Mike Whitcombe of Southampton.
From when he was just nine years old, Mike Whitcome was like his fathers shadow around his pigeon loft, and from the age of 15 he was running it. His Dad, Dave Whitcombe, would come home from work and Mike had taken care of everything after school, and so he had acquired a racing partner. They flew together for years, even when Mike left home, because he was not too far away to prevent him from working with the pigeons.
They had their fair share of success over the seasons, winning most race points and averages on the North Road before turning their attentions to the channel. The successes continued, being very near the top of the classic races on many occasions and in the very strong local club.
Mike’s good fortune came as a result of a stray pigeon coming into his loft, and being a caring fancier, he likes to give lost pigeons every chance to return fit and well, so he contacted the owner to assist in its repatriation to its home loft. It subsequently belonged to a fancier called Ian Johnston, from Cambourne in Cornwall, was of the Van Loon bloodlines, and had won the Cornish Combine three years in succession.
After a few telephone conversations, a friendship had struck up between the two, which resulted in 12 youngsters going to their loft in Southampton for them to race in 2009. These pigeons proved to be a perfect prospect for the racing they wanted to excel at, along with their M & D Evans Vandenabeele pigeons.
One evening, shortly after returning home from work, Mike received a telephone call from Ian asking if he could meet to collect a gift pigeon from him. It had to be that very same evening as a friend of his would be going half way, and could take the pigeon to them. So he and his father set off into the night to undertake a 200 mile round trip to collect a hen with a damaged wing. Ian had insisted Mike had the pigeon, and put it to stock, as she had been an excellent racer and was very well bred, but she had injured herself so as to not be able to race again, although she would make a very good stock hen for Mike if he wanted to use her.
The hen was subsequently paired to one of the young cocks originally bought from Ian, and in their first year they bred a hen that won five first prizes as a youngster, and it could have been six first prizes, if a loft mate had not beaten her to the trap on one race! They promptly put her to stock where she was paired to a cock bred out of the original 12 Johnston Van Loons, with all the right bloodlines.
This year, being Mikes second season racing to his new loft, and the first National race he has ever entered racing by himself, his kindness to a lost pigeon was repaid because the pair bred him his National winner “Rocky’s Gem”
Mike had been living in an apartment with his family, when a house became available, with a suitable rear garden, just a stones throw from his parents house. Once he and his family had settled in, he was finally able to have his own loft set up and began flying in his own name.
Mike does not have room for a stock loft so he makes use of a spare section at his Fathers loft until he needs them for breeding, which takes place in his young bird section, and is made possible by having the center partition of each set of box perches able to move to one side and create a next box. Breeding commences for the season on the first weekend of December and the first round is given to his Father to race whilst Mike keeps the second round for himself. The stock pigeons are returned, and the youngsters race to the section they are born in.
The darkness system is used and the system begins in the middle of February until the end of June. Training begins as soon as the birds begin to range. Mike had given his youngsters 50 training tosses before the first race, to ensure they had as much experience as possible. So once racing began, he had very few losses compared to his club mates, and he says his extensive training program give them enough confidence during the first few federation races to see them through.
They are fed on a very light mixture for racing but not raced to the corn tin. He says an athlete should be fed accordingly and great care is taken to get it just right for them. His is obviously a very keen and hard working fancier, many times getting out of bed at 4am to train his pigeons before going to work, and, as always, good fortune shines on those striving for success.
Mike had entered 10 for the race and after selecting 9 of them to go, the final selection was chosen because it had the same last two numbers as their previous 7th open NFC winner, number 42. This proved lucky again as it came to win on a very hard race with north east wind, having been in the basket for 5 days. Mike also commented on the wonderful condition his pigeons returned in, with 7 out of the 10 being timed.
His pigeon was timed at 12:31pm and was verified shortly after, which put him on top of the leaderboard. A few anxious hours passed before a knock came to the door around 4pm. It was his fellow club mates with a bottle of champagne to celebrate his win. A fantastic gesture because they knew how dedicated he is to the pigeons and that the National Flying Club young bird race had never been won in Southampton before.