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Belgium is a typical European city, with many narrow cobblestone
streets that twist and turn and meander up and around a rather hilly,
picturesque setting. The older part of the city was built on both sides
of the historic Meuse River which nearly doubles back on itself at one
point as it flows through the virtual center of the bustling landscape.
A number of impressive bridges link east to west and imbue the city with
a certain charm and beauty. Slender brick buildings, most not taller than
three stories, line the streets and extend right to the edge of the narrow
sidewalks, conveying the inimitable air of intimacy that I personally
find so charming about Europe. Liège is nestled in the hill country at
the southeastern tip of the tiny nation of Belgium. A few miles to the
east lies Germany, no more than 20 miles to the north lies Holland, and
a mere 50 mile drive south will put you into Luxembourg.
Not far from the outskirts of the city one is presented with an eye-pleasing panorama of miles upon miles of rolling hills, most planted with wheat or barley. Liège is a place held dear in the hearts of a legion of pigeon fanciers the world over, not necessarily because of its scenery or charm, or its historical significance in the world of politics. To racing pigeon fanciers, Liège means much more than that, for it has been associated for nearly 100 years now as the home city of one of the biggest names the sport of pigeon racing has ever known. This name stands equal, or above, in the eyes of some, to those of Janssen, Stichelbaut, Delbar, Bricoux, Stassart and Sion. It is the name of a strain whose impact on the sport has spanned not mere decades… but generations. Birds of this strain have influenced lofts from grandfathers to their grandchildren, and the name… to this day, is spoken with reverence in pigeon circles the world over. The name… Fabry. The master… Georges. The club… "L'Indépendante de Liège."
VISITING AT AN HISTORIC BELGIAN CLUB
I've been a regular visitor to the L'Indépendante de Liège for the better part of the last seventeen years and have, from time to time, found myself in awe just walking into such an historic racing pigeon enclave. It doesn't take much to imagine Georges Fabry himself walking through the doors with his basket of champions ready to ship a race, for the décor and setting seem to be nearly unchanged from the days when the great master frequented the place. Today's L'Indépendante de Liège is still a viable, fully-functioning club, one that boasts among the strongest memberships in the entire province of Liège as nearly 65 members still compete there.
As guest of my Belgian "cousin," Ferry Lambrecht, who is currently president of the L'Indépendante de Liège, I have spent many hours at this club, sometimes helping to basket birds, sometimes standing at the bar sipping a beer, often sitting at one of the small rectangular tables with other members, having a coffee and just talking pigeons… that is, if I can find someone who speaks English, as French is the primary dialect here in this southernmost city of Belgium. Many times I find myself just absorbing the atmosphere of a place so revered in the world of pigeon racing, that for some, it is practically a shrine. Many stories have been told over the years detailing the exploits of the famous master who shipped his birds from here… and his world-famous pigeons. Since Ferry Lambrecht's father and grandfather were both long-time members of the club, they competed on a weekly basis with Georges Fabry, and they knew him very, very well, and considered him a family friend.
THE FABRY FANCIERS
Ferry can remember many times going to the club as a young boy and later as a young man and basketing his birds alongside the great master. One night, not many years after I began visiting the famous "L'Indépendante," I was standing in line with Ferry waiting our turn to basket his birds for the upcoming race, when with a twinkle in his eye he pulled me over to a middle-aged man for introduction. When Ferry introduced the man to me as "Georges Fabry," at first I thought Ferry was pulling one of his typical jokes. After a few moments, I realized that Ferry wasn't kidding… this time. The man's name truly was "Georges Fabry." I was a bit taken aback, as I knew that the late Georges Fabry had one son, whose name was Victor, but I had not known that there was a younger brother named after his world famous father.
Of course, later that evening the inevitable question had to come, "Was this Georges Fabry a good fancier, and did he still have the birds of the old family lines of his father?" At that time, about all I knew of the Fabry legacy was that Victor had inherited the home loft, (that famous icon to a world of Fabry enthusiasts known as "Mas Palomas") and most of the birds. However, Victor had been in bad health for some time and, other than winning the general championship of the "L'Indépendante" in 1977, he had really not competed very successfully for years. In fact, no one that I had spoken to in the area of Liège, indeed in all of Belgium, seemed to think that the really good Fabry pigeons still existed at "Mas Palomas" in Liège, so it was with a great deal of intrigue that I began to think of the possibilities with this younger Georges Fabry.
Ferry explained that Georges Junior was a veterinarian in Liège and that, yes, he did compete and was a very successful fancier, but that his veterinary practice kept him from participating alone, so he had gone into partnership with his father-in-law, and had competed very successfully under the name "Nelis-Fabry" for a number of years. In fact, a check of the records of the general championships of the L'Indépendante de Liège, shows the name "Nelis-Fabry" as winner of the "General Championship" for the years 1968 and 1969. As his father-in-law became older and fell into poor health, Georges had to strike out on his own, but due to limited time, was not able to continue flying for the championships. As far as what birds the younger George was competing with, Ferry did not know for certain, but he assumed that some of them were from the same lines as his famous father. Little did I know that it would take twelve long years to finally get the answer to that simple question.
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Georges Fabry was only too happy to show us this painting, and he began
to really beam as he took us through the house into the back of the building,
where his veterinary office obviously used to be. On the walls were at
least a dozen more pictures and paintings, almost all of them of old Fabry
birds, but a couple of them were of people. One particularly interesting
picture was a black and white shot of his famous father, obviously in
his loft inspecting a bird, with his loft manager and a woman. Georges
explained that the woman in the picture was his mother, and that she was
as avid a pigeon fancier as his father. That certainly surprised me, because
of all the documents I've ever read concerning the great Fabry loft and
birds, there seems never to have been any mention of Georges Fabry's wife
as being involved with the birds in any way. Yet, here it came, proof
positive from a picture and testimony from her son. Georges further explained
that this picture was taken as the birds were being examined at the loft
just prior to being taken to the club for one of the big national races.
Now I was certain that the younger Georges Fabry had never had a chance
to be anything but a pigeon fancier. He had inherited the bug from both
of his parents!
As we looked around, Fred and I both noticed that the entire top shelf of one cabinet in the veterinary room housed some fairly impressive trophies. A quick inquiry gave us information that most of those trophies were won within the last few years, as Georges didn't like keeping old trophies around. I was becoming more and more impressed and glad that we had finally found a way to make this visit.
THE FABRY LOFT
After a few minutes of getting acquainted, and a short "toddy," we were all ushered out to the small garden loft just outside the back door of the veterinary room. As one walks out onto the patio of Georges's back yard, it becomes immediately obvious that space is at a premium in Georges Fabry's garden, and either because of that, or because he has never cared to have more, we found ourselves looking upon a small breeding loft that houses only eight pairs of stock birds. This little loft is even split in two, and during the old bird racing season, one half of it houses the widow hens! I've been visiting Belgium and other parts of Europe for seventeen years and I always find it refreshing to find the small loft that is having excellent success, but honestly, I never in my wildest imagination expected to find such a loft associated with the name "Georges Fabry." As we took a peek inside the tiny breeder loft, sure enough, I counted only eight nest boxes, with only one cock in each box. I was already impressed, but seeing the sheen on each bird impressed me even more. Super health was in great abundance in that tiny breeder loft!
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Georges did not
offer to let us handle any of the breeders, which was a little disappointing,
but shortly afterward I knew why, as he explained that the breeder hens
had just laid their first eggs, and were sitting on them just behind
the partitioned nest boxes. The affable Georges did not disappoint us
though, as we were led around a corner of the garden to the racing loft
and were allowed to enter. First impression was that this was an old
and quite well-used loft, modest at best, surely nothing to compare
with some of the huge modern marvels one so often sees at the professional
operations dotting Belgium today. The loft was divided into three main
sections. The first two, for old birds, had widowhood boxes on the back
and side walls. The last section was smaller and was set up with just
perches for young birds. Each of the first two sections housed about
18 widowhood boxes, and Georges explained that he normally races around
20 old cocks, 16 yearlings and about 40 young birds. The setup was typical
of a classic widowhood operation where only the cocks are raced. Georges
explained through Ferry that he only raced his hens as young birds,
and afterwards, the best of them are saved to become widow hens and
Just the recent
|MASTER OF NARBONNE
As Fred and I finally pried ourselves from the lofts I could not help but feel as though we had stumbled across some undiscovered gem, one that had been sitting in front of our eyes for the past seventeen years! Why had I waited so long to visit this man?!!! Once back inside the warmth of the office we were treated to another "toddy," which Georges seems to enjoy sharing with his guests. At this point Georges began to open up a little about his own accomplishments, and explain things about the pictures and paintings on the walls. It doesn't take long to note that Georges Fabry is not a man who likes to attract attention. Everything about his manner is understated, yet one can also see that he is a very proud person, proud of his father's accomplishments, and proud of his own. As Fred and I moved around the little veterinary office taking closer looks at all of the memorabilia, we couldn't help but ask about the various trophies lining the top of his veterinary cabinet.
Georges's eyes twinkled especially bright as he pulled one huge trophy down and explained the details. On the face of the trophy was the following inscription, "Les Amis du Grand Fond Provincial 2006, Narbonne 1-2-3, Georges Fabry." The gist of what this means is that Georges Fabry was awarded the trophy from the "L'Indépendante de Liège" for winning the 1st , 2nd and 3rd positions for the Provincial Narbonne race, a distance for Georges of nearly 500 miles. It was also discovered that Georges had the 108th and 275th National positions in that race as well, against 6,033 birds! His winning cock was on the wing 13 hours, 29 minutes and 5 seconds. What was even more interesting was that Georges took the three top prizes… and only shipped four birds! It became very evident to me what type of family Georges has developed over the years through selecting for the type of racing he likes to do. He prefers the long-distance one-day events, and Narbonne seems to be the station that fits his birds best. It is 485 miles to his loft, and most years, because of the extremely long summer days in Belgium, he can get his birds home on the day of release. Another example of the prowess of these Fabry birds at the Narbonne distance is noted by examining the 2005 Narbonne National. Once again Georges shipped only four birds, and he placed 31st, 77th and 621st nationally against 9,224 of the best birds in Belgium!
A few other examples might shed a little more light on what kind of fancier Georges Fabry is. The 2006 Jarnac Provincial race had 1,018 birds going 350 miles. Georges shipped only one bird, a six-year-old cock. It placed 48th, and was on the wing 16 hours and 39 minutes on a very hard day, winning a very nice money prize. For another race, the 2006 Montlucon, 317 miles, Georges shipped six in the provincial against 475 nominated birds and took 6th and 51st . Both are top money positions. His first clock bird was a four-year-old cock. In the 2006 Clermont-Ferrand race against 1,734 birds, 425 miles, he placed 96th with a bird that had been on the wing 11 hours and 47 minutes…. again, a good money prize. His yearlings can do well also, as he placed 32nd this year, from the 2007 Soissons race, a distance of only about 152 miles, but he was going against 970 nominated yearlings, and it was a hard day.
On the 2007 Nevers race, for which I helped Ferry basket, Georges shipped six and clocked four in the money on a day when most fanciers struggled to get even one home. Georges plays the game the way the old Belgian fanciers played it. He plays for money. This means he bets his birds to win… and they usually do. To most of the old-time Belgian fanciers, first place, while it is a nice thing to win, and certainly can bring great profit if it is in a national event, is not so much the game as is having the designated bird win the designated prize. In Belgium, if a bird wins his prize, it means he won the money he was sent to win. The game is very different in Holland and Germany, where all birds are sent no matter the condition or preparation, but no money is bet, so large numbers of birds can show up on the result sheet. But to the Belgians this is a little like shooting fish in a barrel. It's high school… no strategy… no challenge to the fancier… and nowhere near the same level of preparation for each bird entered. The game is entirely different in Belgium. They think that to succeed on their method is to graduate from college with your master's degree. Many people believe that this is the reason why so many Dutch and German fanciers go to Belgium each year to buy birds, and why the birds in even the best Dutch and German lofts have Belgian pigeons as their forebears.
|The game that Georges Fabry plays doesn't just
involve having good birds. In Belgium, when you compete for money every
week with every bird entered, it is a given that you have good birds.
The game is to get those birds to win the money. And within
that framework, there is another game. It is the challenge of being astute
enough to select the proper bird for the proper race, and to know that
bird's condition so well that the fancier can choose what position the
bird will arrive home among all of his entries. To win big, the birds
must not only come home among the leaders in the competition, but also
must come home in the order that they were chosen to come! Nowhere else
in the world of pigeon racing does such a challenge exist to both the
pigeon and the fancier! Each bird is nominated at basketing, first,
second, third and so on, and that is the order in which the fancier must
clock them to maximize winning the money.
This is the game that Georges Fabry likes to play, and he plays it quite, quite well. To do so he takes his time with his birds. He doesn't push them too fast. He uses them like a master chess player would use his pieces. He guards them, nurtures them, lets them mature, until he is certain that he can count on them to bring home the "prize." Georges feels that one of his fully mature widow cocks, which is bred for the task, once in top condition, is hard to beat in any race, but especially so on the one-day long-distance events. He makes sure that the odds are in his favor by allowing his team to develop over time into a group of birds that he can count on to win the money. When he sends them out to win their prize, they rarely fail, and most of the time he is competing against fanciers who are sending many, many more birds than he does.
It took a return trip to Fabry's loft in May of 2007 for me to finally find out what I was burning to know about this family of birds. I would assume that the questions on everyone's minds as they read this article are, "What is the background of the birds?" "Do they still carry the genes of the old Fabry lines?" "How are they bred?" Well, I had managed to study the pedigree that Georges supplied with his auction bird before I made my second trip in May, so I had some idea about his breeding program, but obviously with only one bird, it is impossible to tell everything about the makeup of an entire loft. I had noticed in the pedigree of that very nice hen several band numbers from Holland. In a frank discussion with Georges in May, I was able to query him a little about that, and the overall makeup of his family today. He responded through Ferry Lambrecht as our interpreter.
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The roof trap
|Many years ago, in the late fifties and early sixties,
when Georges first started racing with his father-in-law as a partner,
he started with pigeons from his father. Obviously, he was able to get
the cream of the loft from the old famous lines, and whenever he needed
or wanted another bird, he went to the fountainhead, and got what he wanted.
Over the years, though, he also added birds, one or two from different
lofts around Belgium and later on, even some from the Netherlands. His
decision to add blood was always based on whether he thought a particular
loft of birds could help him achieve his goal of producing top-flight
long-distance one-day birds THAT COULD WIN THE MONEY!
He says that today the basis of his family is the old Fabry blood from his father to which he has added other top lines. To remain competitive, he feels as though it is what he has had to do. Of course the additions were only from the very top bloodlines of families that he already knew blended well with his birds. Just as his father was doing… Georges is doing. The Netherlands bands, for instance, are from the best of Van de Wegen. Georges also shared with us that he added an outstanding Devriendt cock to the family some years ago, and that addition made an impact. Over the years, others have been added, but only the ones that have made a major impact were allowed to stay. Today, the family is of his own making. The birds show themselves to be a great deal like the old Fabry birds in type, just as we might expect, but to remain competitive, Georges has done what all the very best lofts must do, and that is to add select birds now and again. No loft in the history of the world of pigeon racing has proven that it can maintain a high level of competitive ability for a sustained amount of time without additions of new blood. Not even Janssen.
Georges Fabry is obviously a very astute fancier. He is not stuck in a world of past glories, and certainly not stuck on the fad of trying to keep his famous father's strain "pure" for the sake of saying that it is. He is not out to sell pigeons, or gain personal glory. He is a well settled man, who does not, by any means, need to sell pigeons to make a living. He is a pigeon fancier, through and through, inherited from both sides of his family tree. He likes the GAME, and he plays it very well, fully intent on winning the money when he ships his birds to a race. He maintains a family that can accomplish that task to quite an accomplished level. He does not expect, nor does he much care about, what his birds win as young birds. In fact, he doesn't even race them much as young birds, and only sparingly as yearlings. He gradually introduces them to the task they will be expected to handle. As they mature, and prove they can handle the assigned task, they are asked to do more… until as two-, three-, four-, five- and even six-year-olds they can be relied upon to bring home their prize.
Today, Georges Fabry's family of birds is successful for the type of racing that he likes to do. That there is a high level of selection in his loft is evident just by walking onto his property. That these birds can compete at the highest levels for which they were bred is evident from studying the race reports. That they can be called "Fabry" is evident by the name on the plate at the entrance to the property.
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