Gary Lineker has requested for me to meet him at his residence in Barnes at 2:30pm. It is a gloomy and rainy day in London, so I allow myself extra time and arrive just before 2pm. As I turn onto the narrow lane that leads to his address, I spot him trying to maneuver his black Mini past my car. He briefly looks my way before focusing back on the road. It’s Gary Lineker! Where are you off to? I quickly check my phone and see that he has messaged me, asking if we could reschedule for tomorrow. But I just saw you, I object. After thirty seconds, he responds that he is turning back. A couple of minutes later, he is back at home, saying everything is fine. I pass by the Mini once again as I make my way up the porch steps and ring the doorbell.
Lineker, dressed in a black tracksuit, appears slightly agitated. This is a different version of Lineker than the one we see on Match of the Day, with his polished appearance and mischievous grin. However, like the rest of us, Lineker is entitled to have a more casual and disorganized side. He offers an explanation for his lateness – his plans changed, he got the day wrong, or he was running errands. He currently lives in a large Edwardian house that used to be filled with four active sons, a second wife, and a stepdaughter, but is now empty. Even his dog is not at home. Despite this, there is a fire burning in the kitchen and he kindly makes tea for me. He mentions that he usually does not drive and the car only has 280 miles on it after owning it for a year. He prefers to walk, especially to the nearby village, or take public transportation while in the city. However, due to the windy weather and a large pile of dry cleaning in his car, he decided to drive today. As he places the mug next to me, I can tell that he is embarrassed about the car. He is known for being an environmentalist and often retweets posts from Green MP Caroline Lucas. He has even defended Just Stop Oil on at least one occasion. It seems that Gary Lineker wants to avoid appearing hypocritical.
There is another version of Lineker that is often considered controversial due to his online arguments, which almost led to him losing his job at the BBC. This Lineker is known for being straightforward, taking risks, and being vocal ever since he joined social media in 2012. He has openly supported the pro-remain stance on Brexit, criticized Labour’s leader Corbyn, and opposed the Conservative party on various issues such as sewage and asylum laws. Lineker believes that with a large platform of nearly 9 million followers, he should use it to make a positive impact. He covers a range of topics including global politics, the current state of the nation, and activism. At one point, he casually mentions that humans may not exist in 50 years due to various potential disasters. In Lineker’s perspective, there are multiple ways in which we are heading towards catastrophe.
However, his main focus is on the current situation in Gaza. He appears to have conflicting feelings about whether or not to discuss it, but ultimately finds himself unable to stay silent. “Everyone I know is asking, ‘What’s going on?’ But the moment you speak up – well, not me personally, but when I tweet a little bit – it becomes so toxic. If you have any sort of opinion, you are subjected to extreme attacks. How is it controversial to desire peace? I just can’t comprehend it. You don’t have to be prejudiced against Islam to condemn Hamas, or anti-Semitic to condemn Israel. But right now, it’s just terrible. Horrible.” When discussing the tragic number of children who have lost their lives, he expresses feeling physically ill.
Several days after the interview, Lineker removed a retweet from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI). The retweet called for Israel to be excluded from global sporting events, specifically football. A source stated that Lineker misunderstood the post as an announcement that the ban had already taken place. The tweet and its removal sparked intense outrage from all sides, resulting in Lineker receiving threats. However, he clarified that he does not see himself as a victim in this situation.
Lineker’s successful international football career was always the more prominent aspect of his life. He achieved many accolades, including 48 goals for England and never receiving a red or yellow card during his 17-year career playing for teams like Leicester City, Barcelona, and Tottenham Hotspur. After retiring from football, Lineker seamlessly transitioned into football punditry, notably as the anchor for BBC’s Match of the Day since 1999, where he earns a salary of £1.35m. Two years ago, he co-founded Goalhanger, a highly successful podcast company. Some of their popular podcasts include The Rest Is Politics with Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart, and The Rest Is History. Lineker also hosts The Rest Is Football with Alan Shearer and Micah Richards, which has a casual and friendly tone reminiscent of a group of friends chatting at a pub.
Today, he begins by stating that his involvement in the podcast industry has rescued him from the negative effects of social media, where he found himself being pulled into the increasingly chaotic world of political conflicts. He shares that he is currently in a state of recovery from Twitter (now referred to as X), and has significantly reduced the amount of time he spends on his screen (although a quick glance at his timeline may suggest otherwise). He explains, “Before, if I had spare time like this morning, I would just mindlessly scroll through social media, only to end up feeling agitated and disheartened by the news.” Now, instead of scrolling through social media, he spends his time reading – “a lot” – and listening to “pretty much” all of the 11 podcasts he produces, as well as a few competitors that he chooses not to disclose because he jokingly says, “I don’t like giving them free advertising.”
In 2023, there were an impressive 236 million downloads of Goalhanger shows. It can be assumed that not all of these were due to Lineker’s attempt to avoid Twitter. He does not listen to every single episode as it would consume too much of his time, but he does listen while walking to the shops, walking his dog, commuting, and cooking. He acknowledges that podcasts allow for a deeper exploration of topics and he has learned a lot from this long-form format. He also mentions that most of his Twitter posts now promote Match of the Day or his podcasts.
There have been instances of returning to old habits. One instance involved Lineker retweeting an interview with Israeli academic Raz Segal, in which Segal referred to Israel’s actions in Gaza as “textbook genocide”. This sparked controversy as some argued that the incursion did not meet the legal definition of genocide. Lineker expressed frustration, stating that it was not his personal opinion, but rather that of Segal’s. He believed it was a well-argued perspective and worth considering, with the ultimate decision left to others. Lineker also mentioned how distressing he finds the situation to be, making it difficult for him to browse social media due to constant reports of children being killed.
Many members of the Jewish community were more upset about his support for the Palestinians than the fact that he had not spoken out about the Hamas atrocities, the hostages, or sexual violence. He claims to have not lost any friends over this, but there are some people he has chosen not to associate with due to their extreme views. Most of his Jewish friends share his perspective, but he does not see it as a Jewish issue, rather as an issue with the Israeli government’s actions. He acknowledges that some of his Jewish friends do not agree with him and have even asked him to publicly support Israel on social media, but he vehemently refuses to do so.
It is likely that due to his large platform, people will request for him to support their causes. In 2016, he was invited to a dinner with Michael Gove, where the Tory minister attempted to persuade him to support Brexit. Lineker recalls being one of about 12 individuals present, including some with significant influence, that Gove was trying to gain support from. Lineker listened but thought it was nonsensical and even asked Gove if this was actually a campaign for leadership. Gove denied this and assured him that he had no intention of running for prime minister. However, just two weeks later, Gove announced his candidacy for prime minister. It is ironic that when Lineker expressed his support for remaining in the EU, many of the same politicians who had previously tried to sway him towards Brexit accused him of violating BBC’s impartiality guidelines.
In March, there was a similar uproar when he compared the statements made by Suella Braverman, who was then the home secretary, about immigration to those of 1930s Germany. As a result, he was suspended for potentially violating guidelines and taken off the air. However, his suspension was short-lived as his colleagues, including Ian Wright, Alan Shearer, and Alex Scott, refused to host in solidarity. Lineker returned to his hosting duties the next week, with former BBC director general Greg Dyke jokingly commenting on the score of the game. Lineker explains that he was careful with his tweet, as he always is when it comes to anything remotely political. He had previously discussed this with the BBC when he first began supporting refugees, and they had an agreement that he could continue supporting humanitarian issues like climate change, which he believes will become even more pressing in the future.
In November, he expressed disagreement with Braverman’s characterization of a demonstration against the bombing of Gaza on Armistice Day as a “hate march”. He argued that advocating for a ceasefire and peace to protect innocent children does not align with the definition of a hate march. Recently, Lineker joined a letter protesting the Rwanda policy, prompting defense secretary Grant Shapps to belittle his understanding of politics and suggest he stick to football commentary and TV presenting. The Daily Mail responded with a front-page headline urging Lineker to “put a sock in it”, which he gleefully retweeted.
He firmly believes that football players have been involved in politics for a long time, even before Marcus Rashford confronted Boris Johnson about free school meals. However, due to the absence of social media, their political views were not widely known. He mentions former players like Peter Reid and Neville Southall who were politically active during their time, but points out that it was difficult to express their opinions without a platform like Twitter. In a post-match interview, no one would have asked them about their thoughts on current events like the situation in Gaza.
During our discussion, he repeatedly changes the position of his arms and legs, touches his beard, thumbs his nostril, and rubs his cheek. He assures me that he does not experience anxiety or intense anger, but admits to feeling exasperated and upset at times. When asked what triggers these emotions, he cites social media as a common source, explaining that it can be detrimental to one’s mental well-being. He adds that he considers himself fortunate in terms of his own mental health, but as he has aged (now 63), he has started to contemplate things more deeply.
It is safe to say that Lineker did not possess the same level of political activism that he does now, during his time as a striker for Barcelona in 1987. Growing up, he was exposed to politics and his father, Barry, a trader at a market stall in Leicester, held strong Thatcherite beliefs. While he recalls being fascinated by elections, his main focus was on his football career. He admits to being more focused and aloof back then, lacking the emotional and empathetic nature he has today. When asked what caused this change in him, he simply responds with “life”. He explains that educating himself and becoming a father has sparked a desire in him to stand up for others in need. Whenever he would show support for refugees or asylum seekers on Twitter, he would often receive comments questioning whether he would actually welcome them into his home. This gave him an idea. He joined the Refugees at Home charity and volunteered for their “emergency foster service”. So far, he has hosted two young men – one from Turkey and one from Balochistan – who are around the same ages as his oldest and youngest sons.
“They are truly wonderful individuals with fascinating tales. [Gokhan] is a bona fide rocket scientist, currently on a full scholarship at Bristol University. While I am unable to share the details of his story, it is quite extraordinary. [Rasheed] hails from Balochistan, where many have gone missing or been killed. He came to study law here in hopes of making a difference and potentially effecting change back home, though it may be a difficult feat.”
The next time someone brought that up, you wouldn’t want them in your house, right? Their response was, “Well, actually…”
In 1960, Ineker was born to Barry and his wife Margaret as the first of two boys. According to Ineker, his father belonged to a generation that did not openly express emotions. Barry worked long and demanding hours, six days a week, and lived a lifestyle that involved drinking, playing cards, fishing, and smoking. However, Ineker remembers him as a great father. In contrast, Ineker’s mother was more similar to him in personality – calm and loving. He never saw her lose her temper. When he was 12 years old, his parents’ divorce shattered his world. Ineker quickly mentions that it was not a pleasant experience because it made his father very sad. He recalls hearing his father cry himself to sleep. Although his mother left his father for another man, Ineker prefers not to discuss it.
Lineker was a talented child, incredibly speedy as evidenced by his 10.56 second 100m run. In a 1990 interview with Sue Lawley on Desert Island Discs, he shared that he and his brother Wayne were extremely passionate about sports. They would even go to the extent of using lamps from their house as makeshift floodlights for their football games in the garden during winter nights. If he had not pursued a career in football, he claims he would have chosen cricket. When asked if he regrets not studying politics or history in university, he admits that though he finds them interesting now, he would not have been at the age of 18. He did, however, attend Oxford University, but humorously adds that they lost 1-0.
Football always brought him happiness. He fondly remembers his time in Barcelona from 1986-89, where he would train in the morning, spend the afternoon at the beach, and return home for a siesta before dinner and going out late. He recalls the amazing lifestyle with beaches, mountains, delicious food, and fantastic weather. He even remembers spending Christmas Day sunbathing in his garden. When asked about the exhilaration of scoring a goal, he struggles to put it into words. He compares it to watching your team score a goal, but multiplied by 50 and with an explosion of emotions, a mix of relief and overwhelming joy. He has had conversations with fellow players Alan Shearer and Michael Owen, and they all agree that nothing in life can compare to that feeling on the field. Although there are other pleasures in life such as the birth of a child or success at work, nothing can replace the adrenaline rush and explosion of joy from scoring a goal. Owen, who now trains racehorses, has experienced success in that field as well, but even that does not come close to matching the feeling of scoring a goal. It’s something that must be accepted and dealt with.
He frowned, appearing lost in thought. I wondered if he was reminiscing about a previous moment. However, it turned out that he was actually contemplating something entirely different. “Isn’t it strange, sitting on a horse? Do you think in the future, we’ll look back and say, ‘We used to sit on horses, how odd?’ Nowadays, we see people riding elephants and we think, ‘What are they doing?’ While I don’t have a major issue with it, I do ponder about it. You wouldn’t sit on a dog, would you? I know they’re smaller, but I wonder what the horse thinks. ‘Oh great, he’s on my back again’? Some people claim that horses enjoy being ridden and continue to run even when no one is on them. But I think, ‘They just like to run around!’ I enjoy running around too, but I wouldn’t want to carry someone on my back for an entire soccer game.”
During the 1990s and 2000s, while Lineker was scoring goals, taking care of his children, and building his career in broadcasting, he was illegally monitored by certain tabloids. Mysterious individuals were hired to follow him and take pictures of his every move, while reporters dug through his voicemails. Did he have any knowledge of this? “No. Although, my agent warned me before it became public that the press was hacking into phones. I stopped leaving voicemails as a precaution, but it was clear that some stories were based on information from my messages.” He cannot provide further details as he has already settled his legal claim.
Years later, while watching Newsnight, the presenter discussed phone hacking and criminal activity by UK newspapers. Among the photos shown were Prince Harry, David Beckham, and the person himself – who sat up in surprise. A private investigator who had previously worked for tabloids shared that he had been following the person for two years. The person, who was shouting at the TV, couldn’t believe it. The investigator commented that the person was one of the “clever ones” because they never led them anywhere. However, the person denied having any knowledge of being followed and claimed they were just playing golf and going home.
From 1986 to 2006, he was married to Michelle Cockayne, with whom he has four children: George, Harry, Tobias, and Angus. In 2009, he wed Welsh actor Danielle Bux but they split in 2016 due to differing desires for children. Bux is now married to American lawyer Nate Greenwald and resides in Los Angeles with their daughter. Despite their separation, Lineker and Bux remain close friends and communicate regularly. In addition to Barcelona, Los Angeles is a city he frequently visits. He maintains good relationships with both of his ex-partners, but it is Bux who garners attention from the media. The two were photographed together in Ibiza last summer.
While reclining in his chair, he contemplates the state of the media in his country, noting that there are both exceptional and terrible press outlets. He wonders what caused editors and journalists to deviate from their ethical standards, offering a theory that perhaps their desire to expose and pursue individuals led them to be destructive. He admits to never fully comprehending this behavior and compares it to the corruption often seen in government officials as they climb the ranks. He believes that the more power someone holds, the more likely they are to succumb to this negative behavior. He references figures like Putin and the leaders in Israel as examples. He also suggests that this may apply to newspapers, with owners and editors wielding significant influence that can potentially corrupt them. He clarifies that not all individuals in these positions are affected, but it has always puzzled him. While he has met some editors who seem decent, he cannot fathom the urge to catch people in compromising situations.
Lineker is currently embracing his single status with confidence. He has gone on a few dates, but is always honest about not seeking a committed relationship. He expresses to me that he enjoys the freedom of being single, having control over his own schedule and being able to do as he pleases. This has led him to develop new skills such as cooking, and he has even prepared elaborate meals during lockdown, despite not having anyone else to share them with. (To get a full taste of Lineker’s cooking prowess, check out his Instagram highlights.)
He believes that certain members of the media are overly fixated on him and have a strange desire to harm him. What exactly are they trying to do to you? “They’re attempting to discredit me by taking things out of context on purpose. It’s almost like a game for them to try to ruin my reputation in some way. It’s very peculiar.” I inquire if his expanding podcast empire and its influence pose a threat to traditional media outlets. “They won’t be happy about that,” he responds.
According to him, podcasts are having an impact on the field. “The industry is still expanding, but it provides a viable option to traditional radio as you can choose exactly what you’re interested in – whether it be comedy, news, politics, or history. With radio, it’s often hit or miss. Personally, I have completely stopped listening to it.”
Goalhanger also produces sports-related TV documentaries, but they soon realized that podcasts were a more efficient and profitable venture compared to the complicated process of making documentaries. According to The Guardian, the founders (Campbell and Stewart) each earn more than £100,000 per month, indicating that the company’s revenues are likely in the millions. Their approach to creating podcasts is simple and fast – for example, they can easily organize a discussion between two politicians with different political views and record it the next day. They have discovered that what attracts listeners is the chemistry between the hosts, as they feel a connection with them. Episodes with guests typically do not perform as well.
The lower level of the house is equipped with everything needed for podcasting, including desks, microphones, and LED ring lights. The owner also has a designated man cave where he enjoys watching football. This hobby has never lost its appeal for him, even as he has gone through major life changes such as having children, getting married multiple times, and losing both of his parents. Football has always been a constant in his life.
He declines to declare his voting decision for the upcoming election, only mentioning that he has voted for various candidates throughout his life. He desires for the elected official to bring back a sense of dignity to the nation and uphold traditional British values such as respectability, decency, kindness, and generosity. He hopes for a return of optimism, but worries that the election will be centered around controversial and sensational topics such as immigration. He believes that the current state of society, with its negative media coverage and divisive leaders, is indicative of a larger cultural conflict. Without any prompting, he questions the negativity surrounding being “woke” and sees no issue with having a conscience, compassion, and empathy.
Despite his outspoken nature, some politicians and sections of the rightwing media hold a strong dislike towards him. However, I am not entirely clear on his connection with tabloids. It seems he is a pragmatist, willing to sacrifice the anger often displayed by figures like Prince Harry and Hugh Grant in order to maintain good public relations. He is known to be friends with Piers Morgan, the former editor of the Mirror who was involved in controversial hacking scandals. Lineker jokingly refers to their Twitter arguments as planned and describes their real-life interactions at Morgan’s annual Christmas pub gatherings. He states, “Battling with Piers Morgan: we would argue but also text each other at the same time saying, ‘Let’s keep this going! This is entertaining!’ It was all in good fun.”
During his appearances on Match of the Day and The Rest is Football, he often adopts a playful and sarcastic tone, teasing and laughing with a sense of lightheartedness that showcases his ongoing love for the sport. He manages to balance his practical and controversial sides, balancing his driven and morally certain approach to life with a desire for the rush of adrenaline that comes with scoring a goal.
The sun is setting and I remember his dry cleaning is still in the back seat of the Mini. He checks the time. “Stores are still open, barely. I should hurry.” It’s probably best not to mention the car.