This year’s race from Lerwick was the 98th time in the North Road Championship Club’s 114-year history that members have competed from this iconic race point.
There have been hard races and easy races during that time, disasters and blow homes, and 2014 proved to be one of the better races, in fact the best of the old bird programme, and vindicated the decision of convoyer Stephen Spinks and race controller/chairman, Brian Garnham, to delay liberation for 24 hours. It was probably one of the best distance races, north or south, of a summer laced with losses, particularly from over the Channel.
In search of what is probably the most famous trophy in pigeon racing, the King’s Cup, 208 members sent 1064 birds, and the outright winner was Mick Freeman, of Norwich, in Section Four which seemed to be the favoured section on the day, although other sections were represented prominently in the open results.
The NRCC continues to fly the flag for top-class north road racing, and this review of the section winners gives just a brief glimpse of the quality of the fanciers who continue with the ancient tradition of competing from Scotland, a challenging and rewarding route.
SECTION ONE – WALTON BROTHERS, OLLERTON
Section One winner was Rob Walton, of Ollerton, who still racesin the name of Walton Brothers out of respect for his brother Wally who died some years ago.
Another reminder of his late brother is in the loft, for the pigeon which won NRCC open from Lerwick in 2009 carries his name – and so the memories continue, for the bird responsible for the latest major success was a grandson of Champion Wally.
This two-year-old chequer widowhood cock bird, of Wildermeersch ancestry, had been a consistent performer before the Lerwick section triumph.
Unfortunately he occupied pride of place in the loft for only a short time, for he was deemed fit and well enough to tackle the next NRCC race from Thurso, but was lost on this difficult day.
“That is pigeon racing,” said a philosophical Rob. “I thought he would do it, but a lot of good pigeons were lost on that day.
In 2009, Rob was also third open from Lerwick, but, subsequently, this bird was also lost.
Champion Wally, however, was given a safe haven in the stock loft and that was a good decision, as his progeny now make up a large percentage of the Walton Brothers loft. “He has made a real mark on the loft,” said Rob. “That open win was the highlight of my pigeon racing career, and you could not ask the pigeon to do anything more.”
His latest section winner had a clearance of nearly 100 yards per minute over the second placed bird, and was a commendable eighth open.
Rob flies only the cock birds, always on widowhood, and has had a successful season, being 24th open from Perth and seventh open from Arbroath with the NRCC, and claiming five firsts with Ollerton and District FC.
He likes his pigeons to compete every week and usually has a team of about 25 cock birds.
Now aged 54, Rob’s team has been developed from Wildermeersch pigeons he obtained mainly from the late Jake Cotterill, Wooff Brothers and Porter and Richardson.
“I think the Wildermeersch are as good as anything you can get,” he said.
Rob feeds Versele Laga Super Widowhood, and the food is before the pigeons all day, but he does not feed in the nest boxes.
Competition is always tough in this section and second-placed MA Rickett, of Weston, also had another pigeon to take 13th place. Nottingham’s Nuttall and Son took fourth, seventh and 20th section, while one of the NRCC legends, Kevin Lawson, of Ollerton, had four positions in the first 20 – third, fifth, eighth, and 17th.
First 20 in Section One from Lerwick were: 1 Walton Bros, Ollerton 1440; 2 MA Rickett, Weston 1349; 3 K Lawson, Ollerton 1347; 4 Nuttall and Son, Nottingham 1346; 5 K Lawson 1344; 6 Mr and Mrs E Murray, Alfreton 1341; 7 Nuttall and Son 1328; 8 K Lawson 1315; 9 ML Horton, Nottingham 1310; 10 Mr and Mrs K Sterland, Newark 1296.7809; 11 Rouse and Webster, Kimberley 1296.1861; 12 R Buckley, Newark 1284.5428; 13 MA Rickett 1284.2963; 14 Mr and Mrs RA Marshall, Nottingham 1269; 15 M Wilson and Dtr, Calverton 1259; 16 EH Gregory, Eastwood 1242; 17 K Lawson 1233; 18 M Wilson, Brinsley 1231; 19 Mr and Mrs Sterland 1230; 20 Nuttall and Son 1229.
SECTION TWO – Mr and Mrs DAVE EVANS, ALFORD
Dave and Pat Evans have become a force to reckon with in the NRCC in recent seasons, and took first and third positions in Section Two from Lerwick. This success came just weeks after their major triumph in winning the open race from Arbroath.
Moreover, the Lerwick section winner was bred off the Arbroath winner, which has also bred a Federation winner in this year’s young bird programme. Talk about breeding a dynasty of NRCC winners! What a handy position to be in.
The section winner from Lerwick, a blue bar hen, was given the task of flying from the Shetland Islands because she had been a consistent performer although never having previously picked up win. She flew through to Thurso last season, and, raced on roundabout, had had quite a few races this summer.
The pigeon that took third position in the section from Lerwick was bred down from Wily Thas pigeons acquired from the late Frank Tasker, a very good friend and mentor to the Evans. This pigeon was off the bird that won the NRCC old hens open race two years ago.
These two birds were 11th and 17th open.
Dave said that he feeds his birds aimed at distance racing very much the same as he feeds for the normal weekly programme, but adds a generous helping of peanuts in the build-up to the race. He also uses natural yoghourt on the food.
They won the old hens’ race in 2012, and had been runners-up in their Section Two something like five times before the big breakthrough in winning the open race from Arbroath this year.
That was thanks to a four-year-old blue roundabout hen bred by their Belgium friend Guy Eveart.
It was no fluke for this pigeon to be at the front as she has had plenty of success in the past, including topping the Peterborough and District Federation twice, and now she has bred a section winner from the longest race.
No wonder Dave looks forward to renewing his acquaintance with Guy every year, and securing more birds from him.
Dave, a retired 69-year-old engineer, and Pat share their hobby. “I could not do it without her,” said Dave. And they have made many friends from their social involvement in the sport.
Their introduction to the Guy Geveart pigeons came on the trips to Belgium organised by the man who helped, and inspired them so much, the late Frank Tasker.
They have since become friends with Guy and now have six pigeons from him every year, invariably with a successful outcome.
Dave first had pigeons as a boy and, after a break while he was an apprentice, he re-started in 1983 and he and Pat are enjoying them more than ever now that they are retired.
Dave finds that the roundabout system works well for them, and utilises the hens to full advantage. They don’t train after the first race, and he says the hens, in particular, exercise well, flying at least an hour each morning and evening.
They have enjoyed a good old bird season, and the young birds have also started well.
First 20 in Section Two were: 1 Mr and Mrs D Evans, Alford 1430; 2 Mr and Mrs R Boulton, Skegness 1420; 3 Mr and Mrs Evans 1411.4477; 4 D Perry, Alford 1411.1475; 5 Mr and Mrs P Newbold, Friskney 1393; 6 K Ward,, Boston 1355; 7 J Wheeler, Alford 1351; 8 Mr and Mrs B Garnham, Boston 1320; 9 Mr and Mrs AW Chapman, Sleaford 1298; 10 T Bennett, Boston 1297; 11 R Mamwell, Louth 1296; 12 DJ Brackenbury, Boston 1295; 13 A and J Pinner, Wainfleet 1280; 14 Kingswood and Hannah, Alford 1275; 15 T Bennett 1271; 16 and 17 D Page, Spilsby 1266 and 1265; 18 Upsall and Frost, Boston 1254; 19 J McFadyen, Boston 1250; 20 Mr and Mrs D Evans 1247.
SECTION THREE – JOHN NORRIS, GRANTHAM
Welcome back John!!
John Norris, after what he describes as a “self-imposed exile”, re-joined the NRCC only a few days before entries closed for the Blue Riband race this year because the lure of Lerwick proved too strong to resist any longer – and because he had a pigeon which he believed would be up to the test.
His belief in the pigeon proved well founded as it won Section Three and was fifth open.
John knew only too well what this 500-mile race demanded of a bird because he was the open winner back in 1995 and his deep knowledge, and enthusiasm for the sport, has been built not only around many years experience as a fancier, but also having been chairman of the NRCC and convoyer.
During in his break from NRCC racing he has helped develop the Grantham North Road Club into one of which he is very proud, and where they have a £40 a week payout, and made a £600 profit on a Sunday lunch time prize distribution. “There is a wonderful atmosphere in the club,” he said.
But, with a particularly good bird in his loft telling him that he was fit and ready for the job, John could no longer resist the challenge of Lerwick.
For 45 years of his life, John, now 62, had been involved with the NRCC in one form or another, and here he was back in the fold for the mid-summer’s day race that had him feeling confident, if a little nervous.
The reason why he was so hopeful was because he had sent a three-year-old widowhood cock bird that had already included a club win from Thurso, plus several other wins, in its CV. And it was in fine fettle when it set out on the epic journey.
Moreover, it had the breeding of an aristocrat, being a grandson of the late Eddie Wright’s (of Fountainhead Stud fame) famous North Star, John buying a daughter at Eddie’s clearance sale for the bargain price of £40 because other fanciers at the sale did not appear to appreciate the value of the birds on offer.
This Janssen hen was paired to a John Gerrard Hartog to produce the section winner which covered the 500 miles at a velocity of 1455ypm, with a flying time of 10-05-17.
John was also 13th section and had four on the day from his entry of 12, plus another four the following day, and two more subsequently, so, hopefully, he will have the basis of a good team for next year’s Lerwick race.
John has had a difficult battle with bowel cancer in recent years but, luckily, had good friends who helped to look after his pigeons while he was fighting this dreaded disease.
Nowadays he starts the season with 19 pairs of old birds, and says his pigeons have to do as they are told. “They have got to have discipline and motivation,” he said. Their day starts with 80 minutes exercise around the loft – “Forty minutes for me, and 40 for them,” he said.
After years of opposition to ETS, he was finally persuaded to accept it – and now thinks it is a great forward step for the sport.
Now retired after running a successful business as a funeral director, having previously been a crematorium operator, other big loves in his life are his family (he particularly enjoys being a doting grandfather) and football, where his big passion is Tottenham Hotspur.
There must also be a real streak of humour running through the Norris family because, when their daughter presented Mr and Mrs Norris with their first granddaughter, she named her . . . Chelsea! Even so, the grandchildren are now Tottenham fans. Probably a wise move to keep in grandad’s good books.
John says that having the pigeons helped him look to the future when he was quite seriously ill, and he was always planning ahead.
It was a really enjoyable experience talking to John, and let us hope that his future, as well as being a happy and healthy one, will include many more Lerwick races. And maybe a Tottenham win or two.
Second and fifth Section One were those good Spalding fanciers, Mr and Mrs Rick Putterill, while the distance orientated father and son partnership of Graham and Michael Britton, of Newborough, had 13 pigeons in the section result, including four in the first 12, with the best being third.
DG Cardall, of Bourne, was fourth, while top NRCC performers from Spalding, Mr and Mrs Tony Woolsey and John Bellerby were sixth and seventh respectively, all with good open positions.
First 20 in Section Three were: 1 J Norris, Grantham 1456; 2 Mr and Mrs R Putterill, Spalding 1415; 3 GV and W Britton, Newborough 1400; 4 DG Cardall, Bourne 1394; 5 Mr and Mrs Putterill 1384; 6 Mr and Mrs T Woolsey, Spalding 1382; 7 J Bellerby, Spalding 1379; 8 and 9 GV and W Britton 1373 and 1372; 10 AF Parkinson, Spalding 1330; 11 GV and W Britton 1326; 12 Hales and Brewster, Bourne 1320; 13 J Norris 1303; 14 L Berry and Son, Great Glen 1298; 15 AF Parkinson 1289; 16 Mr and Mrs P Shaw, Ruddington 1288; 17 MJ Lewis, Spalding 1287; 18 Mr and Mrs R Rout, Spalding 1272; 19 G Chaplin and sons, Leicester 1269; 20 Mr and Mrs P Shaw 1266.
SECTION FOUR – MICK FREEMAN, NORWICH
Section Four, and outright, winner was Mick Freeman, of Norwich. He has called his winner Mad Mick 1. It is a three-year-old blue cock bird which, for the 526 miles to Mick’s loft, recorded a velocity of 1479 yards per minute, which prompts the theory that the bird, a Dordin x the Old East Anglian Pieds, perhaps made much of the trip out to sea where there was the assistance of a north wind.
The winning pigeon had races from Driffield, Whitley Bay and Perth as build-up to the big test, and in 2012 showed a lot of promise in his performance from Thurso, and also flew on the south road from Guernsey as a young bird.
Moreover, it is a broken pigeon as Mick, and ever-supportive wife Kay, moved home half-way through their short-lived four-year career as pigeon fanciers.
Although 62 years of age, Mick had never been involved in the sport (apart from having two pigeons in a rabbit hutch when he was about 13) until it caught his attention through friends who were fanciers. He went along to watch their birds come home from races, and caught the bug.
He competes in the strong Drayton club, and this year will be his fifth season of young bird racing, but already he is attracted to the distance races – although some fanciers have told him that his birds are too big for long distance racing.
“He is as big as a turkey,” said Mick of his Kibng’s Cup winner, “but on a hard day he can do the job. I like flying the long distance but other fanciers told me that I had the wrong type of pigeons for that.”
He sent 11, timed three on the day, and had eight back in the loft on the second day.
To the rear of their bungalow is a pretty big garden, measuring a quarter of an acre, and pleasant-looking lofts adorn the rear end of the garden.
From the outset, Mick had a firm idea of the type of loft he wanted, and produced his designs on paper from which a joiner friend created a loft which Mick described as “a nice piece of garden furniture.”
When he decided to take up the pigeon game, he answered an advertisement by a fancier in Swansea, and that is where the Dordins came from. The East Anglian Pieds came, via a friend, from an old fancier, no longer alive, in Lowestoft.
Mick’s aim is to blend them into a long distance family. He reckons he is not doing too badly so far, but believes that it will take him something like eight years to reach his goal. “I have every confidence in the pigeons, and want to have a good quality team inside eight years.”
In the meantime, a win from Lerwick will do nicely, thank you.
Mick flies a completely natural system. “I don’t like to operate them as an assembly line,” he said. “The Lerwick winner was sent sitting. They are let out twice a day, and fed twice a day.”
The birds have to fit in with Mick’s work schedule as a lorry driver four nights a week, a job he secured after previously being made redundant which caused him to curtail south road racing.
He is the fifth Norwich fancier to win this Blue Riband race, the others being Caston and Son (1962), M Waller (1996), Fox and Wise (2003) and Gordon Cockaday (2005).
There were several other good performances in this strong section, a particularly noteworthy one being by Terry Roughton whose yearling took second section and second open. He was also 11th section to enhance his reputation as an outstanding fancier, from both north and south.
M Bishop and Son, of March, took third, fourth and 20th section, while Terry Winterton, of Holbeach, had his usual excellent Lerwick race, by taking 5th, 6th and 13th section.
Easing their way back into north road racing, Mr and Mrs John Dixon, also of Holbeach, took four places in the first 20.
First 20 in Section Four: 1 M Freeman, Norwich 1479; 2 T Roughton, Wisbech 1473; 3 and 4 M Bishop and Son, March 1471 and 1470, 5 and 6 T Winterton, Holbeach 1447 and 1445; 7 RP Hicks, Norwich 1437; 8 G Staff, Norwich 1429; 9 Simmons Partners, Dereham 1424; 10 Mr and Mrs J Dixon, Holbeach 1408; 11 T Roughton, Wisbech 1396; 12 N Browne 1364; 13 T Winterton 1349; 14 M Freeman 1342; 15 Mr and Mrs J Dixon 1340; 16 N Browne 1337; 17 Mr and Mrs Dixon 1336; 18 D Hicks, Norwich 1333; 19 Mr and Mrs Dixon 1319; 20 M Bishop and Son 1302.
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