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From The Chair by Chris Williams 31-08-21

From The Chair: “The Virtuoso’s of Hallaar: Luc Vervoort and Nicole Van Nuffel, Belgium's best kept secret!

By Chris Williams

I had just put the telephone down as the streetlights came on and began filling my room with an extra-terrestrial glow.  Under normal circumstances this would have been unnerving, but my mind was too preoccupied with pigeons to take much notice, this always seems to happen to me when talking to Frank Bristow.  We had been discussing the pigeon game in all its glory and the many continental Aces he has become acquainted with over the years, which I enjoy immensely as there is always something to learn.  Although a lot of  racing seasons have passed since I had visited Belgium for the first time.  Frank has such an in depth knowledge of that great pigeon principality and her fanciers that it is easy for the hours to fly almost as fast as the pigeons of that great nation, so vivid his accounts of their exploits that I had felt I had been on a virtual loft tour.  My brain couldn’t process fast enough what I was hearing.  Laying in the dark unable to sleep excitement coursing through my body like a thunder bolt.  You see dear reader I had just been told of a fancier whose pigeons race the stars out of the heavens, yet despite this success he is relatively unknown by the media and fancy at large and consequentially is “overshadowed” to a degree by those in the public eye, conclusive proof perhaps of the fact that it is indeed “the hand that holds the pen writes history?

The time has now come for me to attempt to rectify this situation and let the world know  that there are still those fanciers left in pigeon sport today who prefer to let their basket and pigeons do the talking rather than clever advertisements that we see all too often in the modern age.

It is to one of the small lofts that has a big reputation among  those “in the know” run by the kind of fanciers I love to write about, the real fanciers that have a pigeon in their heart and prove perfectly that it is possible for a REAL SMALL fancier to race very well, their biggest loft is 4x2m housing 16 couples and the smallest loft has 9 couples and is 1.5mx 2m, so obviously the emphasis here is on REAL QUALITY pigeons, forged in the fire of some of the  strongest competition in the pigeon racing world today.  In which we find many “household names” compete and yet are left undone by the skill and true passion of these two truly  devoted and above all modest pigeon fanciers.  It is my privilege to present you now with the story of the incredible Luc Vervoort and Nicole Van Nuffel, from the village of Hallaar, a true hot bed of sprint and middle distance racing which is located in the Belgian province of Antwerp and is part of the municipality of Heist-op-den-Berg.  Here Luc & Nicole practice pigeon racing the only way they know  “with great passion”.  This  winning mantra does not surprise us in the least for the name of Vervoort and top level pigeon sport go hand in hand  and is one steeped in the great traditions of total dedication to the racehorse of the sky!  In order to fully appreciate their total  ‘commitment to competitive pigeon racing’ we need now to dig a little deeper,  after all if you truly want to understand what it is which truly motivates someone to, as the Belgians say “play with pigeons” then we must go back to the very beginning .

The year was 1966, England were World football champions, in Belgium Frank Sinatra was No 1 in the single charts with "Strangers In The Night" and in pigeon racing a 12 year old Luc  Vervoort followed in the footsteps to the pigeon loft of his Grandfather, Father and his famous fancier Uncle,  for who can forget the late master fancier, who was known the  world over,  I am of course referring to the fabulous Floor Vervoort who is remembered with great respect thanks to his phenomenal performances with his pigeons, one in particular justly deserves the title of champion the iconic FIENEKE 5000! with such a distinguished family “pedigree” as this, it is no wonder then that Luc Vervoort too became  completely possessed by pigeons and has remained so for 55 years!  

Luc is skilfully assisted by Nicole Van Nuffel, a charming lady and a pigeon fanciers dream,   who as you can clearly see from the photographs has an almost maternal, or dare I even say mystical bond with their birds.  Luc gave an adamant “No”, when I asked: are there any  secrets to pigeon racing, however with the strength of the relationship between the fanciers and pigeons that exists within this loft in my humble opinion it positively plays a tremendous part of their success not only do I salute them for this as it is fantastic to see  like fanciers of old they strive to think like a pigeon but this extra time obviously pays dividends as I was unsurprised when asked what they loved most about pigeon sport, Luc and Nicole responded with “we get the greatest of pleasure when the birds come home like a rocket” they always spend time with the pigeons and like to see that the birds are excited  to see them when they enter the lofts, again.  With a super connection such as this is it any wonder they race so well?  I think not, of course You must race very well to stand even the slightest chance success in pigeon racing today, but when you live within an area where pigeons are a way of life and the fanciers specialise in a specific distance then you have to  be prepared  to give that extra and all important tender love and care.  Belgium has a distinguished reputation among pigeon fanciers throughout the world many of us know that Union Antwerp for example is referred to as the university of pigeon sport but there is  perhaps another name we should learn as well because it could easily be The Colosseum of Champions!

“DIAMANTVERBOND” loosely translated means diamond federation and it is here where the pigeons of Luc Vervoort shine brightly as the real and absolute gems of sprint - middle distance racing.  In order to give you as clear indication as possible of the intense level and sheer quality of competition that is found in this organisation, I offer a quote from Ad Schaerlaeckens: The speed of a 1st prize winner in a neighbouring club would often mean an average prize in Diamantverbond.  If this doesn’t convince you then please also take into consideration the fact dear reader that modern  day “stars” of the sprint/middle distance  discipline that adorned pigeon publications and now of course social media sites on an almost weekly basis all race within the ranks of the Diamantverbond yes they race here but   more often than not they must give way to Luc Vervoort “as we can see in this performances so far with  young birds in 2021 Luc sent 8 pigeons to Noyon and against 454 birds scored  2nd  12th 13th.  Sending 10 pigeons to Quiverain against 547 pigeons taking 4th and 15th!.  Now you have seen just a small selection of  the all-important  results let us turn our attention to how Luc  and Nicole  work with their small yet super  colony  of pigeons. As Luc doesn’t  speak much English , Nicole has been instrumental  in helping Luc answer my questions in order to enable me to pen this article for which I am grateful as she not only provided me with the majority of the photographs but also outlined their system with young bird racing.  Also clarifying a few points which otherwise may have been lost in translation. The breeding takes place in winter with 25 couples 16 in the bigger of the two lofts and 9 in the smaller loft approximately 50 are reared with one round being taken from the 16 couples, once the youngsters from the 16 are old enough the parents are moved to an aviary, because the loft is need for the young bird.  Remember space is at premium here in Hallaar!  Only the first round is raced. The period from March 1st until 15th of May the young pigeons are placed on the darkness system between the hours 6pm - 8am.  After coming off darkness the cocks and hens are separated and raced on the so-called sliding door.  On a Saturday, two hours before basketing for Sunday race, they are allowed to mix and are separated Sunday evening on return right up until mid-July when they are allowed to nest. It is crystal clear both Luc and Nicole know their pigeons inside out given that pooling is a big part of racing in Belgium, one can appreciate that such knowledge goes a long way,  speaking of pooling, it has been said by some that since they win the pool money almost on a weekly basis that perhaps now is the perfect time for “a branch of the Vervoort-Bank” to   open its doors.  How is that for an endorsement not only regarding the quality of pigeon but this statement is also great testament to the skill and knowledge of the fanciers involved and the feeling which certainly they have for pigeons and everything that is needed for managing a racing loft.

As you have, I hope, grasped by now our subject is by no means a “Mob flyer” but a real connoisseur and such you can be assured that his success comes from having a firm foundation and at the foundation of this microscopic yet mighty loft we find the genesis of Luc Vervoort from two VIPS, which of course in this case means Very important pigeons , and one in particular which gave Luc and Nicole their “best moment in pigeon sport”. Belgium clubs and fanciers often hold a bon or voucher auction to raise funds, whoever purchases the voucher may then obtain a youngster, it was in these circumstances that in 2013 the now famous “Karltje” found his way into Luc’s capable hands and in that young bird season this cock had what was described to me as a “super season that year” which included a 1st Noyon with a two minute lead, as if that wasn’t enough the “Karltje” began to make his mark in the breeding loft as Nicole told me: The next year he gave us three super pigeons, one cock and two hens we named him “Finn” after the grandson and the hens were named after the granddaughters, “Evi” and “Angel”.  2015 saw the purchase of a hen from the loft of Nick and Roger Thijs which Luc and Nicole Christened  “Godelief”, that same year she was mated to “Karltje” and since then the pair went on to become the “number 1 breeding pair” of the loft.  All athletes striving for success know that standing still means running the risk of falling behind ones opponents and the same school of thought is applied  here at these lofts as Luc and Nicole searched the results for as they told me “very good  pigeons from good players which gave good matches with our pigeons”.  Luc and Nicole select strongly on results and good pigeons with good results matter far more to them than theories on eyes, wings etc, also they have no preference for which sex races best for as Luc said: the sexes are not so important as one year the cocks may race better and the next the hens, it’s all about good pigeons for us the pigeon is the most important part! Training  with the car takes place in stages of 3KM, 1OKM, 15KM and 20 KM after which they go on the club transporter for another training toss.  We all know that only pigeons that are healthy will win races and so when I asked Luc about medication and such I was told that “when the pigeons are sick we go to the vet we don’t give them anything beforehand.

In each Nation where pigeon racing is found there are always slight variations in terms of how the competitions are structured for example some Countries allow old and young pigeons to compete together in the same race, while some only have 1 young bird race, as both a fancier and scribe this fascinates me because it never hurts to look and see how others do things, after all nobody knows everything and he who fails to learn, learns how to fail.  I was interested to learn about races Nicole referred to as  “the round of Belgium” in which Luc takes part with old and young birds, I shall now try to explain how it works, the round of Belgium takes place from roughly the second week in September until the 2nd week of October, when the birds are entered for this competition it is not known until the late evening after basketing which route for example north or south the birds will be liberated . This event generates a lot of interest from some of Belgium’s elite fanciers.

Before drawing this article to a close, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Luc and  Nicole for not only allowing me to write this article but for taking the time to answer my questions. When fanciers are as helpful as these two it is a pleasure to write, and I am certain that in the not too distant future more and more will begin to talk about this “old-school” back garden loft and the real master fanciers who truly are, the virtuosos’ of Hallaar, Luc Vervoort and Nicole Van Nuffel.

Picture1 31 08 21
:FIENEKE 5000, one of the Iconic birds in the history of pigeon racing, raced by Luc’s uncle  the late great FLOR VERVOORT!

Picture2 31 08 21
One of the best kept secrets in Belgian pigeon sport Luc Vervoort together with Nicole Van Nuffel, from The village of Hallaar, a true hot bed of sprint and middle distance racing 

Picture3 31 08 21
Nicole showing us that like Luc her heart is also with pigeons, we ask ourselves is this a “secret to success”? I think so…

Picture4 31 08 21
All the work pays off, Luc seen here with a trophy in 2019 that year also the pigeons did very well for example taking first prize from Noyon on 21/07/19 against 1,105 youngsters in the entente Diamantverbond.

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In pigeon racing a small set up doesn’t determine a fancier cannot succeed in getting supper results as Luc and Nicole prove here in Hallaar!

The exterior of the loft is covered with plastic while the interior is wood.

Picture6 31 08 21
The number 1 breeding pair of the loft.  Looking at the photo of these two pigeons you can clearly see why this loft is successful 

Picture7 31 08 21
One of the fine racing hens from “Karltje” x “Godelief”