(2012)This time of year I generally find myself staring at the wall trying to think of something to write. The testing ban is in force so there’s no real news, and there’s only so much discussion on the subject of a common ECU that a human can stand. The uncanny parallels between Casey Stoner and Freddie Spencer – young, outsiders, blazingly fast, didn’t hang around long? Did that last month.
And so as a change from staring at the wall I stare at my filing cabinet; which is covered in stickers. Some of them are pretty old: Bols d’Or from the 1980s, Joey Dunlop on an RVF, the Yugoslav GP, an early Transatlantic Trophy from the ’70s. There aren’t many new ones; one from Simon Crafar’s Motovudu race school might be the only one from this century. The really historic ones were left behind on the back of a bathroom door in my first flat in South London. My then wife refused to let me move it to the new house. Why aren’t there any new ones? Apart from a few weird ones with cute dinosaurs in leathers that I picked up in Japan, I don’t remember seeing any. When I’d been working in this game for a few years there was a small circle of journos, three of us to be precise, who had an agreement. If one of us found an interesting new sticker he had to get three of them—which explains some of the weirder items on my filing cabinet.
There was a standard joke about kids at bike shows going from stand to stand asking “Got any stickers, mister?” I didn’t hear that once at Birmingham this year. Is it a generational thing? There used to be something special about a sticker. I remember one French magazine giving away a sticker with its Bol d’Or preview; it said “I’m going!” if you did go to Circuit Paul Ricard you got a sticker, identical but for the wording, which said “I was there!” They were all over the bikes heading back up the autoroute on Sunday night. Race teams and sponsors used to give them out. I’ve still got a few Patrick Pons stickers from when he was sponsored by Gauloises. I must have picked them up at Brands or Silverstone in the mid-70s at one of the big international meetings that packed the calendar back then when there weren’t so many GPs. I probably stuck one of them on my Everoak for the journey home – you didn’t have bikes with fairings on the road then unless you rode a BMW so there was nowhere else to put them. Later, my Yamaha Power Valve had a discrete Nobby Ueda sticker either side of the fairing. Plastering bikes with stickers isn’t cool; plastering toolboxes and filing cabinets is.
Stickers were part of teams’ and sponsors’ marketing effort, and were part of the mystique of motorcycling. Sometime in the last twenty years, that seems to have faded away. Anyone under 50 is probably wondering what the hell I’m talking about. Well I feel that we’ve lost something, there was a particular joy in getting your hands on a quality sticker from a top team. In fact, there still is. There are secretive individuals lurking in the shadows in press rooms, garages, and even major manufacturers, who keep alive the cult of the sticker. Very little of the material they trade has any monetary value, with the exception of some of the early Marlboro stickers for the company’s sponsored riders. The valuable ones show people you’ve never heard of, the ones with Barry Sheene or Ago on are easy to find. What is the attraction? What’s the attraction of collecting anything? I suppose it’s memories, the evocation of a place and an event that made a mark on your memory, for whatever reason. Maybe they’re redundant now that everything is instantly available on You Tube. Although searching on there reveals just how primitive and limited TV coverage was not many years ago. Have you watched a GP covered with two cameras? You will if you search out Mick Doohan’s first win.
There’s another problem with writing things like this: how to finish the piece. Only one thing to do for inspiration; excuse me while I stare at the stickers on my filing cabinet for a while.