The North Road Championship Club’s centenary race from Lerwick, the Unikon King George V Challenge Cup race, reminded us of many of the lessons we should have learned from some of the previous 99 races.
. The Shetland Islands is a conniving old lady and, in league with dodgy Mother Nature, in her most evil mood this June, can test the patience of Job, let alone less biblical figures such as convoyers, race controllers and pigeon fanciers.
She did just that again in this momentous year, toying with the hopes of liberation on schedule and the day after, but relenting sufficiently for a release on Monday.
But even then it was not plain sailing. The birds had to contend with a lively west wind from the start, and that obviously had a big influence on the race, the experts assuming that it took them out to sea, even as far as the Continent thought some, and, at the best, they had to face the wind to get back on track for home.
Meanwhile, Mother Nature’s skulduggery was not finished. She placed finely tuned trapdoors along the route home, in the form of unpredictable storms that have ambushed many races this year.
One thing, however, that we have learned from NRCC racing is that there are always some fanciers able to combat the wiles of this dubious pair, and so it was again this year in a race that produced just seven day birds, but a whole series of top-class performances.
The man to make history by winning this much-hyped 100th race is Eddie Seabourne, of Norwich, or rather more accurately, the partnership of Linda Hall (his wife) and Mr Seabourne.
But 54-year-old Eddie is the real driving force in the partnership, although he appreciates the support and encouragement of Linda, and, in this spell of political doom and gloom, and football failure, it was a pleasure to talk to a man so delighted with his success which was brought to him by a five-year-old dark chequer cock bird that recorded a provisional velocity of 1189 yards per minute over a distance of 527 miles to also win Section F.
There were signs on his wattles that he had encountered “some weather” on the long journey home.
The victory was not without its drama and scenes that would not have been out of place in a Carry On film were witnessed at the Seabourne household.
I’ll let Eddie tell the story himself:
“I had looked on the website, which I usually don’t do, and seen that Mr and Mrs Thomas had verified. It was about twenty minutes past eight and I reckoned I needed a bird inside the hour – just enough time to have a bath . . . I thought.
“I like to keep myself busy on Lerwick days and had been weeding the garden, so felt I needed to freshen up.
“I told my son (12-year-old Ritchie) to sit in the conservatory and not take his eyes off the loft, and to shout me if a pigeon arrived.
“I jumped in the bath, splashed the water about a bit and there was a shout ‘Dad, there’s two pigeons on the shed.’
“Panic set in. I grabbed a towel to try to dry myself, struggled to put my shorts on because I was so wet, struggled again to get something on my feet, but tottered off down the garden.
“I am surprised that the bird did not make off in fright at the sight of me. By the time I clocked him in, my backside was hanging out of my shorts, but I managed to give a thumbs up to Ritchie.
“The other pigeon wasn’t mine, and took off.”
By the time Eddie had calmed down, dried off and dressed decently, he reflected that 40 miles an hour over 527 miles was not bad.
The winning pigeon, a five-year-old having its first trip to Lerwick, has a lot of Busschaert in its pedigree, via Billy Napper’s Mad Max lines, is also crossed into Verehagen lines, and had enjoyed a successful racing career with wins up to Thurso.
Now named the Dark Diamond, he will race no more but, in retirement, will be given the task of trying to sire Eddie a team of distance pigeons to fly from Thurso and Lerwick, continuing the line of the winning bird’s father who produced a number of top birds.
He will be introduced to birds from brother Nick who is building a team of 650-milers based on De Weerdts obtained from Geoff and Catherine Cooper. Eddie had 11 birds among the entry of 802 sent to Lerwick by 167 members, and had three more on the second day, and another two on Wednesday. He said that even the later arrivals were in good condition, but his open winner was looking particularly good on reaching home, and he complimented convoyer Darren Shepherd on the manner in which he had looked after the birds. Eddie’s enthusiasm for the sport has been rejuvenated and his spirits lifted by this outstanding win, and he is now looking forward to the challenge of building a long distance team to compete with the NRCC.
A fancier for 17 years – since 1999 – he had been considering winding down his activity in the sport, and had even tendered his resignation to the NRCC before having a change of mind and asking secretary Ray Knight to tear up his resignation letter. He no longer participates in club racing.
He had even sold his 2016 young birds to his pal, and former pigeon racing partner, Stan Lynch, who is now the proud owner of two youngsters off a King’s Cup winner, and they cost him the princely sum of £5 each! The Dark Diamond, which Eddie describes as “a nice, bold cock”, was sent to Lerwick sitting five days, and Eddie was worried that was too short a period to provoke the right kind of motivation, but he need have had no fears on that count, as the cock bird went back on his eggs on returning home.
Eddie describes himself as an “unorthodox” fancier who does what he thinks is right at the time, and for a particular pigeon. When the birds are on widowhood he does not show the hens before a race.
His methods have earned him plenty of success over the years. He has been nick-named Steady Eddie because, invariably, it has been when the races have become longer, harder and slower, that he has moved up the results. He has been knocking on the door of success with the NRCC as, on several occasions, the partnership’s name has been prominent in results.
In the build-up to the Lerwick race, he re-paired his King’s Cup contenders and strewed straw and grass on the ground outside the loft, left the doors open and allowed the birds to enjoy themselves building nests. In the last few days before marking, he said he crammed as much food into them as possible and, on the night before despatch, he wondered if he had done them too well. The next morning, however, when catching them to take to the marking station, he felt that they “had blown up nicely.”
The feeding to the run-up to Lerwick was a mixture of Widowhood Express, Multi Task, tic beans, TK conditioner and extra maize. He had to borrow some of the tic beans from his brother because he had run out.
It was, in fact, brother Nick who inspired him to start pigeon racing after Eddie had been captivated seeing birds arrive home from a race, and it was Nick who told him after this massive win: “Your name will go down in NRCC history now as the man who won the 100th race from Lerwick. No one can take that away from you.”
Eddie had a sleepless night after the race, wondering if he could be overtaken by longer-flying birds, and he was particularly apprehensive about the London fanciers who have been taking NRCC racing by storm.
Friend Russ Skinner, from Boston, himself a past NRCC winner from Perth and Thurso, had worked out various scenarios of what was possible.
It was a relief when it transpired that the Dark Diamond was a good winner.
Eddie spent most of his working life in the building trade, until he was made redundant, and is now a part-time refuse collector.
He is one of a long line of Norwich fanciers to hit the headlines with the NRCC, and will be aiming for more success with a team of hen birds at Thurso. Throughout his loft, despite the comings and goings of many breeds, is a constant line of pigeons with the breeding of a gift bird from the legendary Norwich fancier, Doodles Lambert. They will figure in the breeding plan for the future.
Talking to Eddie was like taking a breath of fresh air and he, and his champion pigeon, I have no doubt, will be a big hit at the NRCC Day of Champions at Springfields Exhibition Centre, Spalding, on Saturday December 3rd. Reflecting on the 100th Lerwick race, treasurer and race secretary, Ian Bellamy, commented: “I thought at one stage there were not going to be any day pigeons.
“First to verify was Mr & Mrs D Thomas of Alford, then I thought ahh, we will get a steady stream now of pigeons predominately down the east side. How wrong was I.
“There were only seven birds on the day of which two were after the close of race at 10.00, and only a dozen or so on day two up until I had to go to work at 8.00.
“By 12.30 I had another 60 odd verifications on Libline which were downloaded and entered onto the provisional result and only another handful during the afternoon.”
Provisional section winners are:
Sec A - B & L Cutts, Carlton.
Sec B - J Norris, Grantham.
Sec C - T Winterton, Holbeach.
Sec E - G V & W Britton, Newborough.
Sec F - L Hall / E Seabourne, Norwich.
Sec H - P & E Kellett, Romford.
Sec I - S P Crawford , Ipswich.