At the end of a far-reaching and complex study such as this, it is customary to attempt to arrive at some reasoned summary of what has been discovered, and some conclusions as to how the situation, such as it is, could be improved. If one asks Lord Denning’s stereotypical. 'man on the Clapham omnibus’ about cockfighting the answer will almost certainly be that it used to go on, but died out years ago. Never slow to offer firm opinions on things that he knows nothing about, our Clapham man has not noticed that all around him people continue to take part in a sport that he firmly believes is almost extinct. In itself this raises as many questions as it answers.
Never a Sunday goes by without some element of the popular press treats us to a gore-laden animal cruelty story, which in some cases, as has been proved, has been made up or created by the newspaper’s own staff purely for sensationalism with a view to selling as many newspapers as possible. The stories vary from cruelty to agricultural livestock, right across the scale to cruelty in the illegal trade in endangered species. Another element spend their time trying to persuade the public that ordinary legitimate hunting, shooting and fishing should be abolished as inhuman cruelties, and affronts to civilisation. no matter what one’s personal views on lawful fieldsports, the fact is that they are just that - lawful.
The media share with the man in the street the fact that they are not noticing a huge catalogue of true offending that is taking place all around them. The prosecution authorities appear to be in very much the same position, be they true law enforcement agencies such as the police or H.M. Customs, or self-appointed private prosecutors such as the RSPCA or the RSPB. The RSPCA are a particular case in point because it is they who spend a vast sum of donors’ money every year on trying to have field sports abolished. Whilst it would not be right to suggest that they ignore cockfighting, it must be correct to surmise that if they spent as much money on detecting cockfighting which is illegal, as they are prepared to spend on attacking field sports which is legal, perhaps more offenders would appear before the courts. Again, somewhere along the line someone has to arrive at a policy decision that ‘detecting’ animal fighting activities does not include paying habitual criminals to go out and 'frame’ people who would not otherwise have taken part in an offence. The lengthy and proven list of dubious activities by the staff of the News of the World is a case in point.
So, what is to be done about it? Normally at the end of a study into offences of a particular kind, One is expected to make useful suggestions as to changes in the law which might diminish the problem. With cockfighting the legislators have already found that making it a criminal offence has not achieved that end. This study has shown that the sport is one participated in by all levels of society, including a large minority of professional people who one would not normally consider to be candidates for criminal prosecution. Doctors, lawyers and the like are not burglars, muggers and football hooligans. When this sort of person does appear before the courts it tends to be for really major frauds under the aegis of the Serious Fraud Office, or for sexual offences. One can almost detect a curious sort of connection between certain types of sex offence and cockfighters, not because either one leads to the other, but because both tend to be carried out clandestinely with the consent of the parties. The sort of offences to which this applies include buggery, importuning for immoral purposes by male homosexuals, sado-masochistic practices which cause injury, possession of certain obscene materials, and living off immoral earnings. In every cockfighting case, and in the sexual cases mentioned above, those involved take part by consent, express or implied, and where such activities are consensual, no harm is caused to any other member of the community who is not directly involved.
That being the case, there is a considerable weight of opinion in the human rights movement that these activities should not be offences against the criminal law at all. Those who disagree with that say that the laws are needed to prevent these people being free to influence the young into their way of thinking, and therefore starting a general moral degeneration of society. That argument has a rather hollow ring to it in the light of the current state of British social behaviour, where deviant behaviour, both criminologically and sexually is trumpeted by the mass media as if it was almost compulsory.
Let us examine at this stage whether cockfighting should be an offence. Let me say that it is no function of mine to put the cockfighters’ case for them. My job as an academic researcher is merely to bring the various arguments to public attention for interpretation in any way that the reader wishes. Firstly, we know that it does not directly harm anyone. To say that it encourages people to take up the sport which is an offence, and therefore there is an element of moral turpitude involved, is a circular argument which does not contribute anything. One of the most telling arguments arose in the study from a man who spoke about the poultry production industry. He said that in naked-heel cockfighting at least, the birds were reared in conditions approaching ‘chicken heaven’ and all they had to do for it was participate in a bird boxing/wrestling match in which they stood as much chance of being killed as a boxer does. The cocks loved to fight because it was their natural instinct, and as birds go they fight because it was their natural instinct, and as birds go they lived a contented life. On the other hand there was commercial poultry production. Chickens are kept in the dark with no exercise, and constantly fed an unnaturally high protein broiler grower meal to make them grow as fast as possible. When they were of table size they were dragged out into the daylight and put in crates on the back of a lorry, in extremely crowded conditions without benefit of food or water. They are driven for hours across country at high speed in freezing conditions to processing plants. On arrival they are hung upside down on a rail alive, and are then carried towards electric knives which slice their heads off. This man could not understand how society could say that what he was doing was cruelty, whereas what the food industry did was not.
Another aspect of the attitude of society to animal welfare appears in what actually happens to convicted cruelty offenders in court. Cockfighters say with ample justification that if they get caught they will be sent straight to prison, so why is it that if they were to be convicted of mugging a pensioner in the street they would get a fine, a Probation Order, a Community Service Order or a suspended sentence of imprisonment? The position is often summed up as “beat your dog - six months in prison: beat your wife - no further action”. Anyone who works regularly in animal litigation knows just how true this is. It has taken years for family law specialists to persuade the criminal justice system that serious efforts need to be made to protect women from domestic violence, yet new legislation to control dangerous dogs is rushed through with a haste that is nothing short of indecent.
The system obviously puts a much higher emphasis on protecting people from dogs, than it does on protecting them from each other, notwithstanding that the incidence of serious domestic assault exceeds the incidence of serious dog bites several thousand fold. Twenty years ago when I was serving as a newly recruited police constable in one of the rougher areas of Portsmouth, it was entirely standard for our shift to attend eight to twelve incidents of family violence on a Friday and Saturday night shift, all of which were routinely glossed over and written off under the general heading of “Domestic dispute - No further action required. Advice given”. At an early stage I asked my Tutor Constable precisely what advice a nineteen year old police recruit was supposed to give to a drunken hooligan at war with his own family.
“That’s easy lad. They can pack it in, or all be nicked for Breach of the Peace”.
The position has not changed that much. Serious assaults are ignored, but if a neighbour complains that someone might be keeping a fighting cock, the police and RSPCA will descend upon the alleged miscreant in droves, at any hour of the day or night. They will turn babies out of bed, frighten children so that they have nightmares for weeks afterwards, seize all manner of materials that are obviously nothing whatever to do with any criminal offence, and generally act in a fashion that would certainly not be forthcoming if they were investigating a burglary. The above is exactly what has happened to several people questioned in the research. It is very hard to arrive at any conclusion other than that the criminal justice system has seriously misplaced its priorities somewhere along the way. Most of the above constitutes a considerable body of evidence that cockfighting should not be an offence at all, or if it is, it should not be an offence carrying a sentence of imprisonment.
Now let us look at the other side of the coin, and the attitude of those who believe that cockfighting should continue to be an offence greeted with the loathing of most right-thinking people. Why should we be permitted to inflict suffering on any animal, or allow any animal to inflict suffering upon itself, for our sporting gratification? At the extreme of this point of view are people such as the Animal Liberation Front and the league Against Cruel Sports both of whom have active elements who support terrorist activities for the protection of animals. Slightly more moderate, but only just, are the RSPCA who believe that cockfighting is a cruelty on the same level as dogfighting.. It was indeed unfortunate for the Society when in 1991 they unearthed from their Executive Council a man called Robin Webb who declared himself to be the Press Officer of the Animal Liberation Front. The law abiding members of the Society knew that all he could do was to resign from the RSPCA Council because his stance as a spokesman for terrorist criminals was incompatible with his position on the Executive Council. They were wrong. Webb refused to resign. Eventually a motion was raised to expel him. It passed by fourteen votes to six. At least six Council members did not see fit to condemn the infliction of death and injury on human beings, and the wanton destruction of the property of innocent people. One may draw from those facts the inferences that one will about what the Society is truly about.
There can be little doubt that the Society did its anti-cockfighting activities incalculable damage by its vocal support for the anti-fox hunting Bill that failed to pass the House of Commons on 14th February 1992. A great deal of the cockfighting takes place in isolated rural areas, and detecting it requires the goodwill of the countryside community at large. That goodwill has been at a low ebb for some years since the Society started to move away from animal cruelty priorities towards the anti-hunting lobby. After the campaign to promote the Bill, it seems that any remaining will of the ordinary countryman to co-operate with the Society has all but disappeared, and with it has gone the inclination to inform on cockfighters. Allowing that the great majority of the population think that it should continue to be an offence, we return to the question about what will stop the sport. I am firmly convinced that the one thing that will not stop cock-fighters is the law. Over 150 years of experience has proved that beyond any shadow of a doubt. In the current social climate we as a society can no more control the cockers than we can control Freemasonry or the ‘old boy’ network that permeates government, the Civil Service, and the military. Cockfighters are like the Mafia, the Tongs, or the Yardies, but with interests in a different type of offence. The only thing that can stop any group of socially ingrained offenders is a change in social attitude. At the time of writing, Britain is experiencing a period of increasing social disaffection, and in .my view it is no coincidence at all that cockfighting also is in a renewed growth phase, and shows every sign of once again becoming an overt, rather than covert part of animal life. I fear that the law enforcement authorities and the legislators have only themselves to blame.
The Modern Cockfighter’s Dictionary
AMERICAN HATCH A type of gamefowl in common use for fighting with spurs, especially across the Midlands. These days the so-called Hatch birds bear almost no relation to the original American strain of that name.
ASIL The most common type of Oriental game fowl fought in Britain. Whilst it is a specific breed, it is also a generic term commonly used by cockers to describe virtually anything nondescript but of Oriental origin. Often seen spelt ‘Aseel’.
BAG DAY A day at the end of the normal cockfighting season when any remaining fit birds are matched on an ad hoc basis, with very little regard to breeding, weight or anything else.
BATTLECOCK The fighting bird resulting from the crossing of specific brood stock, producing a bird with hybrid vigour. Battlecocks are for fighting only and are not used as brood stock themselves, at least not by serious breeders.
BARE-HEEL See ‘NAKED-HEEL’.
BLINKER A fighting cock that has been blinded in one eye in a previous battle.
BLOODY-HEELED A fighting cock which delivers a particularly accurate and killing thrust with a spur.
BOXING GLOVES See ‘MUFFS’.
BRACE TOE The toes of a cock, one on each foot, that stick out at the back below the natural spurs.
BRIDLE A leather device which is fitted over the head and beak of a fighting cock to prevent it injuring the other bird in training fights. Some are made in Britain, but some are imported from Taiwan.
CAPE That part of a cock’s plumage on the neck; ie, the hackle. Also between the shoulders , but this is usually referred to as the ‘saddle’.
CHICKEN LADS Term used by ‘steel’ cockers to describe naked-heelers, generally with contempt. In the north of England used freely and without any undertones as an expression for cockers.
COCK A male fowl that is more than 12 months old.
COCK CAKE A particular cooked mixture of various grains and eggs used to feed cocks in ‘keep’. It is not unlike a Madeira Cake.
COCKEREL A male fowl that is less than 12 months old.
COCKER Anyone who is regularly involved in cockfighting either as a breeder, handler or spectator.
COCKPIT The arena in which cock fights are held. Commonly they are made of straw bales, but gypsy naked-heelers often use a combination of old doors and corrugated iron sheets which can be knocked down into an unrecognisable pile of scrap at a moment’s notice.
COCK-OF-THE-WALK The winner of a WELSH MAIN.
COMB The ridge of red flesh along the top of a cock’s head.
DERBY A type of cockfighting contest popular in the southern States of the USA.
DEVONSHIRE MAIN A contest in which birds are matched in pairs in ascending order of weight at one ounce intervals, generally from 41b up to 61b 6oz.
DIDICOIS (DIDIKAIS ) Regional expression for travelling gypsies. Originates from a Romany gypsy term of abuse for a half-bred Romany/non-Romany. A serious insult to a true Romany cocker. People have been killed for calling a true Romany gypsy a ‘Did’. Anyone dealing with gypsies should never refer to them, at least to their faces, by any generic expression other than ‘gypsies’.
DIDS See DIDICOIS
DUB To cut off a bird’s comb and wattles. Usually done after the bird has undergone its first moult.
DUBBING SHEARS Special surgical scissors used for dubbing cocks.
DUNGHILL BIRD Any mongrel cock such as may be seen around virtually any farmyard. In general use as a term of abuse amongst naked-heelers for the birds of anyone who they don’t think much of. An insult not to be used in the presence of the owner of the said bird.
FALSE SOCKET An aluminum fitting used to attach spurs of the French type to the cock’s leg.
FEEDS The nourishment regimes applied to a cock in training for fighting.
FEEDER Someone who conditions birds for fighting. Historically different from the ‘pitter’ but today generally the same person.
FLUFF Feathers around a cock’s vent.
FRENCH SPURS General name for spurs which are straight rather than curved. True French spurs are fitted in a different way to the English pattern, using another piece of metal as a base, called a False Socket (q.v.)
GAFFS Artificial cock spurs.
GRIT & STEEL America’s top cockfighting magazine, published in Gaffney, South Carolina, and widely read amongst British cockers.
HACK-FIGHT American expression for an ad hoc contest.
HACKLE Plumage of a cock around the neck and shoulders.
HANDLER Someone who fights cocks in the pit, historically known as ‘pitters’ and ‘setters’.
HEEL The cock’s spur, artificial or natural. To ‘heel’ a cock is to fit artificial spurs to it.
HEELER A person who fits spurs; also a particularly good fighting cock.
HEELING BOOTS Rubber covers that are fitted onto a fighting cock’s legs, around the leg and over the stub of the natural spur, on top of which the rest of the spur assembly is tied on.
HEN A female fowl over 12 months of age.
HOTS See ‘MUFFS’.
HUNG When a cock whilst fighting manages to impale himself or his opponent on a spur in suc a way that he cannot pull it out himself, he is said to be ‘hung’.
HYDERABAD A type of Indian game fowl, used by naked-heelers.
KAKERS Gypsy cockers. See DIDIKAIS.
KEEP The time during which a cock is being prepared for a fight. During this period it is said to be ‘in keep’.
KEEPS See ‘FEEDS’ Alternative expression.
LEASH The tether by which a fighting cock is pegged out on a piece of grass to prevent him getting at other cocks in an unwanted fight.
LEATHERS Strips of soft leather binding used to fix spurs to the cock’s legs.
LUNGED Struck through the lung by a spur.
MAIN A series of battles between the matched cocks of two people. The winner of the majority of battles wins the main. If there are an even number of battles, the first to win half is the overall winner.
MALAY A type of Oriental game fowl, often crossed with Asils to produce a fighting bird. Used by naked-heelers.
MAT The floor of the pit.
MEXICAN KNIVES Also known as ‘Mexican Slashers’ these are a type of slashing spur alleged to originate from South America, but which were in fact mostly made in Sheffield, England, and exported.
MUFFS Soft balls of leather or similar material fitted to birds during sparring to prevent injury. They are best described as miniature boxing gloves, fitted over the natural spurs or the stubs of the natural
NAKED HEEL The natural spur of a cock.
NAKED HEELED Not fitted with artificial spurs.
NAKED-HEELER Someone who fights birds without artificial spurs, usually confined to fighters of Oriental crosses, especially in the eastern counties.
OXFORD CLUB The Oxford Old English Game Fowl Club, Britain’s top secretive society of ‘steel’ cockfighters.
PEA-COMB The type of comb peculiar to Oriental game fowl, also known in some areas as ‘rose-comb’.
PIKEYS Gypsy cockers. See DIDIKAIS.
PIT See ‘COCKPIT.
PHYSIC 1. Physical exercise used to condition cocks during preparation for fighting.
2. Purgative preparation of ‘medicine’ administered to cocks when they come in from their walks, prior to their being put in keep. Like cockfighting itself it is illegal, because it is an administration without the supervision of a Veterinary Surgeon.
PUFFER See ‘HANDLER’.
POTTERS Gypsy cockers. See DIDIKAIS.
PULLET A female fowl that is under the age of 12 months.
ROSE-COMB See ‘PEA-COMB’.
RUNNER A cock that runs away from his opponent in the pit.
SADDLE The plumage on a cock’s back between the CAPE and the tail.
SCORE The line drawn across a cock pit, three feet either side of the centre line from which under certain rules cocks are initially pitted.
SCREW 1. The act of killing a fowl by wringing its neck.
2. A bird that is in poor condition or ill to the extent that it is about to suffer having its neck wrung.
3. A general term of abuse applied to other peoples’ fowls which, like all cockers’ insults, should be used sparingly.
SHAKEBAG A large cock, generally over the normal top weight of 61b 6oz. Not fought in Mains, but fought ‘ad hoc’ as a separate issue.
SHAKES Short for SHAKEBAGS.
SHANK Part of a cock’s leg between the hock and the toes.
SHAMO A type of Oriental game fowl originating from Japan.
SHURLING Trimming the feathers of a fighting cock. Very rare these days because most rules do not allow it, and because in any event the only reason for doing it is for the purpose of cockfighting.
SICKLES Crescent-shaped tail feathers.
SLASHER A type of spur used in the Far East, and rarely in Britain. One only is fitted to a foot of the bird. There are a variety of different types.
SPARRING Training fights without spurs, and with the natural spurs or stubs fitted with muffs or covered with masking tape to prevent injuries.
STAG See ‘COCKEREL’. An expression only used by cockers.
STEEL An artificial metal cock spur.
STEELED A cock that has been impaled on a spur of his opponent.
STEELER A person who fights cocks with metal spurs. An expression generally used by naked- heelers.
STUB The bony projection that is left after a cock has had his natural spur removed. The artificial spur is fitted over the stub.
TAIWAN CRAP Inferior imported cockfighting equipment, often sold in day-glo colours.
TEEPEE A triangular shaped field-shelter and perch for a tethered game cock.
TOTTERS Gypsy cockers. See DIDIKAIS.
TOURNAMENT A particular type of cockfight popular in the southern States of the USA.
TRIO An increasingly popular purchase unit of three birds, comprising one cock and two hens. Although historically an unknown husbandry method, keeping birds as trios has become increasingly common in the last few years amongst naked-heelers.
WALK A place in the open countryside where birds are kept whilst maturing.
WATTLES The two pieces of red-coloured flesh hanging down below a cock’s beak.
WELSH MAIN A ‘knockout’ cockfight, the surviving bird being the winner. Considered unacceptable by most cockers because the eventual winner may have to fight up to five times.
Anon. Ed. The Feathered Warrior, Dowd Publishers, DeQueen (Arkansas USA) Various Editions.
Alken, Henry. The National Sports of Great Britain ,Thomas McLean, London, 1823.
Atkinson, H.E. Cockflghting and Gamefowl, Nimrod Press Ltd., Alton, 1977.
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Heber, R. Rules Relating to the Matching & Fighting of Cocks in London, Regionald Heber, London, 1752.
Hodge, Mary M. (Ed) Grit & Steel, DeCamp Publishing Co. Gaffney (South Carolina USA) Various Editions.
Johnson, W.T. Johnson’s Breeders’ & Cockers’ Guide , The Lundy Game Farm, Americus (Georgia USA) Undated.
Johnson, W.T.Johnson’s History of Game Strains, The Lundy Game Farm, Americus (Georgia USA) Undated.
Leverett, Faye (Ed) The Gamecock , Marburger Publishing Co. Inc., Hartford (Arkansas USA) Various Editions.
Luster, Robert G.McCall’sRule sof the Cockpit Grit& Steel, Gaffney, (South Carolina USA) Undated.
Parkes C. & Thomley J. Fair Game, Pelham Books, London 1988.
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Prescott, Sir Mark The Dispersal Sale of Game Fowl Souvenir Catalogue of the only public gamefowl sale held this century. Newmarket Auctions, Newmarket. 1991.
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Scott, George R. History of Cockfighting ,Triplegate Ltd., Hindhead, 1983.
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Wortham, D. Henry Modern Tournament and Derby Rules ,The Gamecock, Hartford (Arkansas USA) 1961.
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