by Drew Callan

Press Officer

Hassall and Williams a well kept secret.

Last year Mark Gilbert presented a new trophy to the committee of The National Flying Club that was to be presented to the bird with the best combined average velocity across all the old bird races in the national race programme. This trophy was to be called The Mark Gilbert International Trophy and one thing was for sure, any member who got their name on the trophy would be rightly proud as this would be no mean feat as it required a bird to ‘compete’ in all the national races and not just home. Bear in mind it was for the highest combined velocity of a single bird and not the loft, and for this the bird had to at the top of their game across a whole season and also had to avoid the pitfalls that a bird faces racing home from any distance. Speculation was rife about where it would be won, and as was to be expected a few well know household names were having their names thrown in to the hat and there was even a few rumblings of whether it would be won and if so would it be with a respectable velocity. Well, as it turns out the trophy was won in its inaugural year, proof that it can be done - but there were only 4 birds left standing when the dust of the 2015 season settled and each of these 4 birds deserves a medal. The bird that came top of the heap and who will give their owners the pleasure of being the first names on The Mark Gilbert International Trophy belongs to the Section J lofts of Jean Williams and Bill Hassall. The partnership has been in the pigeon game an awful long time, starting up 25 + years ago after they got together as a couple. As often happens in situations like this, the result in question comes off the back of a high level of consistency at a chosen level of competition - be that at federation or national level. This is the case with Jean and Bill, they have been competing at the top end of the table at federation level right along the line for all of the time they have been racing together and have dipped their toes in to national competition occasionally along the way with affair level of success. The latest bird to bring success to the loft and lift the new trophy is a tidy, cobby little 2 year old blue cock now named ‘James the First’, after Bills grandson James. This is a fitting title as James lives down near Bristol and in the run up to Tarbes when James and his mum were visiting he was given the blue cock to single up at a Services near to where he lives and it seems to have worked. To underline the efforts that ‘James The First’ put in to win the trophy lets first point out that the winning velocity was 1105 ypm, with this being achieved over a 5 race programme where the shortest race was Fougeres which is. 288 miles to the Quarry Bank loft and the furthest being Tarbes which is all of 646 miles. Along the way he had the following positions:

Fougeres 288 miles, 64th Section, 469th Open

Messac -     321 miles, 139th Section, 910th Open

Ancenis  -    355 miles   40th Section, 439th open

Tarbes   -      646 miles, 1st Section 55th Open

Saintes -       469 miles, 27th Section, 344TH Open.

To further emphasis the quality of the performance consider that he was 60 ypm clear of the next bird that was flying to a loft in Section E, some way short of the loft that James had to race home to.

Bill and Jean holding ‘James the First’ and ‘Mrs Jean’

This racing machine comes from a long line of performance birds that have been handled with care and precision over many years be two very talented fanciers. They have let the basket set the benchmark and along the way have not been afraid to bring in something special other lofts to shake things up a bit. James himself is the result of this, being the result of a cross from close friend and top fancier Andy Trumpeter that the partnership have put in to their family. He was not chosen specifically to compete for the trophy and in line with the lofts philosopy was being prepared for Tarbes, it was just incidental that he was the most consistently quick bird over all NFC races in 2015.

So, to go back to the start. When Jean and Bill started up as a pigeon partnership there was the joint decision that they would do things right from the off. With this in mind they did their homework and had a look around at what was winning where and decided upon the Busschaerts as the birds they wanted. A few were sourced from various places and put through their paces and quite soon a couple of handy birds started to emerge that would form the nucleus of the family that would still be a force 25 years later. Bill noted that the birds which were standing up to the test had a common pigeon in their pedigrees and so they sought out pigeons that were closely related to that bird, and when any Busschaerts were coming up for sale Jean and Bill would dig around to see if there was something worth buying that would compliment their existing birds. This approach served then well as they continued to produce a string of birds that kept them at the top in local club and Federation racing. Alongside this approach, the partnership was also introduced to Mr Andrew Hall who competed in Anfield Plain up in the North East of England and who flew very god family of Busschaerts. Bill has a sister who lived in that part of the world and so anytime Bill was in the area visiting his sister he would call in on Mr Hall, as it turns out Bills sister never did figure out why his visits to see her became increasingly frequent!! From Andrew the partnership initially introduced 6 young birds to race, and 4 of them won as young birds and continued to do so. He also gifted the partnership an unrung bird that went on to leave its mark along with its loft mates. These additions were rich in the blood of The Newton Pair and knitted in fantastically with the existing Busschaerts and through time the two strands became one team. The unrung Hall bird was to give the partnership a taste of success at national level when it bred a hen that came from NFC Nantes and landed on the roof of some neighbouring flats and wasted quite a bit of time before she came down and was duly clocked. She finished up being 4th Open and could have easily topped the national on that day.

What underpins the partnerships approach and continuing success is their breeding method. They will find a good working bird and carefully and meticulously pull its bloodlines back in through the family. This approach has ensured that they don’t lose the working lines and concentrate the more successful winning lines. ‘James the First’ will now have his chance to add a layer to the family line, as will ‘Mrs Jean’ who topped the section last year in a difficult young bird national from Falaise. These latest two performance birds will follow on from other illustrious forbearers such as ‘The Bordeaux’ Hen and ‘123’, who was a top Saintes racer for the partnership and then went on to leave their indelible mark on the family of birds housed at Quarry Bank.

The scaled down racing loft.

Until recently the partnership had a strong race team that had a depth of ability and performance to it, but as Bill told me time is now catching up with them and they are realistic about where their interests now lie. Personal health problems experienced by both Jean and Bill in recent years has also driven the changes, but they and the birds have risen to the challenge and the partnership are having the most fun they have had in years. In the past 5/6 years they have cut back considerably on the size of the team, but their drive and zeal is undiminished and instead they are focusing their energies on racing a smaller team, but at a higher level choosing to compete with The National Flying Club with a much more focussed approach. But old habits die hard, and as such the partnership still compete with The Victoria HS and Lye and District 2 Bird Continental Club as they relish the challenge of Specialist channel racing as they feel it separates the men from the boys.

With the downscaled approach the partnership have a significantly smaller team to manage, but the methodology remains the same. The birds are well schooled as young birds and yearlings, but this is done with care and no risks are taken as these birds are wanted for a job later.  At two years old a small team is aimed at Tarbes, and by small I mean 2 or 3 birds although their average send to any national race is 4 birds. The two year old birds in the team will have had little asked of them but will have been put across the channel to show them what it looks like. Now its time for them ’to take their coats off’ as Bill put it referring to them being expected to increase their efforts as this is what they are bred for and the partnership expects them to step up and be counted. With regards to the system used, Bill believes you need to get the fitness right and after that the system is immaterial. The partnership have tried all systems and were firm advocates of the roundabout system to give the hens a good workout, and looking at what hens have done for the loft its little wonder they like to race the little ladies. In recent years they have tended to lean towards preparing the Tarbes birds on natural, but they both remain flexible and will not baulk at swapping systems if they feel it will advantage certain birds. Let’s not forget that Bill was an accomplished fancier in his own right when he still lived and competed in West Bromwich before moving to Quarry Bank. At that time he flew a cracking team of widowhood cocks that were based on the old Fabry birds, and these birds enabled Bill to take on and Beat Breakaway when he was at his prime. The involvement with the Fabry birds led to Bill getting invited to the Royal Lofts after a conversation with The Queens Loft Manager at the time, but Bill never got round to taking him up on his offer.

It was clear from talking to Jean and Bill and looking at their wall of fame that they are a very well kept secret. They have consistently been churning out top results at all levels, including winning their section 4 times with The National Flying Club from Nantes, St Nazaire, Falaise and Tarbes. In fact Bill still has the blazer that he was awarded for winning the section on one occasion and this still gets worn with pride. This partnership is not finished yet; they possess a strong winning family that is providing success for many others as well, including top national performances in to Scotland and also on the Island of Malta. This last one something that is close to both their hearts, began when they met some Maltese fanciers at the Blackpool show a good few years ago and birds were gifted to them. Over the years there have been regular visits to Malta on an almost yearly basis but after racing has finished of course. The bloodlines that were feverishly sought over 25 years ago are still doing the business and they are still finding those good working birds that Bill cherishes so much that will continue to move the family forward. Here is to many more section wins - take a bow Jean and Bill the inaugural winners of The Mark Gilbert International Trophy. The secret is out of the bag now.