First to raise his hand in support of the Gary Lineker Popular Front was his Match of the Day sidekick Ian Wright, who stood down from his role as a pundit in solidarity. One by one they followed suit. Alan Shearer and Alex Scott were not far behind. “Nah, not me,” she said. Marvelous, the BBC had a mutiny on its hands far more painful than the opprobrium of craven cabinet ministers.
The triple protest piled the pressure on the rest of the MOTD family, making a poisoned chalice of presenting the BBC’s flagship football show. Clearly any with a healthy interest in the world around them as well as footy risk being rounded up by the far right and locked in the same cupboard as Lineker. The exiled one made it clear in a text broadcast by his old BBC colleague and Football Focus presenter Dan Walker that he was ordered out of the studio against his wishes.
Quite apart from the illiberal attitude of an organisation bending to the will of a Home Office minister, the more pertinent issue for fans of the game is the ease with which their interests, that is the interests of the audience, have been set aside.
How viewers of Sky must wish they could be guided through the football maelstrom by a presenter free of the bias and inane banter that passes for punditry on the subscription channel. Hold on a minute. Maybe Sky will punish the BBC for their appalling failure to recognise the right of an employee to an opinion by inviting Lineker to Osterley for talks about heading up their Premier League coverage.
Lineker’s distanced appreciation of all the participants despite his obvious love of Leicester City is central to MOTD’s appeal, his nuanced gags part of the show’s charm. And he would surely clip Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher around the lug holes the moment they started chuntering on about Manchester United and Liverpool.
Lineker understands that, as popular as the twin towers of the English game are, they are outnumbered by fans of other teams who care zip for United’s trauma following a 7-0 defeat or the triumphalism of Liverpool after a 7-0 win against their greatest rivals. So if Lineker is to be strong armed out of our Saturday nights then let the fates drive him to a rival broadcaster who values his knowledge and integrity and is happy to pay the market rate.
The reaction to Lineker’s ousting by right-thinking as opposed to right-leaning folk shames the BBC and a Home Secretary who authored anti-migrant policy that even had establishment lawyers doubting its legality. Lineker’s concern was of course entirely moral, a gentle chiding in the social media space of a policy he saw with some justification as cruel.
That his critics in the government and their BBC acolytes shifted the grounds of their offence from the general comparison with German group think in Thirties Berlin to a link to the Holocaust demonstrates how right he was to raise concerns and how far they will go to ram through policy.
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The cruel irony in all of this is that the government should shout louder about Lineker than the questionable treatment of human beings fleeing persecution. It seems to this correspondent that the qualities that we like to think define Englishness the world over, fairness, compassion, modesty and respect are best represented in the football guy than those with a custodial duty to preserve those very attributes.
The BBC are now in the process of agreeing with staff a social media policy. Perhaps Lineker should have stuck to criticising Qatar. Clearly making a moral point is not the issue. Neither is Lineker.