“Not only have you got to motivate the pigeons, you have to motivate yourselves” Not my words but those of Darling and Ede of Southampton, the new stars shining on the south coast in National flying Club racing. Finishing seventh in the National Flying Club Averages they certainly followed their own advice.
Born in East London in the early sixties, Tony Darling became fascinated with pigeons at a very early age with the chance encounter of a Red Cheq stray in the Barrow Boy area of a pub. He had taken it home and when he discovered the telephone number on its wing, reported it to the owner. The owner gave him the pigeon and Tony visited Brick Lane Club Row to buy a couple of more pigeons and so the love began. Although he found it difficult to find a mentor, he was in ore of the top fanciers of the time and persevered, although it was many years before he won his first race.
He had realised that the only way to obtain really good pigeons was to buy the best at entire clearance sales, not just one, but as many of the family as he could afford. “Its no good just buying a loaf of bread, it’s the whole bakery that’s needed” he said, so a visit to a sale in the midlands fitted him out with as many of Len Hopton’s pigeons as he could afford.
Success with these pigeons soon followed, as did a wife and children and subsequently, Tony moved his family to Southampton along with his pigeons. Unfortunately the marriage did not last and he found himself a single parent with two children, so he had to leave the sport for a few years, although he farmed out his birds for safe keeping with family in London.
Whilst still a schoolboy, Darren Ede wondered why a few of the children were teasing one of the other boys, and when he enquired it was because the raced pigeons with his Granddad and it drew his interest. A loft visit was arranged and he was bitten by the bug although his Mothers phobia against pigeons was an obstacle to overcome. She insisted they could not be kept at home and at sixteen years old he left home and signed up for the Army for three years. He had suffered a leg injury and whilst he was in rehab, he spent his time designing a new loft setup for the day he left the Army. When the time came to leave, he persuaded his Mother to overcome her fear of pigeons so he raced to a small loft back garden loft, until birds of another kind became more important and the pigeon racing was put on hold for a few years.
His friendship with Tony was initially centered around their mutual interests in Horses and when Darren decided to leave the stables early one day to see his friends birds arriving from a race, they realised they had a mutual interest in racing pigeons too. This sparked a decision to race together as a team, and a loft was built in Tony’s back garden, and just two years ago, the partnership began.
Their goal was to win the National Flying Club, and at the very least win their section., and they set out to achieve their aims by motivating themselves with the current years NFC Averages winners photo being pinned to every section in the loft.
They knew that they would need different families of pigeons to compete from the first race at 175 miles right up to the Grand National at 535 miles as good positions in each race are required to win the NFC Averages. They decided to go to the Golden Duif auction, organised by Stuart Wilcox at the Blackpool Show, where they dug deep into their pockets and bought a grandson of Harry from Jan Hooymans, only to discover the unfortunate bird had died in the box over night.
They called Stuart who in turn contacted Rik Hermans and a replacement was arranged with Jan Hooymans, who gave them a choice out of 10 the same way bred. Whilst in Belgium they were invited to visit Rik Hermans loft and a great friendship began between the three fanciers.
Tony had never had the opportunity to visit lofts in Belgium whilst bringing up his two sons alone but he is making up for it now and any excuse for a road trip will see them both visiting top lofts as directed by Rik. With such a close ear on the ground in Belgium they have been able to make some very interesting investments, buying birds from performance lofts, just prior to world wide interest inflates the prices out of their reach. In fact they have accumulated a very impressive stock loft with children direct off Champions of the day.
In the beginning of the season, the race team, which have been restricted to the loft all winter due to predation by the hawks, are slimmed down by a liberal amount of barley included in the feed. They are then paired around Valentines Day and allowed their liberty to build their nests, which in turn gently loosens the muscles and tendons. When they have laid one round of eggs, they are separated and the roundabout system begins. A religious exercise regime then ensues with the hens going out for an hour followed by the cocks, morning and evening.
Young birds are bred at the breeding loft and once carried over they are not allowed out until their eyes have changed and are fed a pulse mixture to enable their rapid growth. When the time comes to get them flying well they are put on straight barley for a week or two and their exercise routine begins. The partnership knows what is required to compete with the young birds later in the season, so they are put on the darkness system from the 1st of April until the longest day in order for them to hold their flights for the final NFC young bird race.
Racing on the Roundabout system, motivation begins with putting the bowls in for the cocks for a while, followed by the hens, and as soon as they have finished the last pair they begin to basket the first pair. As the season progresses they will play about with them a little and sometimes let them have an open loft for an afternoon midweek. Any form detected during the daily exercise will be used to aid their selection of the race team for the next race. Regular swabs are sent to De Weerd in Chelmsford to ensure they are as healthy as possible during the season, and as they are members of the local club which races from the East along the south coast, it is used as training to sharpen them up before the National races. They are also members of the four major classic clubs in their area, but it is the National Flying Club that is their main aim.
The first race in the National program 2016 from Fougeres at a distance of 175 miles and their position of 1st Sect 4th open with an Andreas Drapa cock that won 9th sect 93rd open in the season before. This section win followed a previous success in 2015 when the partnership won 1st Sect 2nd open from the same race point and on the day, they were being congratulated by friends on the phone right up until 8 pm until Pearson and Dransfield clocked “Treetop” to beat them into second place out of nearly 9000 pigeons. In fact they have raced as a partnership just three times from Fougeres and three times scored 1st section along with 2nd open, 4th open and 5th open. Out of nearly 20,000 birds over those three races, only 8 pigeons have beaten them.
The second race from Messac, 212 miles was one of two races in the season that the pigeons did not show their true ability and they finished 22nd Sect 533rd open. Although they really fancied the pigeons at that distance they did not allow the result to change their plans and held their resolve when, from Ancenis 248 miles, they had a very good race scoring 1st and 5th Sect 3rd and 10th open with two pigeons that came together. The 3rd open winner was a cross from Tony’s old family.
Saintes followed two weeks later at a distance of 356 miles, and they were expecting their pigeon 20 minutes earlier than when it came, but still finished 20th Sect 192nd open and although they were a little disappointed again, they were pleased for Bill Edwards in Gosport who won the race with a very good pigeon on the day. Their first timing from Saintes was 100% Mark Gilbert blood being a grand child of three national winners and they decided to send him back to Tarbes, a distance of 532 miles. Local distance flyers had cautioned them as it is a difficult race and would not be easy to get a day bird, but they sent him well pooled as they thought the previous race had set him up well and his form hadimproved over the following days.
In total they sent 5 pigeons to Tarbes and got two out of the 5 in good time, which were both bred the same way, and although they did not get one on the day, only 6 fanciers did, so they were out very early at 5am after a restless night to wait at the loft. It was just getting fully light and at 6:41am their Saintes pigeon trapped like a rocket to finish a very respectable 4th sect 36th open. To them, it was a fantastic experience, because as the pigeon had come so early, he must have been near home on the day and they are really looking forward to the 2017 Tarbes race. It was after the Tarbes race that they knew being high in the averages was a possibility so it was on to the young bird National with a lot of hard work completed and high hopes of a good pigeon once again.
As the season progressed, the young birds were bouncing and in very good condition for the race from Coutances, a distance of 126 miles, and they sent their whole team of 67 pigeons. But after a long holdover they had not faired too well in the basket and finished 60th Sect 355th open, but it was enough to put them in the position of seventh overall of the National Flying Club Averages, the most prestigious club in the UK. Indeed one has to recognise it has been a fantastic start for the new partnership over their first two seasons and we can be sure they will be suitably motivated to try even harder in 2017. One thing for sure, as they have won their section from Fougeres in 2014, 2015 and 2016 they will be gong for a fourth section win in consecutive years, in the very first race of the program.