LION BREWERY CHARITY EVENING
by Keith Mott
A couple of weeks ago I attended a charity bash held at the ‘Lion Brewery’ pub in Ash and the purpose of the evening was to present three cheques to the ‘Lynn’s Bowel Cancer Campaign’. I went along with Peter Taylor and my grand daughter, Sasha’, and the guest of honour to collect the cheques on behalf of the charity, was former Queens Park Rangers and England football star, Gerry Francis. I must say it was nice to see Gerry, as it’s been a long time since we met up and on chatting to him, I said it must be 25 years since I visited his home in Berkshire, but in fact it’s nearly 30 years. It is frightening how time fly’s by! It was my good friend Mick Worsfold who took me down to deepest Berkshire to visit Gerry Francis' 'Thornlea Lofts' and for a change we had some sunshine on the lofts for the photographs. This was a standing joke as it always rained on my loft visits with Micky Worsfold, and on the way down we were driving through thick fog, and I reckoned that the Worsfold curse was running true to form.
At that time Gerry's pigeon activities were overshadowed by his commitments to football, as had been the case really since he left school. His football career started as a lad when he played for a social club in a Sunday league, this was his only chance to play, as his school was rugby orientated. The opportunity eventually arose for him to be able to train at Queens Park Rangers on a Tuesday evening each week. These training sessions eventually led to him signing as an apprentice. When he was 16 he made his first team debut for the club against Liverpool in the first division, since that time he had won 13 international caps. However, professional football did not give him much time for his pigeons and he said that it was only thanks to several goodhearted local fanciers who helped him by often taking his clocks and his birds, that he was able to race at all.
Many years ago I visited the lofts of Gerry Francis and at that time he was at the very top in English football, playing for Crystal Palace, and of course he went on to become a very successful manager with Q.P.R. and Tottenham Hotspurs. As a player he was the winner of many major awards including 13 International caps for England. He had been in the pigeon racing sport on and off since 1959 and told me his first loft measured 2 feet x 4 feet, and it was something of an innovation as it was mobile, yes, mobile. It was built and attached to pram wheels so that it could be moved in great haste when the rent man called as Gerry was not supposed to keep pigeons where he lived then. Gerry is from a pigeon racing family, his father Roy, and two uncles, Fred Harrington and George Francis were all active fanciers. Gerry became interested in pigeons when he was about eight years old and raced with his father in the City Arms H.S. at Hammersmith. His first pigeons were from George Harrowell of Shepherds Bush, these birds were carefully broken to their new loft by Gerry. After he had successfully broken them, the local council promptly ordered him to get rid of them. Gerry started racing from his present address in 1977 with seven Harrington latebreds from his father.
The ‘Lion Brewery’ presentation evening was well attended and a vote of thanks to the publicans, Mike and Lindsey Armitage, for the wonderful buffet they provided. Back last summer the ‘Lion Brewery’ and Bromley mid week clubs held a charity open race for the Bowel Cancer and raised a nice £460, which was presented by the mid week secretary, Mick Worsfold. In September 2007 the ‘Lion Brewery’ joined forces with the Bromley mid-week and held the charity open race from Newton Abbot (170 miles) and the 269 young birds were liberated at 11.00hrs in a South West wind. The race was a complete success, with the winning birds making 1500 ypm and returns were very good, with the youngsters dropping on fancier’s lofts in small batches. Imran Malik and his partners, Dean Shah and Samir Khan, of Tolworth won the open with their good blue pied hen, ‘The Super 84’, and she recorded 1528ypm. This game little hen was bred from Khan Brother’s ‘Zola’ Janssen bloodlines when crossed with a new Dutch line, which Imran has introduced this year. She had been a brilliant young bird in the 2007 season, winning 6th Three Borders Federation (1,235 birds) West Bay, 11th Three Borders Federation (1,058 birds) Newton Abbot and finished the season by winning the ‘Lion Brewery’ / Bromley charity open race. The Malik partnership have had a good 2007 season winning eight firsts in the Hersham and ‘Lion Brewery’ clubs, plus some good positions in the Three Borders Federation, including 2nd Wadebridge (1,030 birds).
The Malik youngsters are put on the ‘darkness’ system on the last weekend in March and they come off normally at the back end of June. The loft houses 50 young birds for racing each and they race the whole programme, although Imran says, he wished he had it in him to stop a few and save them for old birds racing, but he is to greedy and want to win every thing he can with young birds. He maintains, he just loves young bird racing! Ten cocks are put on the widowhood system and the rest are raced to the perch, although they are allowed to pair up and have eggs and youngsters if they want. Training starts two weeks after they come off the ‘dark’ and this is worked up in stages to 25 miles and they get three 25 mile tosses ever week during the racing season. The widowhood cocks are treated like old birds and are not trained during the racing season. The Malik loft came off the ‘darkness’ on the 12th June in 2007 and they paired ten young cocks to old hens and allowed them to rear a youngster each. The old hens were taken away when the youngsters were 15 days and the young cocks finished rearing the squeakers, and once they were weaned, the cocks were on widowhood. The next time the young cocks saw the hens, it was the marking night of the first young bird race from Blandford, but Imran says, they didn’t come to well. The following week three of those widowhood cocks were well up in the Federation result.
Every year the ‘Lion Brewery’ pub holds a charity music festival and this is organized by Lel and Caroline White, and Mike and Lindsey Armitage to raise money for the Bowel Cancer Campaign. These four hard working individuals have been running the festival since 1986 and have risen over £80,000 for charity over the years. A fantastic effort! The festival is a summer’s day job and is held in the field next to the pub. Most years the event has attracted over 1,000 people and the six bands play free of charge. The 2007 event raised £1,900 for the Bowel Cancer Charity and Lel and Caroline White presented the cheque to Gerry Francis on the night.
Several local pigeon racing aces attended the ‘Lion Brewery’ presentation evening, including John Wills, Mick & Pauline Worsfold, and a special guest was Derek Partridge, who had traveled down from Manchester to present a massive £3,000 cheque on behalf of the Manchester City football club. When I met Derek he told me that he was very proud that he was Manchester born an bred, and had been a pigeon fancier since the age of eight. He says his fondest memory was winning his first race from Niort (560 miles) with a blue hen all those years ago. Like Gerry Francis, Derek has had a life time of involvement in football, mainly with Mancester City. He likes the long distance racing best and says, you find out more about the pigeons in races over 500 miles. He maintains the long distance take more planning each season and although he has nothing against the ETS system, his biggest thrill comes from seeing a bird come and clocking from races over 500 miles. Derek races in several of the big Combines in the North West of England and has had a lot of success racing the Busschaerts and Staf Van Reets on the widowhood system. In recent years he has raced the round about system and told me he thinks his hens are the best candidates for the long distance races. Fund raising for charity is very special to Derek and has a bid involvement in the former players football team at Manchester City F.C. which was set up 25 years ago by Ken Barnes, father of Peter Barnes who won 22 caps playing for England. Over the years Manchester former players team have raised over 2 million pounds for charity. Wonderful stuff! Derek Partridge presented a handsome £3,000 Manchester cheque to Gerry on behalf of the charity at the ‘Lion Brewery’ bash.
Well there you have it! It was a very nice evening and well done to Mike and Lindsey for organizing it. Mike Armitage tells me, Brian Newson, Derek Partridge, Gerry Francis and him self are to hold some meetings MP’s very soon and are campaining to make pigeon racing a sport and not a hobby. I wish them ‘good luck’ with that! I can be contacted on telephone number: 01372 463480. See yer!
TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT