Gary Lineker, 62, is the sports broadcaster, possessor of the 1986 World Cup Golden Boot for most goals scored in the men’s tournament and now a game show host.
He tells Metro what Diego Maradona once said to him in the Kremlin, his thoughts on his Match Of The Day suspension, and the time someone tried to nick his mobile phone.
You’re back for a second series of Sitting On A Fortune. Are you getting more confident as a game-show host?
It’s something very different to everything else I do but I really enjoy it. I enjoyed the first series and was obviously delighted it got recommissioned.
It’s a lot of fun and the vast majority of times someone is going to walk away with a lot of money. That’s a very lovely thing to make a difference to someone’s life.
Susanne in the first episode declared herself a Spurs supporter. If a rival supporter comes on would your heart sink?
No. Obviously I love my football club (Leicester) and I like Spurs because I played there. When you play there is a rivalry, but I was never one of those that ‘hated’. When people say, ‘You really don’t like our team’ that really is not true. I’m an adult.
I’ve never quite understood the hate thing but most people find that quite hard to fathom that I don’t feel that way towards any particular football club. It doesn’t really matter who the contestants support on Sitting On A Fortune. If they are big football fans we will often have a bit of banter.
There is a clip of you attending a Leicester-Chelsea match at the height of the Match Of The Day furore. What are your memories of that day?
[Lineker was suspended by the BBC after tweeting that language used by home secretary Suella Braverman around immigrants was ‘not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 1930s’.]
The main thing I notice in that clip is me having a sneaky sweet from my pocket without giving anyone else one. But it was my last one.
It was a Saturday afternoon. I watch football on Saturdays. It was a rare opportunity to go and watch my team inevitably lose this season.
Could you focus on the game?
Absolutely. I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. And I knew the story and original headline was disproportionate with the tweet.
It was taken a bit out of context. I was always very relaxed about it.
What’s the longest you’ve been without your phone?
I don’t know. You basically need your phone to function, don’t you? I pay for everything with it. Everything is on it. Your whole life. It’s a bit mad. I did lose my phone for a little while.
Where did it turn up?
You know that Find Your iPhone app? One of my boys helped me with that. We put it on my iPad and it was flashing that my phone was on a park bench. I’d been to the shops, and I’d had a walk. I thought that I must have left it there except it was flashing on a completely different bench about 200 yards away.
I walked back down there carrying my iPad with my son and there was a woman sitting on the bench. I said to her, ‘Sorry, have you seen my phone?’ She went, ‘Oh no, I haven’t seen a phone.’ But then this alarm went off right next to her. I said, ‘Are you sure?’ This thing was going off in her handbag. She went, ‘Oh, you mean this phone?’ It was a fair cop. I went, ‘Yes, probably that phone.’ (laughs)
Who for you is the Maradona or Messi of game-show hosts?
Noel Edmonds. Deal Or No Deal is not an easy show to do and he was so brilliant at it.
Having spent three days in Buenos Aires with Maradona making a documentary, what most surprised you about him?
It wasn’t surprising so much but there was just this incredible adulation wherever he went. He had hundreds of people literally bowing at his feet.
It did make me think how on earth can you deal with that every single day? It’s hardly surprising that he had issues off the pitch. But he was a lot of fun.
Did he have any questions for you about your life?
No, funnily enough! But he was quite funny when I did the World Cup draw with him in Moscow. We were in the Kremlin, and the draw was quite complicated. Different teams couldn’t play teams from the same continent. That kind of thing.
We had six representatives of the countries that had won World Cups and Diego was one of them. He was fun. He came in late. He didn’t rehearse like I did for three days. At the end of it he came over to me and gave me a big hug.
He said, ‘You were OK as a footballer but if you were as good at football as you are at presenting you might have been nearly as good as me!’ I loved that. Quite good at football. Yeah, thanks! (laughs)
How do you think you would have coped with money at a young age if you had been earning the amounts footballers earn now?
When I left Leicester when I was 24, I was on £300-£400 a week.Maybe that gives you a bit more of a grounding.
I mean I wasn’t a superstar youngster like an Owen or a Rooney. I kind of gradually grew into the game.
Obviously it is incredible that these kids can earn fortunes at such an early age but at the same time that can bring with it certain issues.
It’s probably a nice problem to have but it can be a problem.
As an avid cricketer what’s your prediction for this summer’s Ashes?
I’m loving the cricket we’ve been playing since Ben Stokes and the coach Brendon McCullum came in – absolutely going for everything. It’s great to watch.
We might implode occasionally but it’s sport and sport should be entertaining. Even if it goes wrong I’m looking forward to the Ashes. I will definitely be popping along to Lord’s or The Oval or even both. Can’t wait.
I’m a bit disappointed for Jofra (Archer, who is injured), which is a real shame. But if we can keep playing the cricket we’ve been playing and scoring the runs that we’re scoring, we’ll hopefully have a real chance.
Which cricketer were you most excited to play against?
I’ve played lots of benefit games for cricketers, and I once faced an over from Courtney Walsh (West Indian fast bowling legend).
Crikey, what was that like?
It was an amazing day, actually. It was a Monday before the start of the season when I was at Tottenham. We had a pre-season friendly on the Monday night. I used to play a few games for a cricket team called The Bunburys, run by David English who sadly passed away not that long ago. David gave me a call on the Sunday night, but I told him I couldn’t come.
He said, ‘I really need you. What about if you come along and play in the team that bats first? You’ll open and when you’re out you can go.’ That sounded tempting so I said sod it. I turned up, opened the batting and it’s Courtney Walsh.
First ball he comes in off his massive run up and bowls a ridiculous bouncer that goes miles over my head as a bit of a fun thing. Then he goes back to just bowl off two paces. I said, ‘Courtney, will you do me a favour? Would you give me one proper over?’ He went, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I mean, I could play.
His next ball hit the keeper’s gloves before I had even moved. The third one I let go. I got a forward defensive in for the fourth. He was sensible. He was bowling on a decent length, generally on the off stump. He wasn’t going to hurt me.
Then I took a chance with the last ball. I stuck my left foot down the pitch and hit it through the covers for four. It was beautiful. I ended up making 112 not out. I said to Dave at lunch, ‘I need to go.’ I was sweating and everything. I went home and got myself ready, went to the game and scored a hat trick. It was the best day ever.
What are you most proud of coming from Leicester?
Winning the league! The miracle of 2016 was special, certainly in a sporting context. Leicester’s my home. I grew up in a market trading family which went through a few generations of that. So for me it’s the market and the people of Leicester. They are always lovely whenever I go there.
What are the best lessons you learned from your mum and dad?
When I was playing football at under-14 level I was given offside a couple of times and I had a pop at the referee. My dad walked on to the pitch and said to me, ‘You never talk to a ref or anyone like that.’ He grabbed me, took me off and took me home. It was a bit humiliating in front of my mates, but I learned a lesson from that day – to be respectful of people at all times.
Your company, Goalhanger, makes the Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart The Rest Is Politics podcast. What do you love about it?
I just find it hugely educating. Their knowledge of the world is incredible. Obviously, they’ve been around the halls of power for many years, both of them in different ways. They’re two different personalities but I think they are really engaging. It’s been a huge hit as has its sister-pod The Rest Is History, which is enormous as well.
Any other podcast recommendations?
The Trawl with Jemma Forte and Marina Purkiss. They trawl through social media. It’s very political mainly but they have a lot of fun with it. It just makes me laugh a lot. They are very intelligent, articulate women.
What are you doing with the rest of today?
I’m having lunch with Professor Brian Cox. That’s something to look forward to. He’s a great guy. We’ve met a couple of times. This is a business-y thing that we’re having a chat about.
Sitting On A Fortune is on ITV Sundays at 7pm. Catch up via ITVX
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