Isleham is a rural fenland village in the south-east corner of Cambridgshire, and among the population of about 2, 300 is just one pigeon fancier. His name? Ivan Rich.
. Ivan, and his partner Yvonne, live well away from the three churches and three pubs that are the epicentre of village life, and it is unlikely that the locals will realise that this duo are the talking point of the pigeon racing world right now. Their win in the Unikon sponsored King George V Challenge Cup race from Lerwick will go down in history as one of the best performances of all 99 races the NRCC has staged from the challenging Shetland Isles, although the 1-2-3 achieved by Perry Bros and Son, of Kings Lynn, back in 2002, has not yet been toppled from the pedestal.
Nevertheless, one envious rival reckoned it was probably the best 500-mile performance on any route in the British Isles this summer.
An exaggerated claim? Far from it. Just consider the facts.Lerwick is the Everest of north road pigeon racing, and conquering the challenge is rarely easy. This year the race was in one of its demanding moods.
Over the years the coveted King’s Cup has been won 10 times with velocities over 1600ypm, 31 times at speeds below 1,000ypm. This year it was in 1000ypm and under mode.
Only nine fanciers verified birds on the day from an entry of over 1,000 birds, and winner of Section C, Ellis Lee, of Mablethorpe, was the only fancier to time two on the day.
Only two birds on the day were flying more than 500 miles. Den Croft, of Spalding, was competing at 509 miles to take sixth place in the provisional result on 961ypm, while the overall winner covered a distance of 544 miles for a velocity of 1030ypm.
What made it so tough? Well, there is the distance for a start. Third-placed legend Kevin Lawson observed: “Many fanciers fall into the trap of thinking their birds fly only the distance shown on their measurements. You can forget that. They fly much, much further.”
Then there was the holdover – from Saturday to Tuesday. But members reported that their birds were in fine condition when they arrived home and had obviously been well looked after by convoyer Darren Shepherd, and his helpers.
The wind was against them, but it was never particularly strong. But it was hot.
And then there was the always unknown quantity of competing from Lerwick, and what obstacles face the birds on that long, long flight.
Race secretary Ian Bellamy revealed: “Verifications were slow on day two with the first verification not until 5.45 and by 8.00 only 15 more. Members were getting their first birds home right up until tea-time on day two, and around half of the sending members were still waiting.
Where have the pigeons gone? This is a hard one to summarise.
Did they go right out to sea and hit rain?
Did many birds not make the trip down country due to the heat? Was it the wind? “
But cometh the hour, cometh the man. That is what we said about Ivan Rich when he won the NRCC open from Thurso in 2010. And here he was again, supported wholeheartedly by partner Yvonne. They had worked hard to prepare their pigeons for the big task. They had sent 40, and the star of them all – and of the whole race – was a little Leen Boers-based four-year-old blue hen bird who had survived that particularly difficult Fraserburgh race which cost many fanciers numerous good pigeons a couple of years ago. In fact she had taken third section in that race. She was sent sitting ten days, and is now the star with no name. “We had better sort something out,” said the 66-year-old almost-retired plasterer.”
Perhaps Yvonne will help out with that, just as she helps out with pretty well everything else at their remote rural retreat where their nearest neighbours are the buzzards which scare the pigeons, and the hawks which eat them.
Nevertheless, the pigeons are allowed a completely natural life, on open hole and flying as much, or as little, as they wish. We were speaking at about 9pm and the birds were still flying round home.
For Miss No-Name this was only her third race of the season. She had been to Seaham Harbour with the Peterborough and District Federation, and to Perth with the NRCC before being set the task of flying from Lerwick.
But there will also have been plenty of training tosses, and the very next day of their big win Ivan and Yvonne were taking their Thurso candidates down the road. Some of the remainder of their 40-strong team were making it home at regular intervals during the next couple of days or so and, at the time of speaking, they had 24 home.
They love competing with the NRCC and hope to have a big team for Thurso, although it is unlikely that any of the Lerwick returnees will be part of that team, as has been the case in previous seasons.
Ivan likes to keep his pigeon racing natural and simple, and he feeds an all-round mix which includes beans, peas and barley. “You must have beans,” he says.
Down those country lanes of Isleham, however, there is a shrewd, enthusiastic and hardworking partnership who never stop seeking further success to add to the many wins they have had over the years. Cannot see things changing, but it is easy to predict even more wins in the future, as the knowledge and experience gained as a fancier for more than 55 years goes into the decision making. As I have said before, and make no apology for repeating, it is fitting that such a great supporter of the NRCC should reap the ultimate reward of an open win, and take a firm grip on that coveted King’s Cup. No previous winner has deserved the honour more, and no pigeon has worked harder to achieve victory on a day when it was too much for many more excellent pigeons prepared by equally talented fanciers. Only by beating the best can you claim a place in the Hall of Farm. Little Miss No-Nanme did that with courage and style.
While the villagers of Isleham held their sports and gala day on Saturday (July 4th) I wonder if they realised that they have a true sports star, and top management team, in their midst? Probably not.
While it is right and proper that the winners of such an historic race should enjoy the limelight right now, it is important to point out that there were many other outstanding performances in this year’s epic race. It was a race which had every ingredient of a classic sporting event – a testing duel between skilled and committed competitors; drama and disappointment; patience rewarded with elation; a superb performance by the winner, backed up by mind-boggling efforts in some of the longer flying sections.
It was a race full of interesting stories and achievements many of which, it is hoped, will be revealed in a future article once I have spoken to all the section winners and all the fanciers who timed in on the day.
Provisional Top 20 were: 1 I and S Rich, Isleham, 544 miles, vel 1030ypm, Section F; 2 Rouse and Webster, Kimberley, 495 miles, 1016, Section A; 3 K Lawson, Ollerton, 481 miles, 1005, Section B; 4 B and L Cutts, Carlton, 497 miles, 988, Section A; 5 EW Lee, Mablethorpe, 475 miles, 966, Section C; 6 D Croft, Spalding, 509 miles, 961, Section B; 7 J Parker, Eastwood, 493 miles, 953, Section A; 8 P and T Rodgers, 487 miles, 940, Section C; 9 Upsall and Grandson, Boston, 498 miles, 938, Section C; 10 GV and W Britton, Newborough, 521 miles, 859, Section E; 11 R Olive, Wickford, 593 miles, 855, Section I; 12 Moore and Ransome, Chatteris, 535 miles, 844, Section F; 13 M Connolly and Son, London, 599 miles, 837, Section H; 14 J and T Ivatt, Ipswich, 567 miles, 834.556, Section I; 15 M Bishop and Son, March, 528 miles, 834.151, Section F; 16 SP Crawford, Ipswich, 567 miles, 827, Section I; 17 Simmons Partners, Dereham, 526 miles, 825, Section F; 18 EH Gregory, Eastwood 493 miles, 823, Section A; 19 G Cockaday and Son, Norwich, 527 miles, 809, Section F; 20 T Winterton, Holbeach, 512 miles, 809, Section C. All the section winners feature in the first 13 open of the provisional result.
If you want to see some of these outstanding pigeons, and speak to their owners to hear how they achieved their success, then you had better get yourself to the inaugural NRCC Day of Champions, on Saturday 5th December, at Springfields Exhibition Centre, Spalding.
Meanwhile, thoughts have already turned to the final old bird race of the NRCC programme, from Thurso on Saturday July 18th (entries close July 14th, basketing July 16th) sponsored by good friends of the NRCC, and long-time supporters, PJ Lofts who provide pretty well everything a fancier needs.
This race will include the Yearling Classic and, among the many prizes on offer, will be the Thurso Silver Challenge Trophy, and the new Woodston Challenge Trophy for the two-bird nomination.
This is to be raced along the same lines as the Magna Challenge Trophy is out of Lerwick with one exception and that is the Nom fee is to be £2
The Trophy has come into the possession of NRCC stalwarts due to the disbanding of the Peterborough Woodston Flying Club, it is believed that the trophy was originally presented to Jepson Brothers and Curtis of Peterborough by the NRCC for their win out of Thurso in 1945. They subsequently presented it to the Peterborough Woodston FC and it was raced for as their Thurso Trophy. ?