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The Race to The Emerald Isle




by John Ghent

The title of this article not only highlights what could be a massive step forward for British Isles racing, but is also a metaphor for how we will get there. I will explain more shortly.

For many years now the BICC has flown the flag for the UK in International racing, culminating in that first International victory for Brian Shepperd from Dax. We have come on leaps and bounds since then with superb performances being put up on the International stage nearly every season since. I'm thinking Gilbert, Cooper, Posey, Bullen as well as performers such as Halstead and RML who did not win the International but put up damn good efforts from the magical city of Barcelona. Yes we need to keep pushing this discipline in this area of the country, yes we need to embrace all the aforementioned fanciers for their fantastic feats, but, and it is a but that hits me right in the middle of the chest, we can only push so far... at the minute.

Logistics, marking stations, breakaway clubs, lack of appetite and for whatever other reasons that you can think of, International racing still does not send shivers up the spine of many fanciers north of and inclusive of the Midlands. I am one of the exceptions to this rule and look forward to doing battle with the Dutch, the Belgians and the Germans. However, this is changing, I feel it, in fact I know it! National clubs are expanding and if only we could all embrace this, or even just some of us, then the tide may turn, for the longevity of our sport relies on it. Club radii have increased; only last week I was speaking with Alan Baker who has a 60 mile span from one side of his club to the other! So what can be done to embrace the UK and Ireland into this International community but still keep our own identities. In other words how can we all survive?

We are a pigeon nation, we have strong fanciers across our shores, from Kent to Kildare, Devon to Donegal, Truro to Thurso, and lo and behold there is a ready made race programme for all of us to compete against the best the continent has to offer, against each other, against each nation from within our borders. International racing offers this to us all. When a young boy signs an apprenticeship at Liverpool, Manchester Utd, Barcelona, Celtic or Crewe Alexandra, that boy's dream is to play at the highest level against the best the World has to offer, at the World Cup. We have a "World Cup", the International community's Europa Cup, but until it allows access for anyone and everyone, we will never know if we are flying against the best and beating the best.

So now to the real point of my article, International racing for all in the UK, no exceptions, no excuses. That's all I hear in pigeon racing, the local club, the Internet forums, the meetings I attend, the Winter Gardens, excuse after excuse! Name a topic and pigeon men can make an excuse about it, I guarantee it! Fortunately the are some "movers and shakers" in the pigeon world and I believe that in time things will change to allow us all to embrace this most fantastic opportunity offered to us by the Belgian organisers of these great races. However, surely to not make it feasible for someone to have the chance to embrace it is cutting off the nose to spite the proverbial face.

The Irish want to send to Internationals, fact. People in the north want to send to Internationals, fact. People in Scotland would, I am sure, send to Internationals, although I do not know that as fact. So let us all give them the tools to be able to do this and create their own destiny. Allow them the opportunity to grasp the limelight. Surely that is not too much to ask. Any gallant bird that conquers the most difficult race route in Europe from an International race into Ireland deserves all the plaudits it gets, but the bird cannot receive those plaudits if it does not complete the task, and the task cannot be completed if it is not allowed to start it! Let's give them a chance, a chance to complete the epic journeys highlighted below!

Bordeaux/Agen is fantastic opportunity for all UK fanciers, given its location in the west of France and the fact that a lot of organisations fly Bordeaux on a regular basis. This is where the Irish can make their mark! The route is 648 miles into Wexford although the birds would probably do in excess of 900 miles with the continental drag.

Agen to Ireland. Red is direct and blue is driving

And Barcelona is where the Irish can create their legacy! It is 858 miles as the crow flies but estimates would suggest that after taking on the Pyrenees, dragging up towards Belgium, dog legging back across the English Channel, moving up across the West Country and Wales before tackling the Irish Sea, the birds would fly over 1300 miles - phenomonal!

Barcelona to Ireland

I am fixed on Barcelona from my own selfish point of view but you have to admit that the hype, the publicity, the media storm that would sweep across Europe and the World should someone get one pigeon, never mind a team, in race time from the greatest race in the World, into the Emerald Isle, would be astronomical! The mind boggles!

And so onto my metaphor, for "The Race to the Emerald Isle" is not just about getting pigeons to race into Ireland from an International, it is much more than that, it is about which club is going to embrace the Emerald Isle first, which club is going to win "The Race to the Emerald Isle." You only need to look at the marking station options for current clubs to realise that it can be a fair old slog to get birds there, then you have to get your clocks sorted, blah blah blah. However, if you want something enough then you will get it! As an example I have explored numerous options within my own area and within a matter of weeks we seem to be on the threshold of a BBC marking station in my own County. Assuming all goes well then the fanciers of Leicestershire and the rest of the East Midlands will not be battling to Penkridge or Salisbury, Oxford or Bath, we will be able send birds to long distance Internationals right on our doorstep, and that is all it needs, more of these satellite stations up and down the country, into Scotland, North Wales, across the Irish Sea, satellite stations with the capability of transporting birds to the bigger stations in the Midlands and the South of England.

As far as I can see, if there are people willing and able to get the birds down to these bigger collection points, using smaller vehicles, then let's embrace it, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The BBC is already open to the whole of the British Isles. If the BICC chooses to go the same way then that would be a huge step in the right direction towards unification for International racing into this country, but it needs support, hard work, willingness to succeed and to be looked upon in a positive way with no excuses, no exceptions! As the old saying goes, "If the mountain won't come to Mohammed, then Mohammed must go to the mountain."

Have a cracking start to 2013, see you all in Blackpool, and as always contact me with any views - email is always best. I am here to help and advise and I have plenty of ideas up my sleeve yet, just you see!!

John Ghent

83, Newport Street



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January 2013

BICC official John Tyerman gives his thoughts on the above

All very interesting. My view is that any UK pigeons released at Agen (which is in fact 40/50 miles south of Bordeaux) could hold the traditional west coast route through France, as did the winners to Geoff and Catherine Cooper and Mark Gilbert. Brian Sheppard's International Dax winner also held the line, so to speak.

I have visited every International racepoint during my caravan travels and there is no doubt that the race locations will affect the route the birds will take, and in some instances birds will have to fly the dog-leg up the Rhone valley and back into the UK via Belgium. (Dr Geoff Horn has a different view.) This can be seen from the International results where the Kent fanciers can time in on the day and in many cases several hours before us here in Hants/West Sussex and Wales, which is even further to the west. It is not always the case and, as you know, exceptional birds will just break away on their own, like John Halstead's good Barcelona cock.

Last year I again drove through the Pyrenees to Barcelona and it never ceases to amaze me how the birds come through - the main A route winds through the valleys and the motorway is much higher but they still have to navigate a very rugged terrain with high peaks on both side of the roads. They could of course dog-leg up the Med coast and go round the mountains where they meet the sea, adding many miles to their journey. The tracking system would be of interest and I know Kevin Murphy (Joe's son) was looking into that but the costs were very high.

John Hodgson, the 6 times SNFC winner, contacted the BICC two years ago and he and a few others are now breeding teams to hopefully tackle International racing into Scotland. It would be great to see both the Scots and the Irish having a real go and the BICC will help in any way we can to promote this. I have had several chats with John Hodgson and others in Scotland who want to have a go at the future Internationals - indeed I have suggested they first come with us to our Nationals from Alencon, Tours and Fougeres.

Kind regards, John Tyerman.