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Gary Lineker: Football star who became a Saturday TV fixture

For many years, Gary Lineker has been one of sport’s most famous faces – both on the football pitch and on television screens.
The last week has seen the Match of the Day host again move from the back pages to the front, after his criticism over the Government’s asylum plans sparked an impartiality row.
The 62-year-old is one of the most recognisable figures associated with the broadcaster, and is part of the footballing landscape in the UK.
He took over as host of the BBC’s football highlights programme in 1999 after a stellar career as a striker for England, Leicester City, Everton, Spurs and Barcelona that finished in Japan.
One of the broadcaster’s highest-paid presenters, Lineker is viewed by many as one of the faces of the BBC – and he has not shied from using his high profile to express his political views.
His outspoken positions on divisive issues have earned him criticism and plaudits in equal measures – and, on occasion, caused BBC bosses a headache.
The corporation is committed to impartiality, meaning staff and stars are expected to follow guidance on expressing political opinions in the BBC’s output and on social media.
But Lineker, who is technically a freelancer rather than a BBC employee, has not always bitten his tongue.
In 2022, he posted a story on Twitter about then-Foreign Secretary Liz Truss urging a boycott of the Champions League final in Russia. He asked: “And her party will hand back their donations from Russian donors?”
The incident led to the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) upholding a complaint and concluding that, as “one of the BBC’s highest-profile stars”, he did not meet the corporation’s editorial standards on impartiality.
In 2018, Lineker posted a thread of tweets as Conservatives held a no-confidence vote in Theresa May, who was then prime minister, and indirectly criticised Labour’s leader at the time, Jeremy Corbyn.
Two years earlier he blasted some in the media for being “hideously racist and utterly heartless” to refugees.
He has taken refugees into his home and spoken passionately about the need to protect people who come to the country in need.
Despite criticism from politicians, some in the media and colleagues, Lineker has steadfastly defended his right to speak out on issues that matter to him, often to his 8.7 million Twitter followers.
A tweet aimed at Jonathan Agnew, a BBC cricket host who had criticised his 2018 political posts, summed up his approach. “I’ll continue to tweet what I like and if folk disagree with me then so be it,” he wrote.
This week Lineker caused a row with a tweet commenting that the government’s new Illegal Migration Bill was an “immeasurably cruel policy directed at the most vulnerable people in language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”.
Responding to critics of his comments, he said he would “continue to try and speak up for those poor souls that have no voice”.
For its part, the BBC said that when it came to leading its football and sports coverage, Lineker was “second to none”.
But it said: “We consider his recent social media activity to be a breach of our guidelines” – and “he should keep well away from taking sides on party political issues or political controversies”.
Lineker has previously argued he can impart his opinion because he is a freelancer. On top of that, he works on BBC’s Sport output, away from the inevitably more sensitive news operation.
But critics point to the £1.35m he was paid by the BBC in 2021/22, a sum which makes him the highest paid presenter whose salary must be disclosed (although this does not include famous faces who are employed via private production firms).
They also argue his platform comes via his BBC work, and so he should follow its rules.
Lineker is contracted until 2025, and on top of hosting Match of the Day also fronts the BBC’s coverage of major football tournaments and co-presents BBC Sports Personality Of The Year.
He also works as a presenter on LaLigaTV, which covers football in Spain for viewers in the UK and Ireland.
The media company he co-founded – Goalhanger Podcasts – produces The Rest Is Politics, a regular political discussion show featuring former Labour aide Alastair Campbell and ex-Tory minister Rory Stewart.
He has worked for other broadcasters, including a stint presenting the Champions League for BT Sport, and is also widely known as the face of Walker’s Crisps, a business founded in his home town of Leicester.
Before taking to the airwaves, Lineker first made his name with his local team, Leicester City FC, in 1978.
His goalscoring habit continued after moves to Everton and Tottenham Hotspur, and he topped the scoring charts for both teams in the First Division – the top flight of English football before the Premier League was created.
He made his England debut in 1984 and played 80 times for his country – the last time in 1992.
His tally of 48 international goals has been bettered by only three Englishmen.
He retired from the game in 1994 – having notably never been shown a yellow card – and was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.
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