BIG READ: ‘When our pigeons return it feels like we’ve won the lottery!’

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As Eastern Angel soared through the sky, wings beating at a ferocious speed as she shot across the English Channel, her anxious owners were at home waiting hopefully for her safe return.

Flying at almost 50mph, she completed the 170-mile journey in just three hours and 15 minutes.

Kevin and John Zerafa with their champion pigeon, Eastern Angel  Picture: Chris Sutton

Kevin and John Zerafa with their champion pigeon, Eastern Angel Picture: Chris Sutton

Eastern Angel is a champion homing pigeon.

And last month she beat nearly 3,000 other birds to win The National Flying Club race from Fougeres to her home in Baffins.

Eastern Angel is part of a flock of 200 pigeons kept by John and Kevin Zerafa, a father and son team who have been racing pigeons for 23 years.

John and his son Kevin take part in races put on by The National Flying Club and a few weeks ago won a race they have been trying to win for 23 years.

The Milton Homing Society              Picture: Chris Sutton

The Milton Homing Society Picture: Chris Sutton

Kevin, 35 says: ‘I was taken aback. I cried when I was told I had won. It is my hobby, my passion and my love.’

John, 73, says: ‘It was my son who started it. Because he was only 12 or 13 and he needed money for the pigeons. ‘

‘I have been a member for 24 years and I absolutely love pigeon racing.

‘My favourite part is when they come home because it feels like winning the lottery.’

Gustav the pigeon being awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal for delivering the first message from a ship off the Normandy beaches during the Second World War

Gustav the pigeon being awarded the PDSA Dickin Medal for delivering the first message from a ship off the Normandy beaches during the Second World War

Each bird is marked with an electronic tag and then released from the starting point in France to make their way back to their loft.

Bred for racing, Eastern Angel travelled more than 170 miles at a speed of 45mph.

Kevin says: ‘I have been racing since 1994 so you can imagine the feeling you get when you have been doing something for 23 years.

‘I broke down in tears because I felt a cocktail of emotions.’

The pair belong to The Milton Homing Society which has around 25 members ranging from three years to 79.

Mick Johnson is the secretary of the club, which was established before the Second World War.

The 70 year-old says: ‘The oldest trophy we have is from 1929 so I believe it started around that time.

‘I started in 1962 because back then it was a family-orientated sport. My father had pigeons before me and he got me interested in them.

‘You get a sense of achievement.’

Mick wants new members to sign up to the club to keep the Pompey tradition going.

‘We are becoming more and more a retirement sport’ he 
says. ‘Although it is a very good hobby it is important to get the younger generation involved 
in it.

‘Some come for a few years, some stay with it and some of the youngsters that started with it then have families but the seed has been sown and they come back to it later in life.’

Alf Wheatcroft bought eggs for his children when they were young and now has 80 pigeons himself.

The 76 year-old says: ‘I got into it because of my kids.

‘I got a couple of birds for them and as soon as they hatched they didn’t want anything to do with them. I love this society as they are great and they will do anything for you. If one of us needs something we are all there.

‘We are 100 per cent a community.’

To see a video go to portsmouth.co.uk.