National Flying Club

The National Flying Club

A short history of the UK’s most prestigious pigeon club

The NFC was founded in 1898 and has ever since been known as the leading National pigeon racing club, and the “Club we all want to Win” with its Crown Jewel of the Grand National race flown annually for the prestigious King George V Trophy each year from the South of France.

Up until 1946, with three exceptions, there was just the single NFC race each year. Between 1947-1990 (apart from 1983, due to a UK outbreak of Foot & Mouth disease, preventing any racing from France) this increased to 3 races each year, including a Young Bird race. Nowadays we have 7 races in all, reflecting the demand amongst Fanciers for more National-based racing rather than Club/Federation racing. At its peak the club had around 6-7000 members and could send as many as 12000 pigeons to a race. Those high membership levels are long gone, as for many years now participation in the sport has contracted, with, unfortunately, far more Fanciers leaving the sport than those joining afresh each year.

The winners of the Grand National race include some of the most famous fanciers in the UK, including the multiple winners FW Marriott, Les Davenport, Paul Kendal, and Mark Gilbert. Ask anyone who has won the Grand National what it means to them and they’ll most likely say it’s the fulfilment of a lifetime’s ambition. Whilst individual fanciers have had multiple wins in the race, we’ve yet to have an individual pigeon win the race more than the once, though we’ve had some fabulous pigeons come close in modern times, including Paul Kendal’s Morning Glory (2 * 2nd), Alwyn Hill’s Wing Down (2nd, 4th, 7th), and Matt Rakes’ Indy (8th and 1st). The truth may be that it will never be achieved, as after one win many Fanciers may very well retire the pigeon, so valuable are such winners nowadays, but it’s known that Derek Human, among others perhaps, did race his Any Distance hen again after her win, including once more in the Grand National. Maybe, one day, a double win will be achieved …

Certificates of Merit (COM) were introduced in 1979, rewarding pigeons who are placed in the top 100 places of the longest old bird race three times, flying up to 650 miles, or the top 200 places if flying over 650 miles. Who could argue that the best COM pigeon is the remarkable Freelands Gem raced by Bill and Beryl Lewis who was six times in the Top 100.

The NFC, between 2003-05, completed in the “International” race program, with its members winning unprecedented success for the UK. Brian Sheppard won 1st International Dax in 2003, Mark Gilbert won 1st International Dax in 2004, and Doug & Kirk Bullen won 5th International Dax in 2005, competing against huge birdages sent by the very best fanciers from Belgium, Netherlands, France, and Germany. Unfortunately the NFC no longer baskets birds for any International races.

The late Queen Elizabeth II was, for many years until her death 8th September 2022, Patron of the Club and, indeed, competed with the NFC on occasion from the Royal Lofts on her Sandringham Estate. 

In recent years the NFC has recognised the value of the Ace Pigeon concept, calculated by identifying the best three performances of a pigeon in one season, compared to all others, and assigning a coefficient in each race by reference to Position versus Number of Pigeons released. every pigeon timed in an NFC race. So, it’s clear to win this award you need to have a pigeon capable of scoring three times in the top 1-10% segment of the Open result, not easy!

The NFC has 17 membership sections, meaning that whatever the wind conditions of the day of liberation for a race, we can identify meritorious performances in every geographic section. Yes, for sure, we all want to win 1st Open, but if the wind dictates that 1st Open is simply not possible, then 1st section should be considered of almost equal merit.

At the end of every year, the NFC’s Annual Dinner & Presentations evening is always the hottest ticket in Town, celebrating the best of the best in grand style, and includes an Honorary speech from the current year’s Grand National winning Fancier. Will you be our next Grand National winner?

If you’re reading this, and want to join the NFC, sponsor the NFC, or you have some interesting historical information about the club that could be added to what’s written above, then please go to the Contact Us page and send us a message, we sincerely look forward to hearing from you.