Lone Wolf and Barry Sheene

Barry Sheene
Barry Sheene

Ten years ago today, March 10, 2003, Barry Sheene died. No more the cheeky grin, the sparky response, the confident demeanour, the indomitable spirit. These character traits of a great competitor had met their match. The big "C" had won.


But not until after one helluva battle. Sheene eschewed many recommended treatments for this appalling disease, believing other forms of care plus his determination never to be beaten would be enough. But at the age of 52 he had to admit defeat. No, not admit. Concede.


It is difficult for anyone under the age of 40 to comprehend the phenomenon that was Barry Sheene. In the days before the culture of celebrity had been invented, Sheene alongside the likes of George Best was it.


Ask anyone in the street today to name a motorcycle rider and they will struggle. Not in the seventies, eighties or even now. Barry Sheene would have been on their lips in a second. Modern day fans may regard this as heresy, but the great Valentino Rossi doesn’t come close. Even in his native Italy, Rossi does not attract the headlines which adorned the multi-million selling tabloids chronicling the activities of the charismatic Cockney.


Sheene was much nearer to Best or Beckham today. It was his activities off the track which brought the coverage. When pundits indulge in the evergreen ‘greatest rider’ debate, it is unlikely that Sheene will figure despite winning two 500cc world championships in highly competitive company. But in column inches he will win hands down.


It was the fans wot done it. They just loved this ‘Jack the Lad’ character whose hi-jacking of the gorgeous Stephanie McLean from under the nose of her fashion photographer husband was a thing of dreams. Here was one of them doing what, indeed, they could only dream of.


And the ‘splash it on all over’ ads for Brut. It may not have been the greatest deodorant in the world but it put Sheene, a motorbike racer, on an equal footing with the most famous and best-loved sportsman in Britain, Henry Cooper.


But let’s not forget Sheene the racer. Twice world champion by his mid-twenties; multiple British champion in his teens; lapping the incredibly dangerous eight mile Spa circuit at 137.15mph in 1977; battling with great Kenny Roberts in that remarkable Silverstone GP in 1979 - and giving him the famous V sign in the process!


And then there were the crashes. The first in 1975 on the Daytona banking when his Suzuki triple went sideways and he unloaded at 175mph. Multiple fractures and an 18 inch pin did not prevent him returning to the track seven weeks later. That crash, filmed live by Thames Television doing a documentary on the rock-star racer, has been replayed a million times since.


Seven years later, in practice at Silverstone, he hit a fallen machine at 160mph. Both legs were smashed and the X-rays, showing several steel plates and two dozen screws, went round the world making Northampton General Hospital and surgeon Nigel Cobb famous.


Not only was he brilliant, he was brave. We should never say never, but it is unlikely we will see his like again.

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