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Gerry Francis - Footballer & Pigeon Man by Keith Mott


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Screenshot_20221119_131607_Facebook.jpgScreenshot_20221119_131613_Facebook.jpgScreenshot_20221119_131618_Facebook.jpgScreenshot_20221119_131628_Facebook.jpgScreenshot_20221119_131635_Facebook.jpgScreenshot_20221119_131656_Facebook.jpgScreenshot_20221119_131701_Facebook.jpgScreenshot_20221119_131707_Facebook.jpgGerry Francis – Footballer and Pigeon Fancier!
Many years ago I visited the lofts of Gerry Francis and at that time he was at the very top in English football, playing for Crystal Palace. Of course Gerry went on to become a very successful manager with Q.P.R. and Tottenham Hotspurs, and this is an account of my vist to his Berkshire home in 1979.
Whenever one read of Gerry Francis, one always read 'Gerry Francis, Crystal Palace and England football ace, winner of many major awards including 13 International caps for England', but you never read of Gerry Francis the pigeon fancier, and how good a fancier he was despite the pressure on his time from his many footballing commitments. There are times when Gerry doesn't see his pigeons for days on end. He had been in the sport on and off since 1959, he said his first loft measured 2 feet x 4 feet and it was something of an innovation as it was mobile, yes, mobile. It was built and attached to pram wheels so that it could be moved in great haste when the rent man called as Gerry was not supposed to keep pigeons where he lived then. Gerry is from a pigeon racing family, his father Roy, and two uncles, Fred Harrington and George Francis were all active fanciers. He has a very high regard for his uncle Fred, who, he said, taught him a lot about pigeons. Gerry became interested in pigeons when he was about eight years old and raced with his father in the City Arms H.S. at Hammersmith. His first pigeons were from George Harrowell of Shepherds Bush, these birds were carefully broken to their new loft by Gerry. After he had successfully broken them, the local council promptly ordered him to get rid of them.
It was my friend Mick Worsfold who took me down to deepest Berkshire to visit Gerry Francis' 'Thornlea Lofts' and for a change we had some sunshine on the lofts for the photographs. This was a standing joke as it always rained on my loft visits with Micky Worsfold, and on the way down we were driving through thick fog, and I reckoned that the Worsfold curse was running true to form.
Gerry started racing from his present address in 1977 with seven Harrington latebreds from his father. One of the stars of the loft was a pigeon known as 'Thornlea Lucky Stumpy', he was one of those original latebreds and acquired the name 'Lucky Stumpy' because he returned home from a race minus three toes and suffering numerous other injuries. After recovering from those injuries this gallant blue chequer pied cock went back on the road and won in 1979: 50th Section E, 83rd Open N.F.C. Nantes (10,367 birds), 4th club Bergerac (453 miles) with only seven pigeons recorded in the club in two days, he had also won 15th Federation Weymouth (1,847 birds) and 4th Hansur Open Weymouth. 'Lucky Stumpy' was also proving his worth as a breeder, he was sire of a chequer pied cock 'Garth' who had only had four races and taken four positions, including 23d Federation with 1,330 birds competing. Another of the Harrington pigeons to do well for Gerry was a blue chequer cock known as 'Thornlea Bourne End', he recorded 2nd club, 14th Federation, 26th Open B.T.B. Combine Niort (3,750 birds).
On the subject of eyesign, Gerry said he didn't know enough about it to base his pairings on it, but he did admit to having a liking for a pearl eye. The lofts housed various strains, the Harrington pigeons were of the Logan¬Savage Barker-Osman lines, there were also Dordins from Paul Smith, Cattrysse from Les Davenport and pigeons from F Wiltshire of Oxford. We got onto the subject of young bird racing and Gerry said that he didn't believe in pushing youngsters hard, in fact he had found that his best pigeons in later life were those that were only trained as youngsters and not raced. He also said that he disliked sending yearlings across the Channel.
The lofts consisted of a three section racing loft with corridor trapping, plus two stock lofts joined by a nice spacious aviary. There were 10 pairs of stock birds and around 15 pairs of racers, it was usual for him to breed around 25 youngsters a year. Floor dressing consisted of a sand and lime mixture which was changed every few months. The birds had an open loft, but even so, were kept under control. All birds were raced on the natural system, always trying to get to know each pigeon as an individual, this way Gerry thought you discover each bird's best racing condition. When it came to training, the birds were not trained on a specific line, but in any direction, to all points of the compass, thus giving the birds a good sound education and at the same time making them think. On the subject of food, Gerry thought maize was a very underrated food and fed a lot of it with peas and beans added.
On this visit we spent a lot of time in the stock loft, which housed some excellent pigeons including direct children of National winners. Inbreeding and line breeding were practised to create a family, although the occasional introduction was made, if it would do the family good. Although a great many fanciers do not like latebreds, Gerry was the opposite and really liked a few of them as he reckoned if they were schooled well in early life they would be as good as a youngster bred at the normal time. The one thing that he didn’t like were wild pigeons, they all had to be quiet and good natured in the Francis loft.
At that time Gerry's pigeon activities were overshadowed by his commitments to football, as had been the case really since he left school. His football career started as a lad when he played for a social club in a Sunday league, this was his only chance to play, as his school was rugby orientated. The opportunity eventually arose for him to be able to train at Queens Park Rangers on a Tuesday evening each week. These training sessions eventually led to him signing as an apprentice. When he was 16 he made his first team debut for the club against Liverpool in the first division, since that time he had won 13 international caps. However, professional football did not give him much time for his pigeons and he said that it was only thanks to several good hearted local fanciers who helped him by often taking his clocks and his birds, that he was able to race at all. However, I am sure, that now that football demands less of Gerry's time, he is now more, Gerry Francis the pigeon fancier. I hope my readers have enjoyed this special walk down memory lane! Gerry is still racing his pigeons with outstanding success and is a great worker for the sport of pigeon racing. (November 2022)
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