One man within touching distance of the late John Lovell’s record of three North Road Championship Club wins from the iconic race point of Lerwick is one of the modern day masters, Frank Bristow.
The Horbling maestro has his name on the coveted King’s Cup twice after wins in 2008 and 2013.
But, as things stand at the moment, Frank will not be seeking to equal the record in this year’s 100th race from the Shetland Islands as he is currently concentrating on south road racing where he has already enhanced his reputation as one of the best fanciers in the country and is the winner of classic races from the south to add to his NRCC successes.
Ironically, John Lovell has always been his pigeon racing idol and it would, perhaps, have been fitting if Frank could have stood on the same pedestal as the NRCC record holder.
Frank tells the story of, when he was a young lad, he read in one of the pigeon papers that Mr Lovell preferred to send his birds to Lerwick when they were sitting eight days.
That set young Frank thinking: “What happens to the eggs when the birds are despatched to the Shetland Isles?”
He plucked up the courage to go to the village telephone kiosk (no mobile phones in those days, and no phones in many homes either) and put that very question to Mr Lovell.
And he suggested that, if he cycled over to Donington, he could, perhaps, relieve Mr Lovell of the task of disposing of those eggs. “That would mean that you could, perhaps, have youngsters off a King’s Cup winner,” declared Mr Lovell.
That, of course, is exactly what Frank had in mind, but the Lerwick record holder was in no mood for such a transaction. Chances are that the eggs had been moved under other birds to cover the possibility that it might be another winning year for the Donington farmer, and he would have made a quick start in obtaining valuable progeny.
Now, at a time when he laughs at the memory, Frank has two King’s Cup winners, and a runner-up in his loft, and they are playing a key part as he plots further success on the south road.
In fact Kezie, his first winner in 2008, is already grandfather to his Midlands National winner from Bordeaux, and the youngsters from 2013 winner, Oscar, were among the most eye-catching of the 2015 team.
Recently I was reading an article by television presenter and sports journalist, Michael Parkinson, in which he said of cricket umpiring legend Dickie Bird: “To say that Dickie Bird is not in love with cricket is like saying that Romeo was not in love with Juliet.”
Similar sentiments reflect Frank Bristow’s passion for pigeon racing. Only difference between the two legends of their own sport is that Dickie Bird is a bachelor who avoided two close calls at marriage, while Frank is surrounded by a much-loved, supportive and tolerant family. Maybe it is no co-incidence that wife Sue is the daughter of a pigeon fancier.
And so it was a family celebration that greeted the first NRCC Lerwick win.
“There is still that bit of magic to timing a bird from Lerwick, for them to come all that way. Perhaps if you thought about it too much you would not even send,” said Frank at the time.
By the time his second Lerwick win came around in 2013, with Oscar first and Elton in runners-up spot, son George was very much part of the team.
Frank’s face, no stranger to hosting a smile, beams when he relates the crucial part George plays in the partnership, thus enhancing the family involvement.
For more than 20 years Frank has fought the crippling ailment of rheumatoid arthritis, and to have the youthful energy, and increasing keenness of his son on hand, is a big boost as they seek even further success.
Frank talks freely about his methods, and has a fantastic memory for particular pigeons and performances. His DVD is one of the most enlightening you are likely to encounter.
The amazing thing to me is that, just as he seems to have reached a pinnacle, Frank regroups and gets even better. That, I suppose, is possible because his interest and dedication never wane, and because of his relentless pursuit of what he perceives to be better birds – better even than the ones that have achieved so much.
It is sad to think that the Bristows are no longer competing with the NRCC but, who knows, the lure of matching his hero John Lovell’s hat-trick of Lerwick wins may, one day, be too strong to resist?
Frank, of course, is not the only fancier to have won this iconic race twice with the NRCC, but the other such winners are further back in the history of this great club.
Famous names from the folklore of pigeon racing have done the double. Indeed, FW Marriott, founder of the British Homing World, achieved this feat in successive years – in 1920 and 1921. Both of these races must have been pretty tough for the respective winning velocities were 441 and 1087ypm for the 531 miles to Mr Marriott’s Saltley loft. Not too many fanciers were sending to the race in those days with the entries being 132 and 94, but those were the days of the pioneers battling with the kind of obstacles we can only imagine. At this stage the club was only 20 years old. They would, no doubt, be thrilled that it is still going strong and is looking forward to the 100th race this summer.
Another man who, the sport’s history tells us, did much to help pigeon racing progress was Peter Clutterbuck, of Sarratt. He also won the NRCC Lerwick race twice, in 1904 and 1914. Flying 587 miles, his birds recorded velocities of 995 and 916ypm respectively when the entry was 260 and 200.
No more double winners featured until after the Second World War, and then it was a lady fancier who achieved this rare feat. Mrs HA Bridge, of Thundersley, became the second longest-flying winner in 1954, from 598 miles. (The longest was G Pulley, of London, in the second race in 1902 flying 603 miles with a velocity of 1459ypm).
Mrs Bridge won again five years later, and the two velocities were 1370 and 1698ypm; entries were 1293 and 1068, so two contrasting races.
In between these two victories was one to HA Bridge, of Thundersley, in 1956, presumably husband to Mrs Bridge. Probably fanciers better versed in the history of the NRCC will know for certain whether this was, in fact, husband and wife. The distance flown was the same, but Mr Bridge’s winning velocity was 1698ypm.
This was, then, a hat-trick to the same address, if not won by the same fancier.
Most recent double completed before Frank Bristow’s was by Bates, Son and Burley, of Langley Mill, who were winners in 1978 and 1987 with velocities of 1398 and 1097ypm, when entries were 1473 and 2500 respectively.
A highly praiseworthy double with a different slant on it was achieved by two other NRCC Lerwick winners – Rob Wright, of Bourne, and Roy Todd, of Boston.
Rob won the King’s Cup in 1974. In a hard race with 1593 birds facing a south west wind, his winner recorded a velocity of 789ypm. That same season he won a second race from Lerwick, this time with the Peterborough and District Federation.
In 1979 Roy Todd, who relished the nickname of King Roy, completed the same feat in successive weekends. His King’s Cup winner had an easier trip home on a north west wind, and recorded a velocity of 1498ypm.
Sadly, neither of these distance aces are with us today but, as a schoolboy, I regarded Rob Wright as pigeon racing royalty.
In my next article I will try to share with you memories of more of the stars who enjoyed success in the prestigious NRCC Lerwick races.
The race programme which will help you prepare for the big Lerwick Race of the Century on June 25th 2016 will be: Dunbar – May 14; Perth – May 28; Fraserburgh – June 11.
The old bird schedule ends with a race from Thurso on July 9. The young bird and old hens races are on September 3.