining room up for breakfast, we would probably still be there!  Also thanks to the sport of pigeon racing I have been able to travel to many parts of Europe and get to know some truly fantastic fanciers who, because of our friendship, I now regard as part of my family, and when you think about it this is all down to our love of racing pigeons - it really is amazing!

I have always said that it is not necessary to send huge numbers of birds in the National and Classic events.  Well now I have this idea confirmed after seeing the NFC result in which my Club-mate George Owers time his single entry to claim 8th Open 2nd Section C.  It really is great to see such a result and I hope it serves as a source of inspiration to other small-team back-garden lofts who have the desire and determination to compete in prestigious National and Classic racing.  I always aim to keep an eye out for successful and consistent small team fanciers on the continent, because more often than not these small lofts with cheap prices are the next big thing in Britain, and let's face it you never know when the next “Maurice Verheye” or Jan Arden will come along.  History has recorded many times what a huge impact the Ardens from Steenbergen, for example, have had upon the global pigeon sport!  However there is a fancier and rising star of pigeon sport that I am going to write about only briefly now, about whom I hope to compile a more extensive and in-depth analysis.  A fancier who Sheldon Leonard believes will be the next big thing, as they have a big reputation for success with a very small basket.  Who is this new superstar I hear you ask?  The answer is Engelen...Roger Engelen, and just like Ian Fleming’s 007 this man has a license, not to kill, but to race pigeons successfully and with deadly precision in the hotbeds of Belgian competition.  Such is Roger's reputation that at the Dortmund Olympiad in 2008 his super pigeon “Blue Mustang” won the category to be crowned the Belgian Sprint Olympic Champion.  To attain this magnificent title Blue Mustang saw off many of our sports household names!  As I have said I hope to write a more in-depth article soon, so keep looking.

Right then I’m off down the lofts and if the weather changes for the better I might get Dad to take them up the road for a spin...eat, sleep, train...repeat!

Enjoy your pigeons!




click here

1st National ace pigeon KBDB young birds sprint 2013 with Kittel
1st National champion KBDB young birds sprint 2013 with Greipel & Super Sprint 873/13
1st Olympiad pigeon Nitra 2013 category F with Olympic Rosita
4th National ace pigeon KBDB young birds sprint 2012 Olympic Rosita
6th National ace pigeon KBDB young birds sprint 2013 with Greipel
6th National KBDB young birds sprint 2010
9th National KBDB young birds sprint 2009
9th National KBDB young birds sprint 2011
11th National champion KBDB old birds sprint 2013
15th National ace pigeon KBDB old birds sprint 2013

Readers will note at first glance just what a vital role Kittel and his brother played in helping to establish the reputation of these outstanding pigeons, with such astonishing performances that Yannick found his way to Dirk's home and purchased all the principle birds back in 2014 including Kittel and his brother, for what was nothing short of a King’s ransom. Such is his commitment to obtaining the absolute jewels in the treasure trove of international pigeon sport. The results came almost immediately for Yannick and Bruno with these purchases, and several Belgian championships found their way into the Trophy cabinet bearing the name 'The Flanders collection'. As is frequently the case when new stars are born into the pigeon world, something of a media frenzy began and all of a sudden every fancier was taking out their computers and searching for the now famous Flanders collection and the super Van den Bulcks! Here is a brief but none the less impressive resumé of top prizes in the hotbeds of Belgian pigeon racing. In one season alone, Bruno and Yannick won (without duplication) an amazing 37 first prizes, racing a small number of the Bulck birds. This proves the true art in successful pigeon racing is found in the quality of the race pannier rather than the quantity. It may be of interest to note that Dirk raced at the time. Yannick and Bruno went to visit him with a team of 16 widowhood cocks so there is no mob-flying taking place, just good hard-working and honest pigeons, the likes of which the fanciers of the old school from the infancy of our sport I am sure would have admired greatly.

The first time I saw the quality of the Van den Bulcks with my own eyes was something that I shall never forget even if I live a thousand lifetimes. On my very first visit to Ireland - and it was a good job I was sat down when Sheldon passed these perfect pigeons for myself and dad to handle - I was knocked off my feet. They simply exude excellence unlike anything I have ever seen since I started in pigeon racing. For the first time in my life I had seen what I can only describe as 'the perfect pigeon'. Everything with these birds screamed quality and class in a way no birds have to me before. A few months later I was still dreaming about these birds, so a return visit was arranged for later that year. In the meantime Sheldon and Yannick had agreed to form a partnership for the 2017 racing season, with a view to competing in the major National races on the Irish racing calendar. The 2017 season would also mark the first in a long time, due to having a young family and a very successful pigeon shop which stocks everything a fancier could ever need or wish for, that Sheldon would race a team of youngsters. That trip, like the previous one, was filled with great pigeons and wonderful memories and before leaving Dad said to Sheldon “the Van den Bulck pigeons are the best here”. 

Young birds and Roger Engelen - Belgium’s best kept secret!

A Pigeon King exclusive - 28th July 2017 

14th April 2017

Well here we go, its Friday the 14th of April and basketing night for the first race of 2017 from Littlehampton 84 miles to our lofts. In many ways I feel like a novice all over again as this Saturday marks the beginning of the next chapter of my journey into the sport of pigeon racing, racing as S &C Williams . I must admit that for both Dad and myself this is an exciting prospect, that in a lot of ways has given us both a renewed sense of enthusiasm for our beloved sport. Just this morning over a cup of tea we were both saying how glad we are that a long and for many reasons a long and arduous winter is now behind us and we can now look forward to spending our weekends with our eyes fixed skyward and enjoying the simple pleasures of the pigeon sport . Over the last few weeks I have been watching Les Green Unplugged and have just finished the second instalment of this fascinating and highly informative DVD series. We often hear it said the bond between fancier and pigeon is of the utmost importance, in fact I would go as far to say that it is one of the few so called “secrets” of our hobby and one that the champions have mastered in abundance, and in this regard Les Green is no different. The close relationship he enjoys with the pigeons really is a lesson for those of us who wish to be competitive and successful fanciers!

Proud to be a Pigeon Man

Few fanciers who read the press and various internet sights dedicated to our sport will have failed to notice the name of 'The Flanders Collection'. This is a name that has become a byword for success and a hallmark of quality, not only in the Belgian pigeon sport but on a terrific and global scale the like of which the sport has not seen since the golden age of the legendary Janssen’s from the School Street in Arendonk. We all know how that famous story went and how there is a vast number of subsequent generations of fanatical fanciers who owe their sporting prowess to these true legends of our great sport. I am sure fanciers of my generation, and those yet to discover the sport which we all love, will no doubt say the same of the fabulous 'Flanders collection'. Without a shadow of doubt in my mind (and I am sure the same goes for any other serious fancier for that matter) the most talked about and prolific winning strain in pigeon racing today is that of Dirk Van den Bulck. I am willing to stick my head above the parapet and say that, given a sufficient amount of time, his pigeons will have an impact upon the racing scene in UK and further afield, as did the pigeons of VanHee, Staff Van Reet and the unforgettable Maurice Verheye. 'The Flanders Collection' is the brainchild of both Bruno Van Den Brannde and the former professional tennis player, the young and dynamic Yannick De Ridder, who quit tennis in pursuit of glory in his passion of pigeon racing! Being a dedicated athlete Yannick knows that to be the best you must be better than the rest and therefore he has spent a colossal amount of money to ensure 'The Flanders collection' are and always will be one step ahead of their countrymen and fellow competitors!

Dirk Van den Bulck from Grobbendonk in Belgium first hit the headlines of the international pigeon press due to an outstanding Olympiad, when his hen - the wonderful Olympic Rosita - attained the title of 1st Olympiad (Category F). As they say racing is silver but breeding is gold and Olympic Rosita is a pigeon that is literally worth her weight in gold, for she is the dam of not one but two of the most important pigeons in the Van den Bulck gene-pool; the now world famous Kittel and his brother Greipel. Like the founders of the ancient Roman Empire Romulus and Remus, these two outstanding pigeons are now helping to lay such solid and glorious foundations that the name of Dirk Van den Bulck will be remembered and admired by generations of fanciers. Let us now look at some of the top performances that help to put the name of Dirk Van den Bulck firmly on the map of the international pigeon racing community:

The youngsters bred for us by Sheldon Leonard of universal lofts County Wicklow , belters!

LEFT: 'The Benjamin' a top Van Rijn pigeon, and arguably one of the greatest breeders of all time!

Myself and dad (S&C Williams) enjoying ourselves at Upton Workingmen’s FC

A few weeks ago we took delivery of some lovely youngsters from my mentor Sheldon Leonard. These youngsters represent the crème-de-la-crème of the bloodlines available at Universal Lofts, pigeons that are steeped both in National and international winning bloodlines not of 30 or so years ago but of the present day. In the race from Battle we finished 12th Federation with 1109 birds competing and taking 6th Club in the very strong Upton Workingmen’s FC. This coming week we will be busy preparing the pigeons for the British Barcelona Club. So now it's full steam ahead with the preparations, and then it’s up at the crack of dawn and off to Salisbury for race marking - let’s hope it’s a good one! Until next time enjoy your pigeons!


Chris Williams from Weymouth joins us as brand new scribe for 2017.  He will be giving us his news and views throughout the year. Chris has written pieces for many years for British Homing World magazine 'From the Chair' and we are very pleased to have him on board.


It has been my absolute privilege to pen this Pigeon King exclusive article on a fancier I regard as one of the great masters of our beloved sport, who despite his tremendous levels of outstanding success season after season and all that it brings, has remained humble and always enjoys the simple aspects of pigeon racing like talking with his many friends who share his passion for the great and wonderful sport. Leo, my friend, I wish you many more happy and successful years at the top. You are a man of honour and a true professional.

In my time as a scribe I have written many articles and I have enjoyed them all, but this article has presented me with one of the greatest challenges of my writing life for the simple reason that it has taken me many nights of reading through Leo's outstanding results to try and present my readers with the very best. This is something of an impossible task as never in all my years as a fancier have I encountered such a successful continental loft which really can be classed as truly successful small team fanciers. I could have filled volume upon volume of results of the phenomenon of pigeon racing that is Leo Van Rijn, but such a task would, I am sure, take me a thousand years. Yes he really is that good. No. Forget 'good'. He is a fanatical fancier who strives to push the boundaries of sporting excellence further than those around him each and every season. Without doubt he is the very embodiment of what it takes to succeed in today’s highly contested pigeon game. It was the great fancier and writer of yesteryear King Jack who said, “be bold be determined be dedicated!”. These truly are qualities deeply rooted within the mind, body and soul of this successful star of global pigeon sport .

There are no quick roads to success nor magic potions that turn pigeons into champions. Only with a solid foundation of stock, a good routine and strict selection policy can a fancier be propelled towards the realms of success, and this is something the marvellous Mr Van Rijn seems to have grasped from his formative years in the fancy, and which he continues to cling to until this very day .

With such an infectious degree of passion for the sport it is in no way surprising to me by any stretch of the imagination that Leo has had so much success against some of the greatest fanciers in a nation rooted in the glorious history of our captivating hobby.

Chris Williams - September 2017

the ultimate goal of every serious and competitive pigeon fancier. From my own point of view I was more than happy with our bird’s performance at the weekend as we took 2nd club and 9th federation, but I am also delighted as the pigeon that scored for us is from the natural loft which means that in our “interfamily competition” the score stands at 1-0 to myself, which was the cause of much leg pulling at the club on Saturday night!

Time and again we are told of the importance of observation and from my perspective as a disabled fancier with limited dexterity in my right hand that inhibits my ability when it comes to handling the racing pigeons, I am therefore wholly reliant upon my observation skills when it comes to seeing if everything with the pigeons is as it should be. This was partly the reason for my choosing to compete using the Natural system when comes the long-distance events, as I feel that doing so will enable me to hopefully develop a close affinity with the pigeons.

One of my favourite books on the sport of pigeon racing is A lifetime in racing pigeons by the late Jack Adams of Redditch who of course rightly earned the name “King Jack” after winning the Pau Grand National. Why I admire the fanciers of yesteryear so much is that I really feel they have an innate instinct when it comes to the pigeon and how get the best out of them. perhaps one of the reasons for this is that many of these pigeon men grew up around all manner of livestock, something that is distinctly lacking in the modern generation combine with the outbreak of 1939-45 conflict and the introduction of the “pigeon corps” under the direction of Wing Commander Lee Rayner , for which an entrance examination had to be taken. It is little wonder then that this level of military discipline helped to produce many of this country’s post war champions. Reading further in Jack's memoirs he was a big advocate in creating a sound home environment for his racers, upon reading this it helped to deepen my own understanding of the importance of creating a contented atmosphere within the loft in order to instil within our racers a deep love of home. Understanding the psychological aspect of pigeon racing can also go a long way in helping us along the long and winding road toward success, for instance it is important in my opinion that fanciers try their utmost to get inside the heads of their race candidates and indeed their chosen strain. A prime example of this being the Daniel Aerens pigeons , now please keep in mind dear reader these pigeons compete from major international races such as Barcelona which Daniel won 1st international old hens 2013 with his hen “I had a dream”. When myself and Dad decided to introduce these pigeons we immediately began to think as to how we may get the best out of them , after lengthy discussions with our good friend Sheldon Leonard who in many respects has become my mentor in regard to long distance racing , it became apparent that the Aerens pigeons are very head strong something that will come as no surprise when you take into consideration that Daniels sole ambition is to compete in the classic long-distance races from points such as ST Vincent and of course the ultimate race that is the Barcelona international. It was upon taking these factors into consideration that the decision was made to race these birds on the Natural system as I felt this would eventually enable us to give the birds a contented loft environment which it is hoped will induce form at the appointed time.

Pigeon racing is a constant enigma since we are dealing with a living organism who at times despite our best efforts can drive us fanciers to the point of madness, I am sure we have all been there, when for whatever reason things just don’t seem to click. I think the late Frank Tasker had the best advice for such occasions, he stated “at the beginning of the season make a plan and stick to it no matter what”. In the past like us all I have changed my methods sometimes without seeing them through to fruition. So, during such times my advice to any fancier be they novice or veteran is “keep calm and carry on! “

This coming weekend we are back at Littlehampton, so it is now a case of all systems go. Looking at our federations race programme this is the last chance of getting the birds in a race basket before facing the channel from the French race point of Carentan. As I sit at my desk the cocks are at exercise. At this point in the year there is still that slight chill in the early morning air, and as a result there are times when we have to remind the pigeons exactly what is expected of them. Of course as the temperatures increase so to dose the vigour with which our feathered friends take to the skies . I enjoy all aspects of the pigeon sport with the exception of training which I now regard as a “necessary evil” due to the raptor menace, that I am sure all fanciers would agree is now getting out of hand to say the least, surely it is time we fanciers consolidated our efforts in order to tackle this problem?

Now that the racing season is underway I have now started to check the forecast in preparation for racing on an almost daily basis , this is one of greatest weapons that a fancier has at his disposal as the information can be used to influence the weekly feeding schedule. During my school days I well remember that come the time for examinations the teachers would pin notices in every available corner of the school, one of which read “fail to prepare ,prepare to fail” and the same to can be said of this great sport of ours , and may also explain why season after season particularly to the national events , because these fanciers display the same level of discipline from the first to the last race in the words of the late Jack Adams “ Be bold be determined , be dedicated! This is the mantra and mindset that is required if one wishes to attain champion status at any level in modern and competitive pigeon racing, after all as the old saying goes you only get out of life what you put in and pigeon racing is no different. So, until next time enjoy your pigeons and clock them quick!

​Chris Williams

(left) 1st National Skibbereen against 2253 birds HERBIES KITTEL

Young bird sickness to in the pigeon game seems to be manifesting itself in a more potent form than in the past. Now I am not a veterinarian, but I am a passionate fancier and a deep thinker, and I cannot help thinking that the reasoning just may be that over the years that medications have been overused we are now left with pigeons which have a significantly weaker immune system than pigeons of the past. At our loft we are both making a conscious effort to move away from medication in favour of using nature-based products which we hope will have a positive impact not only on our pigeons but also our pocket and thus helping in more ways than one to keep a healthy balance!

All living organisms require oxygen to function. Without it there is no life. On the continent many lofts employ an 'oxygen treatment' which is basically shutting the birds in an aviary over the winter to harden them up. I can still remember my first trip to Belgium and the world famous Natural Breeding Station that was founded by the De Scheemaecker Brothers. If you have never been it is worth a visit as it has a rich history and they also have the lofts and well from which the Janssens drew the water for their birds every day of their racing lives. I have hero-worshipped the Janssens ever since I became addicted to the Saturday shot of adrenalin that is pigeon racing .

Pushing a wheelchair through the cobblestoned streets of Belgium is no easy task under normal circumstances but throw a thick blanket of snow and biting cold winds into the mix and you have a major expedition on your hands. But my parents and I like a challenge and believe very much in the phrase carpe diem or 'seize the day', something that anybody with a disability will be able to relate to. While we made our way along the rows of aviaries that contain descendants of some of the most prolific Belgian bloodlines ever to grace the Belgian skyline in the centuries pigeon racing has been in existence, there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Belgian people have set the bench mark of professionalism for the rest of the pigeon world to follow. Noel De Schmeemaecker was a devotee of the pigeon sport right up until his passing at the age of 92. After seeing the fabulous condition on the birds I read an article in the company’s journal which at the time was printed in English and contained a thought-provoking interview with Noel giving his views on the modern trends in pigeon racing, including the over use of medication, in which he advocates that fanciers would be far better exercising the virtue of patience; leaving their birds to recuperate in the fresh air in an aviary as opposed to pushing pills down them. Ever since I read this article it has stuck in my mind and although I am by no means an expert on loft design or construction I do regard an aviary as a fundamental element within a loft.

Not only is a well maintained loft with an aviary on the front aesthetically pleasing to the fancier but if the loft and garden are well-maintained then it helps to create cordial relations with one's neighbours which in the long-term will enable the fancier to relax on a Saturday and truly enjoy his or her sport in peace. I am sorry to say for me and my father the days of the pigeons bathing on the fresh-cut lawn are long gone; with the raptors it is just too risky, and my nerves cannot stand it any more. So, thank goodness once again for the aviary as the birds can still enjoy the fresh air and, when it shows its face, sunlight, while taking a bath.

Spending much of the day in the aviary exposed to more fresh air can only be a good thing. Oxygen enters the blood of many organisms through the lungs by dissolving in the lining or alveoli of the lung and then the oxygenated blood is pumped into the muscles. Unlike humans racing pigeons do not go into oxygen debt. Oxygen debt is caused by something known as anaerobic respiration which occurs when glucose isn’t broken down properly and lactic acid is produced, which in turn builds in muscle tissue and causes fatigue, resulting in poor performance. Due to the unique structure of a pigeon’s respiratory system, when in flight a racer takes in oxygen with every stroke of its wing, meaning our birds do not go into oxygen debt. Taking this fact into consideration it becomes clearer to the discerning fancier just how important it is to keep the respiratory tract free, as much as possible, from any form of infection, so performance is not compromised in any way. If a pigeon has any kind of difficulty with obtaining sufficient levels of oxygenated blood, then basic logic dictates that the all-important muscles such as the pectoral muscle, which makes up the biggest part of a pigeon and is a vital component of the flight mechanism, will fail to function properly. Blue flesh on a pigeon is not a signal for success. We all know that a bird that is in good condition should have pink breast flesh and there are several reasons that flesh can become discoloured such as poor diet. Here once again we revert to the laws of the fancier and the important tool of observation. The champion fancier and pigeon sport journalist August Daelemans once said; “To be successful in the pigeon sport you must follow the rules of the Lord!” meaning we have two eyes for watching and two ears for listening but only one mouth. What he was trying to say is look and listen but say little, and in doing so become one step closer to success.

During the racing season and in the winter I like to go to the lofts and watch how the birds behave. I have always loved pigeons with character and personality because in my opinion, for what it’s worth, I have always felt that in order to prosper a pigeon needs personality or a spark of uniqueness that sets them apart from the crowd and gives them that edge to conquer all in racing home as opposed to just homing, which all have the capacity to do, but in our game we are looking for champions and not 'plodders', and champions lead the way!

Many in society regard disability as something as a hinderance but as a matter of fact there are times when it can be a strength, for example in a packed pub or restaurant I am never short of seat! All jokes aside one of the things you must learn quickly is patience, both for others and yourself. The same applies to the great sport which has without question enriched my life in ways I never thought possible.

One fancier that I draw a huge inspiration from is the late Jed Jackson who carved his own path into the history books of British pigeon racing. In 1980 Jed Jackson won what many regard as the highest accolade in pigeon racing that our nation has to offer; the Pau National! For any fancier to win this race requires high quality pigeons at the pinnacle of physical and mental fitness, coupled with total focus and discipline on the part of the fancier. All these elements combined create a cauldron of pressure that even the most placid of individuals would find difficult to contend with, but add to this the condition of blindness then it would seem an impossible dream, but the dream of a King for the phenomenal Jed Jackson, a fancier who I wish I had been given the opportunity to meet. I would thank him for giving me the inspiration and conviction to pursue a path in the pigeon sport and aim to compete in the strongest competition possible, and not to let my disability in any way limit my ambition or my enjoyment of the captivating and consuming challenge that is pigeon racing in the modern era!

Even in winter ours is a sport where one needs to be 'on the ball'. You must remember the phrase of the Belgian and Dutch fanciers of yesteryear who I refer to often as 'The Old Masters' who maintained that you win your prizes in the winter. Basically, what these old-school successful superstars meant by this is that what we fanciers do with our feathered friends in the months of October, November and December and going into the early part of January, dictates our level of success in the new season. The winter period sees a pigeon undergo some of the most stressful and demanding physiological changes of their life, such as the moult. During periods of stress it is imperative that fanciers are extra vigilant and provide the best diet they can in terms of clean (free from dust etc.) grain with added oils and so on, as such things go a long way towards promoting the development of soft and silky plumage. Charles Janssen who, along with brother Adrian, did the majority of the work with the birds at their world-renowned loft at number 6 School Street in Arendonk (both fanciers, sadly, are no longer with us), remarked that a pigeon must have soft, quality plumage. Remember, dear reader, that the Janssen gene pool and all its well-documented attributes stems all the way back to 1886, so they must have got something right and as a result if soft plumage and feather quality were important to these great men who have rightly been called 'the greatest pigeon fanciers of all time 'then you can bet your life it’s important to 'S and C Williams'! 

The majestic and mystical country of Ireland has always held a special place in my heart. Growing up in Coventry, I had many Irish friends and I was blessed in having a Godmother who was extremely proud of her Irish heritage and instilled within me a love of faith, good Irish music and the enjoyment of an excellent pint of Guinness! Oh, many is the night we had and the Craic would be ninety (the 'crack' or the 'good times' were amazing)!  

Pigeons and pigeon racing are two of the most important things in my life. For many years now I have written about the tremendous buzz and sheer 'rush' I receive from taking part in this fantastic sport in which the 'common man' becomes king. The sport of pigeon racing is steeped in a rich and Royal heritage which stretches from Queen Victoria, when our island was at the height and majesty of her imperial powers, to the present day and what Sir Winston Churchill referred to as “the second Elizabethan age” under Queen Elizabeth II. Like the vast majority of fanciers in this country the genesis of The Royal Lofts can be found in pigeons of Belgian origin. It’s nice to know that some things never change. It was in the year 1886 that King Leopold II presented what we know today as the House of Windsor with its first racing pigeons and thus consummated a unique relationship and bond between sovereign and subject that has endured throughout the centuries. The pigeon sport has endured through two of the most devastating conflicts that mankind has ever experienced, with fanciers and pigeons serving both this nation and the cause of freedom and right with magnificent distinction. The names of the heroic birds such as Mary of Exeter, Royal Blue and Paddy have all been well documented and their gallant escapades have become embedded upon the folklaw of the pigeon fancying fraternity. Yes, dear readers, our legacy is one about whichwe should be truly proud and that future generations of fanciers must be made aware of!

Marathon and long-distance racing are my long-term goals as a pigeon fancier; a task which I am aware will require a great deal of patience and dedication on my part. The discipline of marathon pigeon racing has always held a great deal of interest to me. When I first became a fancier I obtained a video detailing the tremendous career of Jim Biss of Hillside Lofts fame. Upon seeing this film a seed was planted somewhere in the back of my mind that would set me on the path towards becoming a long-distance pigeon fancier. My interest within the fancy is turning more toward participating in the classic long races offered by the United Kingdom’s National and specialist clubs. Now, I consider myself to be very fortunate as I have had the privilege in meeting some of the pigeon game's characters. The late pigeon personality and scribe 'Billco' was an extremely imposing and articulate individual who did not mince his words, nor did he suffer fools gladly. He was no doubt, as much as anyone I am ever likely to meet, a product of many years of 'square bashing' and military discipline. I first met him at the British Barcelona Club's presentation dinner and dance in 2004 - the year Dad won Nantes with 'the Don'. What a night that was! During the evening Dad, Bilco and I discussed the many facets of the complex world of the pigeon fancy. One thing he said to me has always stuck in the forefront of my mind; “the only clubs that can rightly be called Nationals are clubs open to all members as is the case with NFC and BBC”. No doubt the great man would have included the BICC on this list, had he not sadly died a few years ago.

The sport of pigeon racing is a complex riddle and the questions it poses to us fanciers more often than not leave us feeling the all too familiar emotions of both frustration and self-doubt . I am sure we all experience times when for whatever the reasons the pigeons fail to meet the fanciers expectations. During such times I feel it is important that we remember we are dealing with a living creature, that just like us humans is capable in having the occasional off day! I sometimes find myself at a loss as to what I would do had this wonderful and all-consuming sport not entered my life. Racing and writing about the pigeon helps to stimulate and keep my mind from going the same way as my legs! Living as I do in a relatively small seaside town where the majority of young people leave for work and university once they have completed their compulsory education, if it wasn’t for this sport I would have very little in terms of a social life. At times my disability also presents a problem when it comes to taking part in certain social and sporting events. When I first seriously began to contemplate taking up pigeon racing many people were sceptical about my decision as they wondered how I would manage. During this period I drew a great deal of inspiration from the 1980 Pau King's Cup winner the late Jed Jackson and his marvellous hen 'Genesta' an outstanding pigeon that raced on the North Road a few weeks prior to being entered into the United Kingdom’s most prestigious long-distance racing event, The King's Cup. The fact that Jed was completely blind following a motorbike accident did not stop him from both competing and enjoying the pigeon sport at the highest level, so why should I let the fact I have cerebral palsy stand in my way. Yes I admit there have been a few setbacks along the way, but in that regard I am no different to any other fancier. I need help now and then but every fancier has at some time or another the need to call upon a club mate or fancier from farther afield. Like pigeon fanciers, disabled people must adapt to achieve their goals so one could quite easily argue that in this regard my disability provides me with a considerable advantage over my able-bodied peers.

The respiratory system of our pigeons is an essential element in making them successful racers. Any malfunction whatsoever within this system and our winged athletes will fail to attain the peak of both performance and endurance which is vital for success in the longer National and Classic races. I once heard it said that competitive pigeon racing was all down to percentages and if you can get your pigeons 1% fitter than those of your opponent then you have already gained a considerable advantage. I am not normally an advocate of medicinal products as I believe we should endeavour to keep things as close to mother nature as we possibly can, however when it comes to clearing the nasal passages of our racing pigeons then for old birds there is no finer product on the market than Nazaline. I for one cannot see how a pigeon that is congested in anyway can make useful use of its navigational abilities; after all even the sprinting legend that is Usain Bolt would not be able to perform if he had difficulty in breathing. The intake of oxygen is pivotal for success in any sporting event, so why should our racers be any different?

Education, education, education is the name of the game when it comes to our young birds, as after all they are the cornerstone upon which the future of any pigeon loft depends. At our lofts the first round of young birds are now taking to the skies with vigour. We will now shortly begin to take them on a few short training tosses. I remember the double NRCC King's Cup winner Frank Bristow who like myself is of the opinion that young racing pigeons have a short window within their mental capacity that can be used for training. Once this expires it is as though the pigeons become too headstrong to be taught this necessary skill. Although the homing ability is part and parcel of the genetic makeup of our racing pigeons there can be no doubt that especially in the case of young bird racing training is extremely important for achieving top results after all one cannot write with a blunt pencil, so a fancier cannot expect top prizes from youngsters without an education. When a fancier talks about the education of his or her youngsters it may well be worth taking into consideration what distance the fancier may specialise in and what their objectives within the pigeon sport may be.

Our hobby is or should be about enjoying the simple things and to me there is no greater sight in God’s creation than that of a racer rocketing homeward with its wings dipped in arrow-like fashion. Such moments have been enjoyed by our brotherhood down the centuries. This great sport of ours does not distinguish or discriminate on the basis of creed, gender or class. It has endured through some of the darkest periods in both our nation's and indeed world history and has proved a source of unity between the generations and people from all backgrounds, from the diamond dealers of Antwerp to the coal miner of the Midlands and other industrial areas that once were the hallmark of our great nation. Success in the sport of pigeon racing has little to do with academic ability and a lot to do with individuals having an affinity with nature. This is something that the great and good within our sport have understood since the infancy of the pigeon sport in the 19th Century.

As well as pigeon sport I have always had a deep interest in history and at times my two passions have intertwined as I love to research the fanciers and strains that have influenced pigeon racing for generations. One such strain is that created by the late Doctor Arthur Bricoux from Jolimont in Belgium. He was a true genius of the pigeon sport. From the year 1919 to the outbreak of World War II in 1939 the name of Dr Bricoux was without equal both in his home country and abroad. During this time this master fancier attained without duplication an impressive 14 pure first prizes, 12 second's and his birds appeared in the top 20 of the results a phenomenal 124 times. Yes he was indeed a real ace! His success sparked rumours that he was guilty of doping. Isn’t it sad that even today the successful in our sport suffer the same scorn and spite from those who simply cannot stand the heat of fierce competition. In typical fashion of the classic long-distance specialist our subject was not a fan of participating in races with his young racing pigeons. No doubt this allowed his rivals an all too brief period of respite from what must have felt like a constant bombardment of brilliance that was the calling-card from the loft of this Grand Master and his winged warriors. We tend to think that the widowhood system is a relatively modern concept of pigeon racing that without doubt has revolutionized the game, but it is worthy of note that our subject practiced this system of racing within his loft to great effect. The most remarkable thing about the widowhood system implemented at the lofts of the good doctor was that it was only practiced once the pigeons had reached two years of age. Like all top fanciers he was forward thinking and was the first to race widowhood on a large scale; participating in races up to 372 miles with pigeons on this system. I would dare to say that in Doctor Arthur Bricoux the pigeon sport found its first and some would argue its finest connoisseur of the art and discipline that is the sport of long distance pigeon racing! When the pigeons reached three years of age they were then entered for the classic long-distance races of the day. During the 1930s and 40s Dr Bricoux won a staggering 14 first Nationals and in doing so cemented his place as an icon of world class pigeon racing. It may be of great interest to readers that the sprint pigeons of the late Albert Marcelis can trace their lineage back to the lofts at Jolimont, which clearly shows that pigeons that are bred in the 'purple' of champion bloodlines in the hands of master fancier will gain top results at all levels within the sport.

Our game is a continual learning process, in which self-professed know-it-alls do not last long, simply because there is no fancier who can know everything there is to know about our feathered friends. Like most fanciers of my generation I spend a great deal of my time using the internet looking up all manner of topics that relate to my obsession for all things pigeon racing. Recently I have discovered 'PIGEON RADIO'. This is an online radio station and there are some great interviews with some of the best modern-day pigeon champions and I highly recommend this to all fanciers.

Last week we took part in the first NFC race of 2017. We were fortunate to take 6th Section with a pigeon bred for us by Sheldon Leonard of Universal Lofts in County Wicklow, Southern Ireland. This cock has raced well for us and has won 12th Federation twice already this season and contains the bloodlines of both André Roodhooft and 'Mr Barcelona' Daniel Aerens, both of whom are two of the greatest, and above all consistent, lofts ever to grace the Belgian pigeon sport. It was the great Emile Deweerdt from Vermote in Belgium who cautioned the novice within our ranks to be aware of shooting stars or fanciers who rise to the top suddenly, as such fanciers rarely stay on top of the podium for long! Upon reading this I recalled how Sheldon had said he observed Daniel's phenomenal results and performances over a ten-year period prior to making the decision to purchase pigeons from one of the most consistent Barcelona specialists ever to fly in Belgium. The same too can be said of 'King André' who has literally rewritten the record books within the prestigious academy of the pigeon sport that is the mighty Union Antwerp. This shows that when it comes to selecting fanciers and pigeons to purchase, he certainly does his homework before parting with any of his hard-earned cash. I have seen how busy his fantastic shop is, not to mention the fact that his phone never stops ringing which is clear evidence that the boss works extremely hard indeed. Having seen the sheer quality of both the stock and racing team at Universal Lofts I am sure it won’t be long before the name of Sheldon Leonard is engraved upon a fine piece Waterford Crystal for a National or dare I say International victory. One thing is certain, whichever of these events takes place first I for one shall be there to see him lift the trophy and no doubt the three of us will be raising a glass or six when the great day comes!

Right, it’s time to turn off the computer and go and wait for news of the liberation - we are racing with the Central Southern Classic Flying Club and there are 2330 birds in this race. I am loving racing in partnership with my Dad and loving being out in the open air waiting for our race birds. So, until next time good luck and above all enjoy your pigeons!    

(above) Dirk Van den Bulck

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To win a National is the highlight of any fanciers racing career, because to win such races a fancier must send nothing but his absolute best. I have long since held the view that the pigeons which are required for success and top performance at National level in today’s ultra-highly-charged and competitive climate are in many respects a completely different animal in comparison to those birds we find at the top of domestic Club and Federation level.   

5th May 2017

Friendship is one of the cornerstones of our sport. Indeed the clear majority of people within my friendship circle are pigeon fanciers and it is surprising just how popular our sport is on the global stage - the advent of social media and other online media now means that fanciers from all four corners of the globe can contact each other at the stroke of a mouse. I for one am sure that these technological advances will see the emergence of new champions and strains that will take their place in the pantheon of pigeon gods. In recent years, we have seen that in certain areas of Europe such as Poland and Romania our sport has grown. At present I know of several household names that have introduced pigeons of Polish origin that have had a positive impact not only in terms of results but also regarding improving the gene pool. I for one am keen to investigate the qualities of the Polish racing pigeon a little further, because having done a small amount of homework with the help of a close friend, I am beginning to draw the conclusion that the next generation of Barcelona international winners will be of Polish origin. I shall certainly be investigating this a little more in the future as my inquisitive nature has certainly started to get the better of me when it comes to this subject, yes, I really believe that the future of our sport is a lot brighter than the pessimists would have us think!

As the years pass and my passion for the pigeon sport deepens, I have become increasingly aware that this is a game where one must speculate to accumulate in the search for quality. Selection is one of the most crucial aspects of basic pigeon husbandry to which Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest” must be applied in the strictest sense of the word and quality over quantity is order of the day. As small-team back garden fanciers, selection is something that Dad and I take very seriously indeed and each of our racers regardless of its origin undergoes a strict selection process and any that are found wanting are quickly eliminated from the team so as not to hinder the development of the rest of the pigeons. Like many fanciers today, I spend a great deal of my time searching the internet and the various forms of social media looking for information about modern winning strains of racing pigeon and champion fanciers and their methods and performances. To my mind such activity only serves to broaden our horizons and deepen our understanding, after all in the sport of pigeon racing seconds count and therefore standing still is not an option in this game, and to do so spells nothing short of disaster! It is a well-used expression in our hobby, but indeed “blood will tell” and because of this, one must ensure that stock of the highest quality is sourced, after all a wise man builds on solid foundations and so too do the champions and elite within our ranks. In every generation, there is a strain or family of racing pigeon that seems to set the world alight and leave a lasting impression wherever they are raced. Think of the now household names of Janssen, van Reet to name but a few of the pigeons whose bloodlines have left an indelible mark upon global pigeon sport! In the present day one name is certainly grabbing the headlines in the fancy press; that of Van den Bulck. I first became aware of these pigeons on a visit to our good friend Sheldon Leonard. The examples of this strain that he had on display were easy on the eye and a dream in the hand, to me these pigeons oozed vitality and possessed a deep love of their territory. Of course such an instinct lends itself well to the practice of the classic widowhood technique. It is perhaps little wonder then that these birds are racing the stars out of the heavens both here in the British Isles and on the continent. Not one to miss an opportunity and being conscious of the need to keep one's finger on the pulse of the international pigeon in an attempt to improve the gene pool within our lofts, Dad purchased several stock pairs containing the principle bloodlines of the van den Bulck pigeons , the offspring of which shall be put to the test in the 2017 young bird racing season. After much consideration, we have decided that after the coming Federation race from Battle we have decided to send with the prestigious British Barcelona Club. The two of us have always enjoyed racing with this organisation and the feeling one gets from clocking in these races is totally different from that of domestic club racing. When contemplating National and Classic racing I have long since held the view that the pigeon that is required to compete in these races is in many respects a completely different animal from the pigeons one encounters in club and federation racing because in my opinion a pigeon that has to fly, say 500 miles at Tarbes or indeed 700 at Barcelona, not only requires a totally different physique but also a much stronger mental capacity. In other words pigeons that are destined for such arduous undertakings must be in possession of both a will and constitution of iron. Of course this is aspect of our sport is an art form and again we find ourselves reverting back to the topic of selection. In many ways I now regard the preliminary races and training tosses as part of the selection process. This hypothesis came to me after I saw a short video on the great Brian Denney who stated that “racing is the best form of training “. No matter how good a fancier thinks he or she is there will inevitably be a certain percentage of pigeons within a loft that for whatever reason do not make the grade as racers. Such specimens in my opinion are better to be eliminated from the team as soon as possible. During my teenage year while taking my formative steps into the fancy, several trips were made to the continent and during these visits I was give one piece of advice by a Belgian fancier that has always stuck in my mind “give pigeons three chances and if they do not improve then it’s "into the soup”. Upon later reflection, I understood that the road to success in the pigeon sport leaves little or no room for sentimentality! This got me thinking about the early days of our sport and what many regard as its “golden age “; viz the 50s and 60s. In these two decades throughout the industrial heartlands of our nation pigeons and pigeon fanciers dotted the landscape and dominated the Saturday morning skyline. During these time periods there was little or no medical guidance when it came to pigeons save that of soap and soot tablets which many an old-timer reached for in his day. Along with limited medical knowledge, funds were also in short supply so the number of fanciers who paid vast sums of money for pigeons were few and far between to say the least. Maybe, just maybe, this is the reason why the pigeon of the past seemed in possession of a much more robust constitution than its modern counterpart? It certainly provides food for thought . Frustration is something that every pigeon fancier experiences at some point in every season, we are after all human beings with all the limitations this implies. Making mistakes is part of the human condition, and it is also a factor of being a pigeon fancier. We can all recall the bad races and the pigeons lost and the times when we have made decisions that for one reason or another have proved costly. When such circumstances occur, it is important to strive that we learn from them. In my time in this sport I have always loved the writings of Ad Schaerlaeckens, a man who’s racing results are equally matched by his penmanship. My favourite quote from this fantastic scribe is “the only people who don’t make mistakes are dead people so while you’re making mistakes you’re doing ok!”

At times, we can become so bogged down when things don’t go as we first anticipated that we become despondent. During such times I think that it is important to remember that even the icons of pigeon racing have also experienced such times. Just keep in mind your goals and the love you have for what is one of the best sports in the world and such times will pass. I am now at a crossroads in my life where I have taken certain steps that, all being well, will allow my racing and writing activities to take centre stage in my life. In truth I have been contemplating such a decision ever since my first visit to Ireland. I am happy to report that I have the full backing of my family and close friends both in and outside the sport. So, with a little more time I hope to be able to produce more articles for Pigeon King along with my “From The Chair” column in the British Homing World. I am very much looking forward to seeing where the next step on my journey takes me.

Pigeon racing is often a case of trial and error and there are no set paths to victory. One has to find the birds to suit ones individual circumstances. How many times have we heard it said you can buy the pigeons but not the man. In simple terms this statement means that, while one fancier may attain considerable success with a particular strain and system of racing, another fancier who has the same birds and system may struggle to get on the results sheet or indeed produce successful progeny. My own opinion on this subject is that where possible the relationship between fancier and pigeon should be as close to a “symbiotic union” as possible, of course this is only attainable by having close and regular contact with our feathered friends. I have always had a keen interest in history, particularly military conflicts and various military leaders. Throughout history there have been great Generals. One of the traits of a great leader is knowing how to motivate subordinates at key moments. In this regard one could easily argue there is a comparison between pigeon fanciers as we behave in a not too dissimilar way with our pigeons, as we use all our experience and skills of observation to motivate our birds for specific events such as long-distance racing events. The preparation for such races is extremely demanding on both pigeon and fancier. Perhaps then this is the reason such fanciers can be regarded as specialists. The annals of our sport are littered with Maverick and specialist fanciers, from J.W Logan and his famous “old 86”, to the champions of the present day. These individuals are responsible for setting the standard for the rest of us to follow. Quite a lot of these fanciers were and are single-minded in the way they approach the sport. I have concluded that it is this mind-set that is needed if one wishes to compete at distance racing. As a sport, ours is an extremely engaging activity on many levels. Not only is it competitive but it is also highly social and the collective group that is known as the pigeon fancy is almost as diverse as the species of pigeon, of which there are 310 varieties. It is now Friday the 5th of May and it is marking night for our Federation's fourth race of the 2017 old bird season. They say time flies and this is certainly true in the case of the competitive world of the pigeon sport. For this race, we have entered 26 pigeons, a mixture of cocks and hens. We have just received word that the pigeons have been liberated at Battle at 11.30 am in a strong north-northeast wind. Now that the strings have been cut the adrenaline begins to course through my veins, something that the brotherhood of pigeon fanciers has experienced throughout the generations, discovering the mystical quality of our obsession that to my mind is far more potent than any narcotic known to man. Yes I find myself firmly in the grip of the pigeon bug , and I am loving every second of this experience. The race this week is a distance of 128 miles to our lofts so it is certainly a nice little opener for our hens and a nice race prior to the birds being marked for the BBC race from Coutances on Thursday. Dad and I have selected 12 candidates for that race, I am particularly looking forward to it as it is the first time that we shall be entering a National event as a partnership. I have always enjoyed attending the marking station for these races, as to me it adds that something extra to the proceedings and is also a great opportunity to catch up with other fanciers from this part of the world and indeed further afield, and on top of this the “early birds “ like Dad and myself get to enjoy a hearty breakfast; after all life is about enjoying the little things.

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Leonard and De Ridder - a tour de force in Irish pigeon racing  

27th August 2017

National racing - the fancier of the future!

It was William Shakespeare who said, “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

The mindset of a pigeon fancier is indeed a complex thing. Some are deep thinkers and some extroverts whom it would be fair to say tread the very fine line between eccentricity and, dare I say, at times, madness? I think during my journey in the world of pigeon racing I have encountered many who would fit into this category, not to mention the ones whose category is simply unmentionable and unprintable. Thankfully there not too many of the latter about but, as is the case with hawks, one is bad enough!

The quotation I began this article with, in its simplest explanation refers to how one can so often miss an opportunity simply because of self-doubt, which is nothing more than an inner voice that continually tells us we are not good enough and as result we don’t even attempt the task in the first place. This can be applied to the sport of pigeon racing. There are many fanciers who have conquered this self-doubt and as a result have gone on to attain greatness; from J W Logan and his “Old 86” to Brian Sheppard’s magnificent International winner The Legend - a bird that will go down in the history of pigeon sport as the 1st British pigeon ever to claim a 1st International victory, putting the fanciers of this Nation well and truly on the map of international competitive racing! As with all things, times change. New methods emerge and each generation has its fanciers who like pioneers of our sport in the 19th Century, set about forging of their own paths towards glory. There is no doubt in my mind whatsoever that the future and prosperity of our enthralling hobby lies in the specialization of the fancier in the fields of National and International racing, a view that I personally have held for several years now and which was reaffirmed during a brief, yet enlightening and enjoyable conversation with a fancier whose name and reputation are never far from the top when the distance races come around. As readers will be fully aware by now it is these races that I eventually aim to devote much of my racing activity towards in the future. If a job is worth doing its worth doing right, or you might as well not bother. During my research into long-distance racing the more I can understand why it is that such emphasis is placed upon the importance of sound, and above all reliable, stock. Now perhaps I should give just a little clarification as to what I mean when I use the terms 'sound and reliable'. When I say 'sound' I simply mean that a bird should have a robust constitution and by 'reliable' I mean that it must be of an origin capable of performing in the races that we fanciers wish to compete in; after all a horse trainer would not enter a donkey against a thoroughbred racehorse in the Grand National or Cheltenham Gold Cup. We too must adopt a similar philosophy when dealing with our own pigeons. When you look at the pioneers and the subsequent generations of connoisseurs in the discipline of long distance racing, the first thing worthy of note is that they have obtained pigeons of the highest quality that have gone on to form the foundation of their lofts. A prime example of this is the legendary fancier, the late Jim Biss of Hillside lofts; a fancier who in my opinion was a true master in the selection, racing and breeding of pigeons of exceptional quality and he was certainly prepared to pay for the goods as well. The fact that a fancier has substantial sums of money to spend on pigeons is no guarantee of success . Far from it. Once the right materials have been procured the fancier must then mould them into athletes, via the implementation of a strict selection policy, in order to purge the loft of any weakness. Over recent years, due to circumstances beyond our control, we have been to a certain extent forced to be far too lenient on our racers. This is something we have every intention of rectifying in the racing seasons ahead. By doing so it is our sincere hope that we will be left with a team of pigeons we can have confidence in clocking-in when the longer races come around.

We have given some of our late bred youngsters two short training tosses. We regularly evaluate these and if we feel that any are lacking in any way we eliminate them, because we only ever wish to be small team fanciers in the truest sense of the word. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that each pigeon in the loft is of the highest quality that we can possibly get.

At the Blackpool show I was fortunate enough to bump into a man that I have hero- worshipped since becoming enchanted by the majestic creature that is the racing pigeon. The man I am speaking of is none other than Geoff Kirkland, a fancier who has won more top honours at the highest levels of the pigeon sport (and has probably forgotten more about pigeons than most of us are will ever know) even if we kept them for a thousand years. One thing he said to me that day is firmly imprinted upon my memory. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “don’t be a sheep”. This confirmed to me what it is that sets Mr Kirkland and the other fanciers I have mentioned in this article apart from the average fancier. The men and women at the pinnacle of long distance racing, irrespective of the era they flew in or their social or financial status, all have one thing in common - single mindedness! These individuals do not fall into the trap of clever advertisements for pills and potions or the latest 'must-have' strain, because the ingredient of experience and the bitter taste of disappointment in their formative years in the pigeon game taught them the painful truth; that all that glitters is not gold - or to put it another way there are more bad pigeons than good ones. I once attended a sale where the vendor was asked to address the crowd. They began regaling the somewhat captive and reasonably intoxicated audience with wondrous tales as to how these pigeons had won from the word 'go'. I was impressed, to say the least, and spent the money I had saved, purchasing several lots. At the end of the season my loft was empty! Experiences like this have taught me some valuable lessons and I hope they will not only help me to improve the quality within my loft but also be more cost-effective in the future. And between you and me it keeps my Mother from nagging me about spending too much on the pigeons. Only joking Mum, honest!

Pigeons are a great way of meeting people and forming friendships. As I said in a previous article for Pigeon King, friendship plays a vital part in our hobby. One friend I have made recently is an Irish fancier by the name of Michael Feeney of “Safe Heaven lofts” in Dublin’s fair city. I am an avid reader of Michael’s notes that appear periodically in the pigeon papers under the title “My Barcelona Dream”. I have now corresponded with him a few times and in him I see a kindred spirit of a writer and fanatic fancier who, like myself, has become aware that the first obstacle of a fancier whose mind is on the marathon of the Barcelona International, is the fanciers own mind, and the subconscious barriers that we as individuals more often than not place in our own way. After all the only way one can obtain proof that one’s pigeons are capable of handling such distances is by sending them to the races for which they are bred. They say the proof of the pudding is in the eating and I am starting to draw the all-important conclusion that for pigeons, the proof lies in performance, and they will not learn anything sat sleeping in their boxes. Don’t get me wrong, dear readers. I am not disregarding the importance of pedigree, but in no way at all do I think that just because a pedigree contains winners, does it automatically transpire that one will breed winners in every nest. Oh no. The laws of nature have an intricate way about them and are such that only the strong survive, and for the fancier this means a pigeon that has been thoroughly tested - and even better if the subject has attained some decent prizes. I was once told that if you want to be the best you must race your pigeons in and against the strongest competition possible. This in my opinion can be found competing in National, Classic and International racing. You only have to look at the amount of fanciers who have flocked to join clubs that offer this type of racing, such as the BICC. This in itself is a clear indication of the dramatic shift which has taken place within pigeon racing within Great Britain and Ireland. More and more within the ranks of fanciers there has been a movement towards true specialization in the ultimate challenge our sport can provide; long distance racing! As I see it, this aspect of pigeon racing is the ultimate test for both pigeon and fancier and which is unlike anything mankind has conceived since records began. For me it has all the qualities of gladiatorial combat, as it requires the essential elements of brains, strength and stamina. How remarkable it is and how fortunate we are that this spectacle unfolds each and every year - not in some far-flung sports stadium, but in our own back gardens and on allotments the length and breadth of this country!

From my own point of view I see a bright future for pigeon racing as more fanciers make what I think will ultimately be the inevitable move towards National and International racing. Those within the ranks of British pigeon racing who have already been blessed with foresight of this evolution in modern pigeon racing have, on more than one occasion in recent years, demonstrated that pigeons produced on these shores, and the fanciers who breed them, are more than capable of both competing with, and indeed conquering, the 'continental titans' who without doubt dominated International distance racing without equal for decades, if not centuries. All it took for this to change was for the determined band of brothers and sisters who make up the long-distance enthusiasts of 'dear old Blighty' to set both heart and mind to the task of challenging the pigeon kingdoms of Belgium, Holland etc. and in time bring balance to the force of International pigeon sport. In doing so, they have altered the course of pigeon racing history and proven to those who doubted its possibility, that the figure of Britannia in all her majestic glory not only rules the waves, but in the modern world has a firm grip upon the sceptre of success on the world stage of long distance pigeon racing. I am most certain that it will not be long before yet another international victory is achieved by the British fancy. The only question is to who will the great honour be bestowed? One thing is certain my pigeon friends; unless we are all prepared to dig in and have a go we shall never know the answer to this a most enthralling question. It is by no means an easy task to undertake for those of us who aspire to be long distance fanciers, however every journey in life begins with but a single step, and in pigeon racing it is this long and difficult journey toward success that helps to make it such a tremendous and rewarding adventure to be on. It is my most fervent hope and desire to one day see the Barcelona International won in England or Ireland and such a victory would be all the sweeter if it was won by a small back garden loft with only a handful of birds. Is such a thing possible these days, I hear you cry? Well why not have a go and find out for yourselves!

Right I am off to sit with the pigeons and have a beer.

Enjoy your pigeons.

Chris Williams 

Chris Williams - November 2017

    Inspiring You To Success

"I would like to start this article by saying it’s an honour to have been asked by Graham Walker to contribute to the Pigeon King website.

The sport of pigeon racing has always been a part of my life, like most fanciers my first contact with pigeons was as a result of my Dad being a dedicated and determined fancier from the age of seven and his passion for the sport is still as strong today as it was all those years ago. 

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At our own lofts, we have been busy preparing the pigeons for the first race of the season. Now that the training is complete all we can do is wait for the strings to be cut on Saturday as it is only then that we will be able to see if the hard work put in during the week pays dividends, that being said in the preliminary stages of the season combined with the fact that our team consists predominantly of yearlings our main objective is just to get them home from the first few races , and then all being well we will both look to motivate them for specific events later in the racing calendar. As a disabled fancier I find myself continually having to adapt things within the loft in order that I can be as independent as possible , one such adaption I have made is the use of a small cane which I tap on the loft floor when it is time for the birds to take their flights around the loft , the birds and myself are now starting to get to grips with this system and are taking to the air in no time at all , the idea of using a cane came to me after my club mate “Mr Hartog” John Gerrard lent me a DVD of the legendary Jos Van limpt “de klak” a fancier whom I have always had great admiration for due to the fact that this old master raced successfully throughout his career using only the Natural system and pigeons of Janssen origin , it is perhaps worth considering that in the later stages of his pigeon fancying klaks performances got better and better even scoring in the longer races . As I said in my last article within the partnership it is my responsibility to take care of the distance pigeons that will be raced on natural system, however at this precise moment it is only the cock birds who inhabit this loft with the intention being to introduce the hens into the loft at a later date and then the focus will be on National and classic type events, as it is this type of racing that we wish to concentrate upon in the future.

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