A true story
I know, dear reader, the story below may sound unbelievable, but it is true. Or maybe about. Only the name of the fancier, a man from Antwerp, I changed into Sjef. He is an elderly man with a fairly glorious past as a pigeon fancier. But today he is little more than a shadow of the past. Not because he got older, not because he was struggling with his health, the story of Sjef is a matter of self destruction.
A "glorious past" I said, but one must not take that too literally.
Because he never became real famous. It was only in his own area that people know how good he was. With few birds only he was just unbeatable. And with few pigeons you never become famous, no matter how good they are. To-day you just have to comply with other conditions to get a great name abroad:
a. You have to play a lot of pigeons. The more the better.
b. And they should be raced on the ‘little long distance”.
-Why Many pigeons? Since a lucky bird, the 83rd pick bird or so, can camouflage a poor result by winning an early prize. Every week you see them on the result sheets; those men who in fact performed poorly but who were ‘saved’ by such a lucky bird on top of the result sheet.
Winning 5 prizes from 5 pigeons barely rouses interest. Certainly not abroad. With 50 prizes it is another story, even though 120 birds or more were entered.
-Why ‘little long distance?’
Since the focus is on those races in the media.
As if a bird that won just one early prize on long distance is more valuable than a bird that is weekly on top in the middle distance or sprint.
And Sjef had those top racers at middle distance. His prize percentage was as horrifying as the number of first prizes he won annually.
He celebrated his greatest triumphs in the 80s and 90s.
Because of his exceptional performances even big names, all locals, sought reinforcements at Sjef’s.
Those were cheap birds but it must be said, even the big names found those birds were far superior to their own. Those were birds without pedigrees, since Sjef did not believe in them. "What do you want, good pigeons or a beautiful pedigree," he said when people asked for such a piece of paper. But times changed and Sjef changed as well.
JAPANESE AND OTHER CHINESE
After the locals the Japanese and Chinese stood on Sjef’s doorstep for birds.
Too often had they noticed Sjef’s name in the pedigree of a super bird that they had bought from a great name.
However, the first Orientals who visited Sjef slunk away disappointed.
They expected more expensive pigeons and especially more extensive pedigrees.
Sjef was shocked and a bit frustrated as well.
He heard how much money others asked and got for pigeons that could not match his, and he raised the price.
'Cause it seems like they do not want cheap bird’ he moaned.
But soon it also became clear, that not only the low price frightened those Eastern buyers off, the lack of pedigrees was the real problem.
He could still sell but to Belgians only who only paid a pittance compared with the money that they themselves charged.
And Sjef decided to buy a computer. The on and off button he did not even know, but his wife was there to get going, so make pedigree.
Computers, laptops or mobile phones were not stuff for Sjef.
And sure enough, he soon noticed that it was the best investment he ever made. Now that the pigeons he had for sale were accompanied by pedigrees the money came in soon. Much money indeed and Sjef changed. But what also changed real soon were his performances.
Sjef had become a different person, now he had money to spend.
No money for which he had to work hard, but money from the pigeons he sold.
Sjef had become ‘somebody’. He became one of the great names and other big names became his inner circle. And while he had never paid more than 50 € for a bird in the past he started to buy expensive birds, like his new ‘friends’.
And so his loft was soon populated with babies, brothers and sisters of pigeons that were known all over the world.
But with the pigeons of noble blood, with pedigrees from here to Tokyo, it went from bad to worse. From a hero to a zero in the races. Till the time came that nobody in the clubhouse asked how early he had clocked a bird after a race. His fellow sportsmen did not want to embarrass him.
Anno 2016 barely any one talks about Sjef. He still plays with pigeons but he often thinks wistfully of the fantastic birds he had before. How did it get this far, he asks himself many times.
What is also troubling him?
Now that his pigeons lack quality he has more demands than ever. All thanks to his wife, the computer and those papers, called pedigrees.
But those ‘feathered paper tigers’ which he had bought for a lot of money at the big names have ruined him.
Now he has money, but pigeon sport is not enjoyable any more. Even life is less good.
In the clubhouse people sometimes talk about the good old days. Among them are also novices who, unlike him, practically grew up with the internet. And for them he has good advice:
"The Internet is beautiful. You can learn a lot from it. But ... as for pigeon sport look at the results and nowhere else. Read them well and do not let yourself be fooled by all those bla bla bla about big names, or better say, fashion names. And if someone is put in the spotlight, getting a lot of publicity, it is good to ask yourself why that happens and by whom. This can be enlightening.’
Dixit Sjef, a man who knows what is talking about.