Settle. Hush. Be still. For I will tell of wonders and you will disbelieve though all I say is true and you must take me at my word for I have seen many things. 

Gary Lineker, footballer, pundit, political activist, was once a national treasure. A figure much beloved. His only flirt with controversy being whether an injury to a big toe should really be sufficient to stop you pulling on a shirt just one more time. 

Stay! Stay by the fire. Listen. Learn. 

Twas in the far away land of Mexico that it all began. At the great games known as the World Cup and it was the year 1986. Then, a young Lineker, stripling slim and sporting the suntan that he would later reveal caused him so much angst, came to prominence as a champion on the field of glory.  A poacher with the art of timing, he popped up time and again to score goals from but a few yards out. 

On, on he surged adding a hat trick against Poland to see England out of the group stages. A hero. A hero born of man to defy the footballing gods. On past Paraguay and on further to meet Argentina, the vengeful ‘hand of God’, the immortal Maradonna – he’s dead now – and only a last gasp goal from our own golden boy to salvage pride from the shattered dreams of a nation. 

Ah. You draw closer.

Gary came back from the wars greatly honoured. A Golden Boot and booty more as he was swept away from Everton to Barcelona for millions and, madre dios, the Leicestershire grammar school boy only went and learnt Spanish, didn’t he? Well, the manager was El Tel. 

More success, then the 1990 World Cup, we couldn’t actually win it, could we? None shall sleep as we tuned in to win after win, Gary added another four to his tally, his own penalty against a semi-final West Germany – how ancient these tales are –  slotted with aplomb. The world is no longer in motion as others fail. Flawed heroes. The essence of tragedy. Gascoigne cries.

They write plays for Titans. Tamburlaine the Great. Oedipus Rex. Henry V. An Evening With Gary Lineker. 

Arthur Smith, the golden age of lad mag comedians, immortalised the 1990 iteration as a man so raised his farts smelled of perfume. Theatre-goers nightly hoping that the back-to-the-audience cameo of a mysterious number 10 was, as West End rumour suggested it sometimes was, Lineker himself.

FA Cups with Tottenham – ancient tales indeed – and, by 1994, a £200k deal advertising Walker’s crisps. “Salt and Lineker” for the armchair centre forwards. Goal hanging for the hanging bellies.

Toes. Time. One of which opponents one never beats. Decline. After the roar. When the cheering stops. The silence that deafens. 

Not so for Lineker who surged forward once again to hang forever on the goals of others. Match of the Day, Sports Personality of the Year, BT’s coverage of Champions League matches. £1.35m from the Beeb alone, what a score!

And yet, it seems, great Lineker must fall. 

His repeated political pronunciations , largely via Twitter , and for which the BBC under Tim Davie have already yellow carded him, speak of a man incapable of life without the home end cheer of approbation. Lineker banged home another. And Twitter rises to its feet in acclaim.

A man who once described himself as ‘making more runs to the left than the right’ has now described proposed legislation on immigration as reminiscent of  ‘Germany in the 1930s’. In case you hadn’t grasped the subtle undertow, that’s code for Nazism, the default setting for disagreement of which the Twitterati are notably fond and the idiocy of which I’ve described before. 

He has form in this inability to moderate himself. Describing the 2017 election between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn as between ‘far right or way left’. Well, perhaps one shot at least, was on target. 

Nor does he seem to possess much in the way of self-awareness. His podcast claims that he had received racist abuse for his ‘darkish skin’ were widely ridiculed and seemed destined to form part of the Titania McGrath comedy turn in which ‘she’ “can’t believe the prejudice I  have faced since I identified as black.” 

Lineker also recently attacked BP’s profits, tweeting “How do they get away with this avarice?” Lineker remains the BBC’s highest paid performer, was named in the Panama Papers, avoiding tax through the purchase of a Barbados home, and is currently appealing against a £4.9m tax bill claiming he was targeted by HMRC because of his fame.

And that’s without his inflammatory interventions during the last World Cup in Qatar.  

Why he continues so defiantly to court controversy is intriguing. Shrinks will tell you that mythology and psychology are closely linked. The great hero’s Achilles’ heel possibly being the caricature that footballers are thick. An unfair characterisation often based on snobbery as much as anything else. 

I once saw Lineker, who left school with four ‘O’ levels and a teacher’s condemnatory words ringing in his ears, do a turn at a London hotel.  He revealed he had once welcomed Paul Gascoigne to the Spurs dressing room by telling him his shirt was the one with his IQ on the back. Gascoigne, whose genius lay in his boots, played with the number eight on. Much hilarity and more still when Gascoigne sidled up and asked: “ Gary, man, what’s IQ?”

A good yarn or a scoring deflection is something only amateur psychologists can guess at. Either way, one might easily suggest that espousal of showy left wing politics and their seemingly off-the-peg sophistication is one to which sixth formers, sportsmen and not a few sporting journalists seem vulnerable.  

What Lineker does clearly fail to grasp as he responds to dire warnings from ‘BBC sources’ by saying he will ‘continue to speak up’ is more puzzling as a man who used to play team sports. 

As an individual he is, of course, entitled to his views but while presenting high profile televisual events as its highest paid turn,  he is literally the face of the BBC. One is all and all is one. The reputational credit card is not his own. The BBC’s schtick is impartiality and he is running up a bill at its expense. 

“Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough”, they used to chant at Millwall, far from the glamour of the Nou Camp, Italian World Cups and Sports Personality of the Year. Odd then, that Lineker should have come close to adopting its anthem in his relations with the BBC.  Lineker might be about to find that Auntie will and she is. And at that point the fans will start to leave before the match is over, as anyone who has never watched the Newsagents will tell you.

Nobody’s bigger than the team.  

Write to us with your comments to be considered for publication at