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Jim Emerton Interviews

Bob McKie


Q1. Describe how your love of racing pigeons developed.

Coming from a background where all types of livestock played an important part in daily family life a love of animals was imprinted on me. Over the years and in addition to working on local farms for pocket money I kept all types of livestock, poultry, birds, rabbits, guinea pigs and of course many different variety of pigeons. When I was 15 I persuaded my Dad to build me a loft and over the next couple of years with help of friends steadily put together a small team joining Greenside HS in 1964. This was a competitive club with 33 members and some “ace” fliers and I treasure the memory of timing a fabulous Smokey Blue hen in July 1967 to win my first race from Letchworth being 1st Fed into the bargain. These are the thrills you never forget and 3 weeks later I went one better scoring 1st and 2nd Fed from the same race point. I was hooked!!!!!


Q2. I admire your efforts with distance and marathon racing in the Sportsman FC that embraces NFC racing in the North East. Can you describe the plans and objectives of the club please and your busy role within it.

The Sportsman FC was the initiative of the late George Gaskill who in 2009 formed this new club solely dedicated to NFC racing. In 2010 just over 20 lofts across the North East had joined and a handful of these took part in a few Nationals that year. Unfortunately George passed away suddenly in late 2010 and in 2011 I picked up the mantle of Secretary/Treasurer. Any organisation is “only as good as the sum of the parts” and I must give credit to the members who all pull their weight and support the Officials whenever necessary. Bearing in mind that our club boundary envelopes that of the NEHU the average journey to our HQ is 30 + miles. We regularly have 60% attendance at our meetings which highlights how keen our members are. Before 2016 we flew as part of Section K however in 2016 the NFC Management Committee created a new Section N which was a great decision. Until this coming season our nearest NFC marking station has been Sheffield but in 2017 we will have a marking station at Bowburn Co Durham which is only a couple of minutes off the A1M which is brilliant.


Q3.How do you cultivate racing condition to tackle up to 800miles?

I remain convinced that success at distance racing is a combination of Art and Science and many roads leading to Rome. Fanciers need to study and develop a racing system which they can adapt with experience. Don’t underestimate the impact and investment of energy that is necessary with perfecting the loft environs, feeding regimes, training methods and most importantly breeding. There is much excellent advice available from successful fanciers on race conditioning, I feed heavy to appetite and prevailing weather conditions. Notwithstanding the above I believe that you need to have an understanding of “pigeon psychology” and that observation is crucial in cultivating condition. Patience is key. I think it vital in identifying those small yet marked behavioral changes as your charges give positive/negative pointers to condition. In my view the critical issue when cultivating condition is ensuring your birds enjoy a stress free loft environment. I believe it crucial that you give maximum attention to controlling light and loft humidity without this top condition is difficult to achieve and sustain.


Q4.We all admire you lads up North, please mention some of the great people and performances.

This is a difficult question but in recent years there is so many the late Dennis Blakey of Fishburn who topped the Up North Combine 3 times as well as winning the Queens Cup in 2012 really stands out.

It is also difficult to ignore the excellent performance by Ian Stalley, of Northallerton who in 2012 won the Sportsman FC was 10th Section K, 99th Open NFC from Tarbes flying 777miles and recording a velocity of 963ypm with 2808 birds entered.. A small team flier but extremely talented fancier Ian is no stranger to success from Bourges.

And what about John Rumney and his strong showing these last few years in the BICC. His team has consistently performed in races from, Falaise, Le Mans, Agen, Alencon, Poitiers and Tours. Stobbs & Mosey, (Consett), Bob Donaldson (Chevington Drift) & Kirkpatrick Bros. (Tynemouth)


Q5.Is any person destined to tackle Barcelona International do you anticipate?

I have no doubt that there are several North East fanciers capable of conquering Barcelona  in the next few years but whether they have the mindset and stubborn determination is another matter. John Rumney , Mr & Mrs Hicks of Murton and the Anderson Bros. of Washington are all independent members of the NFC  (ie. not members of the Sportsman)  & BICC who  spring to mind as worthy exponents of long distance racing capable of successfully tackling Barcelona.

Barrie Blackett, at Butterknowle Co. Durham a previous Queens Cup winner who in recent years has successfully made the transition to National racing. Just checkout the performances of his great Blue hen Jass who had 4 x 1ST Sportsman FC before being retired to stock, Barrie is certainly someone to watch out for. Also Jim Nicholson at South Shields and Jeff Walton at Coxhoe are also in the frame.

Personally I have set my sights to compete from Barcelona with purpose by 2020- aspirational yes, but that is my plan and so far I am on track albeit I recognise there will be setbacks. Barcelona is over 900 miles to the North East and in modern day racing it is extremely difficult to find birds with the required mental capacity and ultimate stamina for the job. Also many of us have the disadvantage of battling with “ageism” but putting that aside I am confident that North East lofts will eventually be successful from Barcelona.


Q6.Where do you lad’s source birds or are they a mixture of your own breeding.

There is a certain amount of smoke screen and mirrors at play when discussing this issue with fellow distance fanciers. I have found that the Jan Arden strain remains highly popular whilst personally I remain convinced that Scotland is a sound source of excellent distance stock which used judiciously can improve the quality of any distance loft. Like others I have introduced birds from Germany and bloodlines from Bruggeman Bros. of the Netherlands (via Dave Impett of Blackpool), Steve and Lesley Wright at the House of Arden is another excellent source as is Brian Denney and Chris Gordon stock. I am not afraid to mix these bloodlines because historically when breeding for the distance you never really know where the winners will come from as there are very few “Golden Breeding Couples” churning out regular distance winners.


Q7 Can you specify a good feeding and training regime please.

As mentioned earlier I tend to feed heavy simply because I think distance birds aimed at National racing need maximum reserves of energy to successfully overcome the hazards that nature can throw at them. I am grateful to several for advice on feeding systems including John Rumney, the late John Ellis and my good friend Peter Virtue. Predominantly I use Vanrobaeys Premium Power feeds when we reach the business end of racing. From April onwards the birds are given as much Vanrobaeys No 193 as they can eat in the evening. 3 days prior to basketing I substantially increase the fats and feed Vanrobaeys No 35. During the off-season I use Gerry+ and local farm beans/barley.


Q8 Do the variable weather conditions impact on your racing from France on the long journey home?

Unquestionably the wind plays a significant part in the shorter National races. However, I believe the phenomenon that is Climate Change has had unprecedented impact on weather conditions and racing could be detrimentally impacted even further in years ahead. Our savior could manifest itself through the development of improved predictive weather models but this requires investment. Having said this, the quality of transporters in national racing are first class so if your charges are well prepared the best will cope with whatever “Mother Nature” throws at them. I sincerely believe distance racers have the edge over sprint and middle distance birds which in my opinion are less calm and therefore more vulnerable to variable weather patterns.


Q9. Is your club going to expand due to the quality of the races you enter ie great distance.

I sincerely hope so but I have some reservations not least the lack of patience among many fanciers who become bored very easily when having to spend many hours awaiting our brave little gladiators. Modern technology has shifted the goalposts with the arrival of ETS yet nothing beats the sight of welcoming home that “in the moment” experience when your bird arrives from the longer events. This is what it is all about to me testing your management skills to breed a team of tough, determined and speedy distance family.


Q10 By all means can you mention any other matters that interest you, or the ambitions of members of the great Sportsman Flying Club?

I endeavor to keep out of pigeon politics but had I been 20 years younger the challenge to get involved would be harder to dismiss. All for unification the sport requires a root and branch review. The core of our sport is rotting and quickly and there are far too many Saturday clubs as well as National Organisations. And the time for the various administration organisations, (RPRA, NEHU Etc) to merge in England is long overdue as we lack strategic direction for the sport and proper financial governance.