John’s introduction to pigeons came in 1977 at the age of 18 when he swapped two rabbits for a pair of pigeons. The birds were not terribly successful, but the bug had bitten and he was hooked. He acquired other birds from his new clubmates but still had little success to his 30-foot garden loft.
He decided that the following year he would buy in some new stock, so that winter he scanned the adverts in The RP and found that the Dordins of Louis Massarella were winning well, so he and his new partner Dave cockerel ordered six youngsters for £60 (not cheap by 1977 prices!). All these youngsters had the ‘Ramses’ blood running through their veins. They were only trained that year then put to stock where they proceeded to breed the goods. Most of the youngsters bred from these six won prices, but two hens in particularly were exceptional at the distance.
It was 1982, John & Dave were preparing the birds for the Blue Riband race of the year – the 500-mile Nevers race with the Great Yorkshire Amalgamation. The birds all Naturals, as few raced on Widowhood at that time. All the birds were paired up in the first week in March and trained twice a week from 30 miles. They had every race up to Clermont (350 miles), after this they were trained only to 30 miles twice a week in readiness for the big race in a fortnight’s time.
As basketing night grew nearer John senses that the two hens were becoming more and more keen on the nest, and his earlier decision to get them on five day youngsters was proving to be a good one. The partnership were members of two clubs in two different Federations with both Federations competing in the Great Yorkshire Amalgamation. Four birds were selected for the big race with the intention to send all four to one club. However, John decided that the two hens were in such magnificent condition that they should be split one in each Federation. One of the hens was basketed for the Aire & Wharfe Valleys Combine and the other to the City of Leeds Federation. The confidence regarding the hens was such that both were pooled to the maximum in club and Federation, and because the Aire & Wharfe Federation was also a member of the Great North of England Flying Club on was pooled to the hilt in that club too! The maximum pool in those days was £5 Open and Section.
The birds were liberated at 5.45am in a strong NW wing with strong gusts, showers and heavy cloud cover all day. Among the top fanciers in the area the word was that there would be no birds into the locality on the day. This proved to be correct, however two gallant birds were clocked into Castleford (12 miles shorter) at 9.50pm that night.
With his knowledge John knew that his hens wouldn’t be far away, so the alarm clock was set for 4am. Dave thought 6am would be more realistic. After a little sleep the alarm sounded and John was up at the window in quick time. He looked into the moonlit garden and couldn’t believe his eyes, there was a shadow on the loft roof. But this couldn’t be a Nevers bird, could it? No surely not he thought in disbelief as he ran down the stairs three at a time attempting to get dressed on the way. Out into the garden he ran and sure enough it was one of the Dordin hens. She was quickly clocked at 4.05 to take 1st Club, 1st East Leeds Federation by five hours. John regained his composure to wait the arrival of the three other loftmates. Looking up into the dark night sky he couldn’t comprehend how this hen had navigated in such conditions to get to her babies.
Another one and three quarter hours passed before John saw the next bird drop to the loft, still in half-light due to the weather, the other Dordin hen was duly clocked at 5.50 to take 1st Club, 1st Aire & Wharfe Valley Combine, 2nd Great North of England FC plus all pools, amassing on her own £500 which was a substantial amount then. One of the other birds was clocked at 13.00. That made three out of four on a foul day when less than 30 birds were clocked in the two Federations boasting some of the top fanciers in Yorkshire. So an incredible performance. Two 1st Federations on the same day from 510 miles. But it did take its toll on the birds as neither of them could fly for two weeks after the race, they had flown themselves almost to exhaustion.
Unfortunately Dave cockerel left the partnership at the end of that season and the following season Channel racing was banned, therefore this fabulous team could not be tested to the full. The birds had become an obsession for John and he decided to have a break at the end of 1984. All the birds were auctioned by Jack Shelton at Ackroyd Street WMC in Morley near Leeds and realised the sum of £4,500; So from an outlay of £60 for six from Massarella the family of Dordins proved to be a sound investment.
In 1985 John met Denise Mills, and in ’86 they married. After purchasing a house a trip to Massarella was made with a view to buy some of the Dutch middle distance birds of Leen Boers. At the time Massarella had recently bought ‘Supervisor’ for a record sum of £20,000. John bought a son from him for £400 and a son of ‘Le Bon Reproducer’, one of the top Janssen breeders at that time. In the winter of that year John & Denise bought three hens in a Massarella ‘half price winter sale’, and all the birds were housed in the old loft at John’s mums until his new loft was built at the end of the year. His intention was to race in partnership with his father-in-law Ted Mills, however, this was not to be as Ted had a heart attack and sadly died before the partnership could race. John & Denise thought it appropriate to keep the name, and that is the name they race under today.
The son of ‘Supervisor’, ‘Young Supervise’ was to become the foundation of a new era of racing pigeons for the partnership that resulted in some top Amalgamation performances. He sired ‘Rainman’, thirteen 1sts including 1st GYA, 1st GNEFC Clermont 1990. Others included 1st Aire & Wharfe Valleys Combine Falaise, 7th South Yorks Amalgamation 8,000 birds 1991. ‘White Tail’ 1st City of Leeds Federation Fareham; 1st City of Leeds Federation Le Mans. ‘Concord’ 1st AWVC Fareham 1995, this was the fastest pigeon ever into the AWVC doing 2400 ypm or 83mph from 207 miles. ‘The 42’ 1st AWVC Fareham 1997.
In 1993 they bought Busschaerts again from Massarella’s and were also presented with a Silvere Toye cock due to the performances of their Leen Boers.
At the beginning of 1997 the partnership decided to send to the Northern Classic FC, with a view to try some of these top class birds at the distance in a Classic. The last race of the old bird season was the Northern Classic Saint’s race a distance of 561 miles. Two cocks and three hens were prepared with this race in mind, all had had two Channel races and the two cocks were paired up on the day of basketing having had ten races each on widowhood. The hens had also had ten races and they were basketed on 14 days old eggs. All fiver of the birds never races in the two weeks prior to basketing night, they had however been tell trained having 100 mile training tosses leading up to race day.
One pigeon in particular stood out among the rest and that was due to a Busschaert called ‘bully’ due to his aggressive behaviour in the loft. He was selected as the number one and pooled all the way in Section and Open.
The birds were liberated at 6.30am in a WNW wind with some cloud cover after a one day holdover. It was estimated 1150 ypm would be a good velocity under the circumstances as John was 3rd Federation from Falaise the day before in a similar conditions, so anything up to 9pm would be a decent time. At 8.45 or thereabouts a pigeon could be seen in the distance racing towards the loft, he dropped quickly and was clocked at 8.50pm doing 1159 ypm taking 1st Section, 1st Open Northern Classic winning close to £500. Eight minutes later the Toye x Vermote (Derek Jackson) hen named ‘Big Eyes’ was clocked, shortly followed by ‘The Big Hen’ (a full sister to ‘Concord’) at 8.59pm. These two were 4th & 5th Section and Open making three from five birds sent on the day from a distance of 561 miles all within ten minutes of each other. Again a racing feat to be proud of and one which many thought was impossible to do again. At he end of March 1998 John & Denise moves house (about two miles south east) and all the race team were broken to the new loft within a week. Many club fanciers hoped that the partners would not be racing that year, but John had other ideas!
Inland racing was not as successful as previous years, as the birds were visiting the old address first. However, pone 1st and other minor positions were won inland with the broken team. John decided therefore to concentrate on the distance races again and prepared his team for the Channel programme. The first channel race was Falaise, but John and the family were on holiday so with a clubmate tending to the birds they decided to send just four. Unfortunately the race a was blow home and the birds unsuited by these conditions.
At the 400 mile race from Le Ferte Bernard seven birds sent gaining 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th & 6th Club, 2nd, 4th, 7th & 8th Combine on a hard day when many failed to time in. Next race was the 500 from Poitiers where eight (more than half of the team) were entered, four Natural hens and four Widowhood cocks. John considered that he had a strong team, so again he decided to split the team sending two the City of Leeds Federation and the rest to the Aire & Wharfe Combine. Birds were liberated at 6am into a light westerly wind on a day with broken cloud and showers. John estimated that between 11 and 12 hours would be a good bird, but had to wait until 6.34pm for his first arrival ‘Lightning’ winning 1st Leeds Premier Club, 3rd Aire & Wharfe Combine coming from a northerly direction from his old address! Second pigeon was ‘Peter’ bang on line to take 2nd Club, 3th Combine at 6.37pm. Third bird to be clocked was ‘The Big Hen’, she was 2nd Harehills Club, 2nd City of Leeds Federation clocked at 6.30pm. That’s three birds in four minutes from 507 miles and all three were direct brothers and sisters to a broken loft. The three were Leen Boers from the original son of ‘Supervisor’ being ‘Young Supervise’ and subsequently they were to breed 1st Combine Poitiers 1999 with ‘Conan’ and Combine gold medal winners in ’97 & ’98 with ‘Paul’ and ‘Lightning’, all full brothers. Five birds were clocked on the night to take other positions with ‘Bully’ being fourth to the loft taking 8th Fed.
Following this race two of the eight were prepared for the Saintes race of 561 miles with the Northern Classic, and two for the Midland National Bergerac race a distance of 627 miles. Obviously Saintes was considered to be the easier of the two, so the younger pair were entered for that. ‘Bully’ (1st Northern Class Saintes ’97) and ‘The Big Hen’ (4th Classic Saintes ’97 and 2nd Fed Poitiers ’98) were sent to Bergerac. Basketing for Saintes was ten days after the Poitiers race and the race proved to be a real grueller. The birds were held over until he Monday and liberated at 5.45am in a strong northerly wind. John timed ‘Big Eyes’ at 9pm to be 10th Open with the only other bird into Leeds clocked by Alec Finlay at 10pm. The other Saintes bird ‘Peter’ (2nd Fed 400 miles, 4th Fed 500 miles) was unfortunately lost the day.
The Bergerac birds were liberated on the Sunday into a SE wind. To my knowledge no bird had ever been clocked into Leeds on the day at this distance. John thought he was in with a chance with the south in the wind.
‘Bully’ came racing out of the north east and it gave John & Denise great pleasure to clock him at 7.23pm. When he was handled his condition was such that he didn’t seem the least bit tired. Although he was only 140th Open Midland National, this performance is one that the partnership will never forget due to the distance flown on the day.
There were a couple of John’s clubmates keeping him company at the lofts that night, and it was fortunate as Andy Harding saw a bird racing over the lofts and informed John who quickly shouted and ‘The Big Hen’ was duly coaxed out of the sky and clocked t 8.40pm. Two entered and two clocked on the night from 627 miles. A record for the North East Section of the Midland National.
John couldn’t decide on any one highlight of his racing career to date, but stated that the three best were: getting three in four minutes from 510 miles with broken pigeons and all three being bred from the same pair winning 1st, 4th & 5th Northern Classic on the day from Saintes; winning two 1st Federations from Nevers with two Dordin hens back in 1982.
Their worst experience was from GYA Nevers smash in 1992 when three of their best including ‘Rainman’, 1st GYA Cleremont 1990, were lost.
The partnership does not function in name only. Denise plays an active part in the management of racing the team and has sole control for days at a time when John is away at the pigeon exhibitions throughout Europe and the UK promoting their business.
When asked what advice he would give to a novice, John said:
If possible purchase pigeons direct from consistent winning birds or from proven stock. Probably most difficult of all is to be patient with the young birds, do not flog them every race. They are only babies and if treated correctly will reward you in later life.