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John & Lou Mcgee in France


John & Lou McGee in France

The Barcelona Challenge and a brief history of John McGee’s involvement in the sport.



John & Lou McGee

Some years ago when visiting the  French Olympiad  at Leuven  in Northern France several days  were spent by John and Linda Tyerman and John and Lou McGee in the locality which  boasts some nine thousand pigeons fanciers.   Much of the region was a mining area  and like the former  mining communities of Wales, Scotland and parts of  England of yesteryear the French miners were involved with pigeon racing on a large scale, with the Nord Pas De Calais Federation Colombophile sending up to 20, 000 pigeons a week to race.

This area of France is quite rural and not on the normal tourist trail.   John and Lou McGee liked what they saw on what was their first visit to France, and made up their minds that at some future date they wanted to move there to race  pigeons.   John and Linda Tyerman had also been with them on the weekend visit to the Olympiad and over the next year much discussion took place about racing in France with emphasis on the International events.  Research showed that the region was a real hotbed of competition and that many French fanciers had done well racing in the International events.
During the summer of 2006 The Tyermans and McGees made several trips to the northern region of France looking at various properties and eventually  John and Lou fell in love with a farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Hernicourt, near the town of St Pol Sur Ternoise.  The property had a good sized house with barns and outbuildings but more importantly had land that gave a great outlook across the Ternoise valley, and was suitable for a range of pigeon lofts.   Two local pigeon clubs were nearby and one of the clubs also marked the International pigeons in the town of Hesdin. So it was that the property was purchased and in time, and after many setbacks, the McGee family moved to France in February 2007.  


John McGee & John Tyerman

  Prior to the move the two Johns had talked about the International racing scene and other fanciers had also expressed interest in sending birds over to France, so after much discussion  a partnership was formed  to bring into fruition the "Barcelona Challenge One Loft Race" . The idea was to accept and train young birds, that would be raced as yearlings to 300 plus miles and then as two year olds they  would be further prepared to compete in the prestigious Barcelona International event, a distance of some 625 miles to the  new lofts at Hernicourt.  As most fanciers know this event attracts some 25,000 plus pigeons each year from 11 different countries, and the partners felt it would be a great equal  opportunity for all UK and Irish fanciers to test their pigeons against the best in Europe.   However, as it was late February 2007  when the move took place it  seemed too late to commence the project that year, but John McGee was determined to realise the dream and within a few weeks roads had been carved out on the hillside and the first 48' loft was built and erected in early April.   Licences had to be applied for and until these were formally granted by the French authorities, no advertising could be done in the fancy press.  So with a very late start in the first year 103 young birds were entered into the new Barcelona Challenge Lofts and some were not sent out until July and August.  Lou McGee was put in charge of training and all the young birds were tossed at around 40 miles in various directions and then left to moult.  Very few were lost and the birds spent hours flying up and down the Ternoise valley.



   The shooting season in France meant all the birds were confined to the lofts and aviaries all winter.
      At the start of the 2008 season, these 103 birds were paired then trained and later raced on the roundabout system in the Club and Nord Pas De Calais Federation.  The local fanciers took great interest and  welcomed John and Lou into the Clubs and although neither spoke French they seemed to get by with a few gestures and smiles.  Racing was a bit different from the UK,  with  liberation times  via local radio and no great emphasis placed on weather conditions, you were also expected to continue clocking arrivals even hours after your first bird - they seemed happy to open a full clock.  The Bricon system used at the lofts was kindly sponsored and set up by Francis Nolmans, and  although there were one or two teething problems they were soon ironed out.  

 The 2008 season saw the birds do very well in competition with their French counterparts and many prizes were won, flying against large birdages that could vary with anything up to 15,000 pigeons or more competing, depending on the race point.   The final yearling race of 2008  from Angouleme at 350 miles was flown in very poor weather conditions but the loft saw a large number of entries home on the winning day and a total of   86 returned.   These were to be the entries for the 2009 Barcelona International.

    Also in 2008 the lofts received further drafts of young pigeons sent by fanciers from the UK and Ireland, and like the previous year they were all trained to around 50 miles,   to Amiens and towards Paris.The  young birds adapted well to this mainly rural terrain and although some losses were incurred these were minimal, leaving around  180 pigeons for yearling racing in 2009.   

And so to the initial attempt at Barcelona .



Below I reproduce a report written by John Tyerman on the very first ever Barcelona race entered by the Barcelona Challenge Loft as the race unfolded.

“On Friday, 3rd July, our 70 entries were liberated at 08-45 hours, (GMT) from Barcelona along with 27,627 International pigeons. 
 The 70 pigeons were the birds remaining from the
 original 99 entered late in 2007, and they had been well  trained and raced out to Angouleme 350 miles as yearlings, and prior to going to Barcelona had four races out to 200 miles, plus several 40 mile training tosses from Amiens. Having handled all the candidates, prior to basket ting they were in superb condition and all were sent sitting between 12/14 days on eggs. The atmosphere at the Hesdin International marking station was best described as 'electric' with French fanciers coming from all parts of the Nord Pas De Calais Region with their Barcelona entries. This was my first visit to the Hesdsin Club and over a beer there was much friendly banter and speculation about the forthcoming Barcelona race. There were some very favourable comments as the markers put our entries through. The French International entry was around 2500 birds, the majority coming from the northern area of France . After being race rubbered in France the birds were then taken to the central marking station in Belgium where they were wing-coded and then placed into the race panniers for the long journey to Barcelona .
 The weather in France had been very hot in the week leading up to the race and at Hernicourt we encountered major electrical storms and torrential rain the day prior to liberation, with these storms being fairly widespread throughout the whole of France, due to the high temperatures, in excess of 30C. By race day it was somewhat cooler in Northern France, but still very hot in the south, so it was never going to be an easy race over the 625 miles back to the lofts at Hernicourt, or indeed for any of the birds wherever they were homing to. Meteo France weather showed variable winds but mainly northerly over the route and quite strong headwinds as the birds came up from   Barcelona towards Perpignan and Narbonne.  Once the liberation time had been confirmed many  of our loft visitors began to arrive, but due to clashing  with the NFC Tarbes quite a few were unable to come.  Very early Saturday, saw the
 arrival of Frans Rigoli and his son in law from Koolscamp in Belgium . As many fanciers know, Frans is one of the partners in the famous 'Dream Breed' stud that houses many top International champions. As usual Frans came prepared with his special crate of Belgian Beer, and by 6am had ensured everyone was enjoying an early morning 'livation'.  Saturday morning had dawned with favourable blue  skies, but within the hour the entire area was engulfed in heavy cloud, along with thick fog and drizzle that extended across the entire region. This sudden change in the weather certainly dampened our spirits and we could barely see the lofts, some 60 metres away, but as the Bricon system was also connected to a house monitor (Sophie-Lou`s baby monitor!!!)Nothing could have entered the lofts without us knowing. John Mc Gee had also entered 26 yearlings in the Souston International race, and they had been liberated at 2pm on the Friday, for the 490 miles fly back to Hernicourt. So with two Internationals being flown hopes were high for a few early pigeons, but the dense fog was not what we wanted that morning. Conditions improved a little after 9am and eventually three very tired yearlings were clocked, but nothing from Barcelona, and with Frans telephoning many of  his contacts it soon became clear that the race was going to be a difficult one. Clearly the heat and weather conditions had taken their toll on day one, so only the best and fittest pigeons would come through. Then at 11-55 am(GMT) a dark chequer hen entered by Crammond and Langstaff dropped onto the Barcelona loft and quickly entered the loft to be recorded on the Bricon clock at11-55-14. (GMT) Although she had lost a bit of body weight she was in good condition and was bred out of stock pigeons purchased from Herman van Helmand whose family of birds excel in long distance events. Ian and Nigel were
 absolutely delighted when told of their winning lst open Barcelona Challenge, plus £1000 prize money. The hen is bred from a Wim Muller cock containing the lines of Madonna, Mona Lisa and the Golden Breeder. The dam of the winner is also bred from two direct Wim Muller pigeons and is absolutely steeped in the finest distance bloodlines from the best of the Jan Aarden lines and many top Barcelona positions showing in the winning hen’s parents and grandparents. On telephone verification this hen is likely to feature in the top 400 from the 27,627 International entry, so quite a feat for a
 two year old on its' first attempt at Barcelona.


Chequer pied hen winner of the inaugural Barcelona Challeng race for Crammond & Langstaff

 A second pigeon bred by John McGee and entered by Kevin Rennison, was clocked at 14-48-01 hours (GMT) and this bird wins the £750 2nd prize. Sire to this pigeon was bred by Crammond & Langstaff is a Demeyer down through “Tampico” and “Pedro” Dam also bred by Crammond & Langstaff her Sire is Emiel Denys son of the “Toreador” 1st Gold Wing 1999 Barcelona 100% Van Bruane her Dam is Carlo Gyselbrecht daughter of “ Schift 088”.

With eight two year olds and around 11% of our entry home on the winning day it was felt that  this was a very acceptable performance by a team ofrelatively inexperienced pigeons in a very testing race at
 625 miles. After the fog had cleared it was again very hot and the birds did well to keep coming. That evening we had to 'control' all the clocks at close of race, and if this is not done correctly it can entail disqualification.
 Sunday dawned bright and sunny and at 6-27-53
 a chequer cock bred by John Tyerman and entered by Owen and Wilson of Scotland was timed in. He had a chest injury and had done well to keep coming. He is bred from John's Carmichael/Kirkpatrick family and is closely related to the ' Barcelona cock' who won 5th, and 7th BICC Barcelona and 15th BICC Perpignan . A few minutes later a cock entered by the late Dale Newcombe of Macmerry , Scotland , was clocked at 6-33-29 to win 10th open. Again this cock contains the bloodlines of many generations of top Scottish National pigeons. 
 Our 11th pigeon arrived at 8-18-21 a dark Cheq pied cock again bred by John Tyerman and entered by Richard Withall of Chichester . This cock is the nest mate to the 8th open hen, and both are grandchildren off John's good hen 'Decimal Lady' who won many prizes including 2nd open Bordeaux Classic and her nest sister 16th  open Pau Classic. Again both the 8th and 11th open birds contained the lines of the old Carmichael/Kirkpatrick family responsible for many top distance prizes.
 Twelfth open was clocked at 08.50.02(GMT) ... and owned by Trussler Bros of Surrey from Mark Gilberts pigeons

Whilst penning this we have 32 out of our 70 birds home safe and sound.”

Perhaps now would be an appropriate time to give a brief pen portrait of John McGee, a top class fancier in his own right when racing against stiff opposition in the UK, which culminated in him winning the King’s Cup from Pau with the NFC. Take it away John:-


John started pigeons in 1973 with a few fantails in Basingstoke.

“My friend Alan Yates & I saw some pigeons flying around a house, we knocked on the door and it was opened by Jim Mangan who now lives & races in Crawley we are still great friends to this day.

Jim took me under his wing and was like a father figure to me.

I then started to help Jim & I was hooked straight away.

At 6am every morning I would climb his fence just to get to the birds and clean out, in the end Jim would be shouting out the window "Get out that loft".

He used to padlock the lofts to keep me out but I outsmarted him there and climbed in through the traps!! He just could not keep me away, I was addicted - the bug had truly bitten.

Jim said back then all those years ago "In years to come every one will come to know of you because of your obsession & dedication to pigeons”.

My first loft was an 8ft x 4ft shed in my mum’s back garden in Basingstoke.

My first team of birds were Kirkpatricks  and Putmans & any bird that was gifted to me as a young fancier of 12 years of age.

At 15 we moved down South to Littlehampton and this was to be the start of my racing ambition.

My 1st race I ever won I believe to be Selby the longest race for young birds. Back then I raced on the natural system.

We have since been racing here in France for the last 11 1/2 years.

Our lofts now are 2 x 30 foot lofts with each loft having a section for cocks, hens & young birds.

In the Cocks & young bird sections we use a deep litter of Miscanthus {elephant grass} which is one of the most dust free and  absorbent litters we have ever used.

In the hens sections they are on grills and cleaned weekly.

As we used to breed pigeons for the one loft race we housed 50 pairs of stock. Our race team is made up of 65 cocks & 65 hens plus around 100 young birds. Our preference is racing the International race programme through to Barcelona.


We race Roundabout but the hens fly in & out their own section unless they see a basket, then they are allowed into the cocks section on their return.

Stock birds are usually paired up at Christmas.

Race birds paired in February but this year we never paired at all so for racing we just let them together on a Friday so particular dates could be planned so that birds were either on a small youngsters or 10 day eggs when basketed for the International races.

We train daily as much as is possible, as birds are fed at certain times regimentally. They are out for exercise & in for food exactly to time.

The hens will fly for their whole exercise period until they see the landing board go up and this is their cue to come in.

They are out twice a day but our preference is to train them 3 or 4 times a week to 30 miles then race every weekend. 

Their diet will change of course according to distance flown. 

We have not been able to commit as much time to training our own young bird team lately due to time taken up with old birds & these are also trained daily.

Young birds are raced natural but we have not raced our personal young bird team in about 8 years, as the losses in young bird racing seems to grow every year.


Birds are hopper fed the race birds and youngsters’ food is weighed out as of course they are athletes & need to be treated as such if they are to attain top form.

The stock birds when rearing, are fed 4 times a day hopper down fed as much as they want, then the hopper is lifted. This is repeated 4 times a day so youngsters are well cropped up & parents have enough for themselves.

The corn we use is Vanrobaeys, our main mixes are Casaert which is a depurative base mix, widowhood & Bordeaux for the long distance. We introduce the stronger mix Bordeaux 5 days before basketing for the Internationals.


Our main Stock are Leo Kouters, we have a half brother to the Barcelona International winner of 2017 for Leon Roks. These birds will fly in very hard hot conditions and are a very reliable strain.

We also have a full brother to the champion "Pennine Heights" NFC Tarbes winner, the longest distance winner of this race at a staggering 740 miles. Also at stock are Brian Sheppard pigeons along with some from John Puddephatt and Emile Denys via Ian Crammond , not forgetting the internationally renowned Supercracks.

Then there is a son of "MONTJUICH" winner of 1st National Barcelona. If you look at Emiel Denys this year he was 1st International Narbonne with Montjuich lines.

"KIMIS FENOMEEN" is a daughter of the famous "KIMI BARCA" from Eddy Didden from Belgium. This hen is responsible for so many prizes in our old club plus International positions - a real gold mine. She was sent back to Trinidad to Michael Ciprian who entered a son of her into a race in Trinidad where the birds are liberated off a boat and he won the race by an hour.

Etienne Meirlaen this year was Ace bird in 2 National races with a bird bred from "Kimi Barca" pigeon. These pigeons are hugely sought after.

These are just some of our top birds and are the parents responsible for all our race success & International prizes that have proven their worth over & over again.

We inbreed to put birds back to stock as all the top French, Belgian & Dutch fanciers have proven - simply pair the best to the best.

John Mansbridge gave me the best advice ever & that was train, train train.

But really it is the pigeons themselves that have taught me the most just by observing them they tell you everything you need to know.


The highlight has to be of course winning the Pau National & in that same year winning 32 x 1st club & 9x 1st Federations so a very successful year.

Also scoring in the Internationals & in 2016 we won the French National Hens from Narbonne. In 2018 we sent 32 birds to the Barcelona International and 28 returned home in one of the hardest Barcelona races for many years. Considering how hard these races have become we have hardly lost any birds throughout so it just shows the quality of the parents.

Also our Janssen family have scored from 56 miles right through to 500 plus miles.

This year yearlings raced Agen International 438 miles then Narbonne International 503 miles.

The 2 year olds had Narbonne & St Vincent 495 miles ,the 3 year olds & older had Barcelona 624 miles then Perpignan 527 miles.

Since setting up the Barcelona Challenge Lofts a total of 90 prizes have been won at International level from the Barcelona International race along with 73 International prizes in other Internationals.


We prefer not to treat pigeons but do use a lot of garlic & lemon. I cut the lemon with the peel, a few cloves of garlic drop of water and liquidise. This is then put into a 2 litre bottle & filled up with clean water, about an inch is put into drinker and filled with clean water, you cannot get much better as fine particles floating around of pure natural garlic & lemon.

Always on standby is Colivet an antibiotic only do we use if signs of any young bird sickness.

There are a couple of products we use which actually are for horses In the pink a conditioner & Easy breathe which are herbs that we make into a tea strain & give them to drink. The only other thing we believe to be really essential are electrolytes given on return from a race.

The Bordeaux mix is a very good protein & fatty mix so sufficient as the birds are in the baskets 5 days so our opinion that supplements are really wasted in the build up to the International races.

Preference of pigeon medium type body but I think class has a way of standing out all by itself.

If we could only use one supplement it would have to be lemon & garlic.

That then is a little background information regarding the Barcelona Challenge lofts.

Unfortunately the Barcelona Challenge lofts will soon be wound up and John and Lou McGee and their family will shortly return to the UK. To quote John Tyerman "The McGee’s  French National  and open International  racing results in 2017 and 2018  have been nothing short of outstanding with so many top positions being won from Barcelona. Narbonne, Perpignan and St Vincent - too many to list - sadly the sale marks the end of an era of their time in France".

 As a result all birds will be brought back to the UK and sold by auction on Elimar Pigeon Services web site starting on 8th December followed by further sales on 15th, 22nd & 29th December and January 6th 2019. There will also be a sale at Whitehawk FC on 16th December. All sales dates and individual pigeon’s details will be advertised in the BHW. Discerning fanciers with an eye to competing on the International stage at the distance, will no doubt be keen to follow the sale and who knows buy a bird or two, that may well make a name for them in the biggest and most competitive arena in the sport of pigeon racing.

                                     Gareth Watkins