4 weeks ago I had a message on Facebook from Sheldon Leonard. Instantly I liked this guy. Over the course of a few weeks we spoke a great deal on the phone and then he invited me over to Ireland to visit him and see his setup and Ireland. Before I went I knew enough about what he and his racing partner Yannick Deridder had achieved. I knew I was going to enjoy this trip and once I booked my flights I was excited to get over there.
Within an hour of meeting Sheldon I knew he was a good guy and could tell within the first day he was extremely knowledgeable about racing pigeons.
I spent three days with Sheldon and my eyes were opened to the level these guys operate at during this time. Check out my videos and photos below.
Sheldon has a regimented routine when it comes to race day and how he treats his birds.
Basketing birds for race day.
During my stay I was lucky enough to handle some of the top birds in the stock loft. This was one.
Herbies White Kittel - 1st National Skibbereen.
What a bird. Eye opening to see what these guys have managed to put together.
One of the things I was struck by is how ballsy these birds were. Checkout the Inbred Goede Rode - What a character!
Here is a tour of the race loft. It's simply amazing. What a loft!
Sheldon & Yannick have a shop in Arklow which houses their best stock birds. See the video below.
So as you will see these guys have got an amazing setup, amazing birds and amazing results!
Check out FBI Pigeons website here.
After my trip and many late night discussions with Sheldon there are some amazing opportunities that have presented themselves. Sheldon and Yannick know everyone there is to know in the pigeon game. I have already been invited over to Belgium with them and I look forward to meeting Yannick and seeing his setup.
I'm very excited at what the future holds as a result of my new friendship with Sheldon.
Check out my visit to see Sean Hunt at the Wild Atlantic Way One Loft Race. In it's first year Sean has got 1180 birds entered into the race and training starts next week.
The location of this race is stunning, the setup is top notch and I know this race is going to go from strength to strength. Sean has a top class loft manager running the race and this race has a guaranteed €100,000 prize pot with a guaranteed €50,000 first prize!
Check out more details of the race here
1 How did your drive and enthusiasm towards pigeon racing evolve?
MARK >> It all started when I was 12 years old. As a lad I had always kept animals and loved all kinds. I kept everything, I had aviaries and many different animals. Then one day I happened to see pigeons flying around where I lived and eventually I tracked down the guy that was keeping them. Bob became my friend and after spending many hours with him and the birds I persuaded my parents to let me have a loft. Bob gave me 12 birds to start and that was it. I was hooked. I was just captivated by the fact that you could send these birds hundreds of miles away and they would come back to you. Over the course of a few years I joined a local club and my love of racing pigeons kept getting stronger. I have always been an entrepreneurial type and around the age of 14 years old I was on the hunt for a second loft. My Mum found a loft advertised in a local newspaper and after school that day we went to look at it. The loft was £300 but the guy had 60 birds in the loft and he said he wanted £350 for everything. I took my Mum aside and said that I could make some money out of this. I figured I I could sell some of the birds off and make some money back. Sure enough, a week later I was right. I even had two guys arguing about who was going to buy a dark cheque cock for £60! This was the start of my first proper business. I went on to broker and buy and sell birds. At the age of 17 years old I was a busy boy running around the country doing deals. I was fascinated by the whole thing, despite being mocked by my mates. I didn’t care, this was my passion.
2 Did famous people in the sport inspire you?
MARK >> Honestly, not really. I would like to meet Mike Tyson one day as I think he’s a fascinating guy, but apart from that I can’t say any famous people have inspired me. My inspiration did however come from what could be considered famous people within the sport. As a teenager and living only 8 miles away, I marvelled at what was at the time Louella Pigeon world. At the time during the late 80’s the place was the Mecca for the sport. Their massive building full of single breeding pens was where I spent hours. Nowadays I am inspired by some of the people who are at the top of their game. If I can become half of what some of these people are over time, I will be happy.
3 What ambitions give you hope for the global future of pigeon racing?
MARK >> As I have said previously, personally I think one loft races or variations of one loft races have a big potential to help the growth of the sport worldwide. At the moment the majority of entries into these races are by pigeon flyers, with a small number by non flyers. I think there are three phases to driving the growth of flyers and ultimately the sport long term. The first obviously is getting more people to race birds from their own homes. However if you look at the numbers needed to turn things around this is a long shot on its own as a strategy. Times have changed and we all know keeping and racing birds takes a lot of time. I just don’t think we can focus on this as the only solution for growth. The second phase is what I plan to do . I plan to keep and breed birds and enter them into one loft races. With my life and businesses I simply don’t have the time to race myself. I think there is more chance to perhaps get new people keeping birds to enter into these races. The third phase, which I think has the biggest chance of getting mass numbers of new people interested in the sport is allowing and promoting the chance for non flyers, members of the public to own and have birds in OLR’s. People have shares or ownership of race horses and never have to muck out a horse, why not the same for racing pigeons? Obviously the hope would be that these target markets and phases mean people will start on maybe phase two or three and a proportion of people will end up racing birds themselves. But if we can get members of the public involved and interested without having any commitments from them we could potentially get tens of thousands of people involved. At the moment one loft races are similar in how they are run. I think there are many ways things can be done to increase the appeal and barrier of entry to these races.
Other than that my ambitions personally are to develop what I am doing and see where the next 12 months take me. I see a lot of potential for me to help and get involved shaking things up and helping the revolution and being ambitious as I am I hope to be a part of the future of this great sport.
4 Do you have some creative, and radical ideas to influence the modern game?
MARK >> Well some of what I said above I would like to personally take on and try and implement. The modern game of pigeon racing is very different from that of 20 years ago. I remember when ETS was introduced, many people said it was not real pigeon racing, people said it was a travesty for the sport. The reality now is that it’s a main part of the sport and I think it’s a great thing, I always did. I think there are so many creative things that can be done. One example is that I think we should have racing leagues. I think the sport is ripe to having a betting system attached to it. Ultimately technology can help revolutionise this sport and as technology is a big part of my business and has been for the last 20 years. I think the more non direct technology we can have coming into the sport, the better. What I mean by this is background technology. Technology that becomes part of the main stream of the sport. I know there is an argument that some flyers are not up to date with technology and yes, this is an issue. But the reality is technology is here to stay and if we are not careful the sport as we know it is not. I think making technology easy for everyone to use is the key. I could write a whole series on creative and radical ideas to help the sport, I won’t here; but I think there are so many things that can be done to bring the sport into the modern times.
5 Are you keen on information and communication technology to enlighten and inform the fancy?
MARK >> Absolutely, as I said above I think information and more specifically data can really help the flyers out there. We live in a data driven world and data can help us all. Pretty much everyone has a mobile phone these days and integrating as many services into mobile phones and computers has to be a good thing for the sport and people within it. Why wouldn’t we embrace the technology that is out there cheaply available to us? I think there is a good argument to start a free online digital magazine that is truly worldwide in appeal. If it were free and created for readers in multiple countries I think you could see it becoming a major information source if done right. It’s something I am thinking about.
6 Do you see language translation as a potential challenge or barrier to your work being received in many countries?
MARK >> It’s true that language is a challenge and a barrier to the sport, but I don’t see why it should be an issue. The growth of the sport in certain countries like Poland, Romania and China is astounding. So much so we really need to figure out what is fueling this growth and tap into the strategy that is obviously working in these countries. I think the simple solution to things moving forward is the translation of everything online being done with all the main languages of countries that are heavily involved in the sport. I plan to translate my websites to all main languages. I think the adoption of translation is a must moving forward.
7 Please tell us about the concept and practice of one loft racing?
MARK >> As I have said before I think one loft races will continue to grow and develop. I think there should be smaller races and maybe multiple races. This happens in China already. The idea of community lofts and races is a good thing too. From my time being back involved in the sport I hear there are various issues with some races that happen at the moment and I think these issues and races need cleaning up. Obviously there are some really good established races but at the same time there are some that are not all that great either.
One of the things I think will happen over time is these races will hopefully develop to include members of the public more. I would like to see GPS tracking involved in them too. This would create a great deal of interest being able to see where the birds are. I was lucky enough to go to the South Africa one loft race in the first year of its existence. Also the classic race loft in San Diego. This was 18-20 years ago. Now I see these races have developed a great deal, but I think we are really still only at the beginning of how this side of the sport can go. Imagine small one loft races happening in each county of a country. Imagine different one loft races having a central league and competing against each other. These types of concepts can revolutionise things even more than they have been already.
8 Does it relate to money, gambling and skill of the fancier?
MARK >> Obviously it does relate to money. But it doesn’t have to be at the level it is now. Why can people race for £5-£10 a bird per week in these races? Winner takes all? I think gambling is a natural part of the one loft race arena. I see a future where people can independently bet on birds in specific races around the world just as people can do with horses now. Regarding the skill of the flyer, the person running the race has to be top drawer. I know from the two OLRs organisers I have been speaking to here int he UK they are super committed and passionate about the birds in their lofts. They have to be. Looking after 50-100 birds of your own is a very different ball game to looking after 500+ birds owned by someone else.
9 How do you rate The Barcelona International?
MARK >> For me it’s the epitome of racing. It’s the World Cup. I have set myself a goal of owning a Barcelona International winner one day.
10 In your minds eye, are negative human emotions like jealousy having an impact on the pigeon racing culture?
MARK >> A massive impact. I have previously written about this in some of my articles over the last few months. I don’t like dwelling on it but yes jealousy is a massive problem in the sport. I don’t get it. Like I have said if someone is beating me in any part of my life I will figure out a way of competing with them, not get jealous towards them. There is a big problem in this sport. Not just jealousy, trolling, haters and generally horrible people seem to be in this sport. Fortunately there are so many good and nice people in the game too. The trouble is the negative people spoil it for the rest of us.
11 Do you have connections for your website with China or India, with the teeming masses of humanity?
MARK >> No, not yet, but give me 12 months and I will have 🙂 I plan to develop contacts in those countries and others. I like to think I’m a good connector of people and already I have a few people offering to help me out meet the right people. I believe in helping as many people out as I can and I firmly believe if you help people they will help you if they can. I’m all about that. Anything I do in life and business I always seem to develop a good network of people and I hope this is the case moving forward in the pigeon sport.
12 Please wise us up on your use of film and interviews in the high profiling of the people, sport and yourself.
MARK >> I’ve never worried about going in front of a camera. In my other work online I’ve got many hundreds of videos out there and live streaming is something I enjoy. In my main business I have done quite a bit of public speaking worldwide and it’s something I really enjoy. I’ve been told by a few people in the sport they see this as one of my biggest assets. Video is everywhere now and live streaming is easy to do. I see a future where video can be much bigger in the sport than it is now. Everything from people live streaming their birds coming back to far more interviews with top flyers from around the world. People are visual and our sport is very visual. Combine these things with good quality, natural videos and I think it’s a good resource to use. Personally I would like to develop film and interviews for the sport. I see real no bullshit interviews as being a great thing to do. Not being afraid to ask people unconventional questions is something I think could be very revealing and informative. I would like to interview as many of the top people I can over time.
13 You are a dynamic and driven man, how do you see the sport in 10 years from now?
MARK >> Well thank you for saying that. I would like to think the sport in 10 years time is growing in the UK and those parts of the world it is declining. Quite how this happens is still unknown but I think implementing some of the things I have mentioned above can help. We have a big problem with the sport in general and its decline, but equally we have a world of opportunity at our feet to promote how great this sport and these racing pigeons are. If we can finally get out of the past, kill the negatives, dump the stigma and move into a future mindset we can bring this port into being able to compete with other sports and people’s attention. Obviously I would like to be involved in this revolution.
14 How can we enthuse the layman about the joys of pigeon racing.
MARK >> They have to see it, they have to experience birds flying back from hundreds of miles away. If they can see it some will be sold on just how great these animals are. Bring in other competitive elements to the game then it’s a winner. Get the ability for people to bet on their favourite bird, bring in a social element to it all and I think there is no reason why we can’t get members of the public enthused.
15 Are you about to feature your work and fresh ideas in the broadsheet papers or television?
MARK >> I have no plans yet, but would love to. I would love to get into the mainstream media and help promote the sport. I think with my ability to talk (a lot some would say) I can bring a passion out about the sport that will helpfully resonate with the mainstream public. If anyone reading this has contacts I can speak to, let me know.
16 What are the personality traits needed to be a champion pigeon flyer-woman or man?
MARK >> Consistency, education from other people, determination, having goals and never giving up. Not all perhaps personality traits but a focus on what you are doing is a must combined with the other things mentioned.
17 Are internal factors key to a quality bird?
MARK >> Yes for sure. I am no expert but logic says it has to. I have always been fascinated with eye sign and after being introduced to some top people who know their stuff I intend to learn as much about it as I can over the coming years.
18 What is the ideal pigeon food in your perception Mark?
MARK >> Honestly, I don’t feel knowledgable enough to answer this. I will be seeking out the answer to this myself shortly.
A few days ago I went to visit Gary Tomlinson, owner of the Who Dares Wins One Loft Race based in Derbyshire. Gary had contacted me after seeing a few of my videos and asked if I would help him out with his social media and promo for the race. I'm up for helping any good people who are progressive so I was only too happy to help him out. This is only a basic promo just to get something out there, We are going to be doing much more together in the future.
Gary is now in his 5th year of running this race and his passion for it and looking after the birds is second to none. You can tell his loves what he does and the care and welfare of the birds are paramount to him .
I will be up for the final race on the 25th August and covering the day. It promises to be a great weekend.
I did my second Pigeon Radio Australia interview yesterday. It was about 40 minutes in length. We talked about RacingPigeonNetwork.com and haters, trolls and bullies in the pigeon sport.
Thanks to Ivan Fonti for having me on. I'm looking forward to the next already!
Check out the interview here