Emotions have been running high in the Kirkman family since the North Road Championship Club’s last old bird race of the season, the tough PJ Lofts-sponsored Thurso. Not only is Andrew Kirkman, of Freiston, near Boston, elated at winning the race, but success brought memories flooding back of his Dad, Keith’s outstanding performance in timing the only bird on the day to win the second of only three races organised by the NRCC from Saxa Vord. It is, in fact, the 21st anniversary of that epic win by the adored-‘til-death Unique Lady for the Kirkman and Mooney partnership in 1998. Her velocity for the 543-mile journey that day was 1122 yards per minute.
The following season saw Keith finish as runner-up in the King’s Cup race from Lerwick. Unfortunately, he is no longer around to share the pride and joy he would have had after son Andy’s biggest-ever win from Thurso. Still competing as Andrew and Keith Kirkman, in honour of his late father, Andy is a member of Boston Central RPC, of which Keith was a staunch long-serving member. Only four birds managed more than 1000ypm, and the winner was a small yearling hen, a blue chequer white flight, of Janssen x Lambrecht breeding and bought from another Boston fancier, Tim Appleby. She had been raced as a celibate hen early in the season but was sent to Thurso sitting on four eggs after the celibates had been allowed to pair to each other.
Andy had chosen to race a team of celibate hens this season as he contemplated his future in the sport. Like many hard-working family men, he was finding it difficult to compete on level terms with other older, often retired, fanciers who could give so much more time to training and preparing their birds. For that reason, he had not reared any young birds this summer, and had started the old bird season with 15 yearling celibate hens, which had had four races as young birds before being stopped as they were beginning to moult heavily as it was the first season that Andy had not put his youngsters on darkness.
This year the yearling celibates were prepared for racing with a few training tosses, then were confined to the loft all week as Andy was fearful of leaving them out in the daytime (he was working from 5am to 5pm) because of problems with cats. They were given their freedom only for a bath on Sundays when they declined the opportunity to exercise. They had six races as the team dwindled to eight – losses at Sedgefield were the worst, said Andy – and then allowed to go together on June 22. When sitting they were given a training toss from Brigg, thanks to clubmate Carl Upsall, and more local tosses from Cadwell Park, Keal Hill and, the day before basketing, Scrivelsby. As the Thurso race approached, their diet was augmented with a generous supply of peanuts. As a result, Andy said they had “a bit of weight on them.”
As it transpired, that probably stood the winner in good stead on a testing day. Seven of the eight celibate hens were sent to the race, and Andy revealed that he had never had such a thrill as when the winner appeared over his shoulder just before 6-30pm, coming out of the town direction which is not where he normally expects them. “It was a tremendous, exciting feeling,” he said. “I have never experienced anything like it. I was surprised that no-one else had verified, and then there was a long, anxious wait fearing that someone else could overtake me.” Another day bird arrived later than evening, and a third early next morning.
Andy has many club and Federation successes to his credit since he started in the sport in 2001, but his best previous NRCC result was when he was fourth open in 2006 when the winners were fellow Boston fanciers, Russ and Skinner. As a boy, despite his dad’s enthusiasm for the sport, Andy was not particularly interested in pigeon racing – apart from the Lerwick race. “The only race I liked was the one from Lerwick,” he said. “I remember sitting in my bedroom window waiting for them to come home.” When he did start up on his own – with plenty of advice from his dad, of course – he had pigeons from Brian Garnham and Bem French, two top fanciers locally, but he was disappointed with his first young bird race.“I had a word with Bem, and after that I had a successful first season.” That is an extremely modest verdict on a barnstorming first season which brought outstanding results. I know, first-hand from my own friendship with his dad, how thrilled and proud Keith was at Andrew’s successful involvement in the sport.
Many more wins followed, particularly at what seemed to be Andy’s speciality of young bird racing, but long working hours have taken their toll and made keeping pace with time-rich competitors increasingly difficult. Now, however, this latest success from Thurso has given him a big boost and expanded his horizon beyond next season when he had planned to compete with 15 celibate cock birds as a final flourish in the sport. Perhaps, he is pondering, long distance racing may be the gateway to his long-term future and fit in better with his work pattern. Let’s hope so. It would be sad to see the NRCC, and his club, to lose one of the most modest, likeable and unassuming men ever to become a classic winner.
There was an entry of 1,127 birds from 146 members, and this is race secretary Ian Bellamy’s review of the race:
“After a one-day holdover, I thought we would be in for a tough race, but I did not realise just how tough.
“I was checking Libline every 10 minutes from 4 pm onwards and, when there no verifications by 6 pm, I said to my wife ‘where are they’?
“I had a couple of ‘phone calls asking if the website was down as there were no pigeons on the provisional result, then at 6.39 the first verification came through and it was A & K Kirkham who timed in at 6.29. They stayed at the top of the result throughout the duration of the race.
“My special mentions for Thurso are runner-up and Section A winner, M Wilson, whose pigeon did remarkably well to stay inland when the top birds all seem to be on the East side, and Section I winner, A Scarborough, whose pigeon flew 509 miles into Basildon to be timed very early on the second day.”
Section winners were:
Sec A – M Wilson, Brinsley.
Sec B – W W Hare & Son, Bourne.
Sec C – A & K Kirkman, Boston.
Sec E – Mr & Mrs T Augustini , Leicester.
Sec F – Moore & Ransome, Chatteris.
Sec H – B Cowan, Enfield.
Sec I – A Scarborough, Laindon.