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The X factor

It was the football World Cup, the match was Brazil v Holland and the English newspaper "The Guardian" said that Holland had achieved one of the most extraordinary comebacks ever.

And because the English know a lot about football, that has to be true.

The paper even compared it with Christ rising from the dead, another thing nobody had expected.

I have to admit, during the first half, I was embarrassed by the quality of the Brazilian football. And it was a miracle that at the half time interval, "we" (the Dutch) were only behind 1-0.

It could easily have been 3-0, because the play of the "Oranje" (the Dutch National team) was a shambles.

And yet, by an even greater miracle, by full time "we" won 2-1.

It could have been 4-1.

When Sneijder"s ball sailed over the head of the keeper, I already got the feeling that we were witnessing something spectacular.

As if the Gods had decided to intervene in the match for a laugh.

And that feeling almost became a certainty, when again Sneijder that dwarf amongst giants scored'. 2-1.



In that match, we were the Italy of 1982, the Germany of 1990 and the Brazil of 2002.

What I mean is: playing only average football, but nevertheless winning the match.

There was nothing left of the stylish "Oranje" of the qualification matches, let alone of the "Oranje" that in the old days captured the hearts of all, only to succumb in the finals twice.

And what about the previous European championship?

Holland swept the world champions and vice world champions (France and Italy) off the field by  4-1 and 3-0.

Instantly "Oranje" became the sky-high favorites for the title, only to lose to Russiaon an off day.

Now though, the "Powers That Be" were finally on our side, and they made the giants Spain, Argentina and Germany slaughtered each other BEFORE the final.

'Do you think we have a chance?' my son asked me before the final.

'Only if we have luck on our side,' I said. 'Because nowadays, it"s the little things that make the difference, like a ball against the goal post, whether the ball was behind the line or not, a blunder from the keeper, and so on.'

Because you need luck in all kinds of sport, as you need luck in the pigeon sport.



In the pigeon sport I sometimes talk about the circle that has to be round.

And that you are only as good as the weakest link.

Good pigeons are the most important link, but you"ll never win without motivation, form, pigeons that trap promptly, a well situated loft and a favorable wind on the day of a race.

Also, many fanciers acquired good pigeons purely by chance, or equally went downhill through sheer bad luck.



I still remember what Armand Schoolmeesters once told me, how he came by his champion pigeons.

'Purely by chance,' he told me. 'You must know that I had a young pigeon that seemed too stupid to be of any use. Even from training flights from five kilometers away, she couldn"t find her way home.

She went into every other loft in the area, until I was so fed up with having to fetch her back, that I stopped training her and dumped her in the aviary.

I still don"t know why I did it, but I let her raise a few young.

These youngsters became two super champions, and she produced many more good pigeons."



So Klak had his "Knook", a very ugly pigeon. He didn"t want to keep it, and no other fancier had any interest in the bird. He had just decided to give the bird to the poulterer, when one of his cocks was killed by a bird of prey. Now he had a problem, because he was now short a cock.

Therefore, he decided to keep the "Knook", and guess what?

The "Knook" became the father of the "613", one of the best racers that Klak ever had.

Something similar happened to Houben as well.

Houben also had a pigeon that nobody wanted, I think it was the "Artiest", and that was his good luck.

This bird"s offspring made Houben famous all over the world.



In the time that Geerts dominated the Union Antwerp, I had a lot of contact with him.

William"s pigeons came, as is so often the case, from a completely unknown fancier, Fonske Jacobs from Sint Gillis.

Jacobs had very good pigeons, but William had already realized that having good pigeons doesn"t mean being well known in the pigeon world.

He bought a few foster pigeons from Jacobs, and later some eggs from Jacobs breeding pigeons, to put under the foster pigeons.

With a couple of these foster pigeons however, the date didn"t fit. The youngsters from this couple had already been destined for the pot, when William decided to keep them anyway. He could always get rid of them later.

And one of these youngsters became the top racer of his loft.



For me, my "875" was a special case. He was a mighty racer, until he stayed away after a race in good weather.

Four days later, he came back to the loft. More dead than alive, and gravely wounded.

'How did he find the strength to come home?' I asked myself.

Countless times, I was on the point of ending his suffering. But slowly, he started to mend. His breast bone was broken in two places, one leg was bent, but at least the food had finally stopped spilling out of his torn crop.

Later on I regretted that I didn"t breed enough young out of him for my own use.

Among his descendants are several NPO winners, National Aces, and even Olympiad pigeons.

But unfortunately none in my loft.



There are also numerous examples of a pigeon that lost its way, had to be fetched back, and that later became a superior racer or breeder.

Also in the pigeon sport, glory or defeat, winning or losing, it often depends on very small occurrences.

An egg that breaks or not, a bird of prey or an electricity cable, these things can make all the difference.

Apart from that, the Dutch national football team hadn"t lost in 23 matches before the World Cup, and you can"t attribute that to luck alone.

In the pigeon sport too, it"s mostly the same fanciers that win or lose.

In the loft of an expert fancier, eggs don"t get broken that often because of fights between pigeons. There is less trouble through illnesses and the pigeons trap faster from a race.

Almost every year, it"s the same fanciers that dominate the field.

"Why does that have to happen to me again?" I often hear fanciers complain when they have a bad race.

If you think that champions never have bad luck, you"re mistaken.

But they know how to deal with it.

That"s why they are champions.



For all that, the race from Orleans in 2010 in Antwerp and Limburg, should never have been flown. The bad flight and the large number of losses weren"t a result of bad luck or chance. That race just COULDN"T have had a good ending.

A race over more than 400 kilometer in scorching temperatures and with a head wind, that is just too much for young pigeons.

You"d think that the organizers would know that, wouldn"t you?

Now they shot themselves in the foot, because it meant that there were a lot less pigeons in the race from Bourges.

The Dutch (in the south of Holland) were a little wiser. There too, the race fromOrleans was planned (with OLD pigeons). But the organizers shortened the race by150 kilometers and extra night in the basket.

The result was that this race (from Creil) progressed without any problems.

To allow young pigeons to race in (at places) 35 degrees Celsius and with a head wind, while you sit in the shade, watching them come back with a large drink by your elbow?