Gary Lineker has said the BBC should stop trying to placate its political opponents, adding that the broadcaster’s bosses spend too much time worrying about the views of people “who will hate you for ever”.
The Match of the Day presenter said newspapers such as the Daily Mail were ideologically committed to the downfall of the BBC. “We don’t sell ourselves well enough and we end up fearful of everybody. We seem be scared of the people that actually want to defund the BBC. They will always want to defund the BBC regardless of what the BBC does. Ignore them! Ignore them and concentrate on the people who love the BBC.”
Lineker was briefly suspended by the BBC this year after he tweeted about the language used by the government to describe asylum seekers. After a mass walkout by BBC staff, the director general, Tim Davie, reinstated his highest-paid employee and reviewed the BBC’s guidelines on impartiality.
Lineker said the press attention during that period was overwhelming but he never felt he’d done anything wrong. “I stuck by what I’d said. Eventually normality resumed but it was a very bizarre experience … I love the BBC. And the one upsetting thing about that whole thing for me was that it was pitched as ‘BBC versus me’ and we’re on the same team.”
In addition to his BBC presenting duties, the former England footballer runs Goalhanger Productions, which makes enormously successful – and profitable – podcasts such as The Rest Is History and The Rest Is Politics. Lineker is preparing to launch his own podcast entitled The Rest Is Football, a thrice-weekly show where he will be joined by fellow Match of the Day pundits Alan Shearer and Micah Richards.
The success of Lineker’s podcast company has prompted jealously among some staff at the BBC, with Goalhanger’s shows winning over the younger audiences that the broadcaster wants to reach. Lineker insisted there was no way that a podcast such as The Rest Is Politics could have been made for the BBC, due to its regular criticism of Boris Johnson and other politicians. “The joy of a podcast [is] that you can do and say exactly what you want. With the BBC the impartiality rules would stop you doing that.”
Lineker said BBC bosses were “really chuffed” and “very positive” when told that three of their most famous football presenters would be branching off to produce a high-profile football podcast, because it would boost the profile for their BBC work.
Shearer, Richards and Lineker hatched the plan for The Rest Is Football while working on the BBC’s coverage of the Qatar World Cup at the end of last year. They will continue to present their Match of the Day podcast, which is available only on BBC Sounds, but Lineker said they “wanted to do something that was available on all platforms”.
He said too many football podcasts were a “tad earnest, analytical and opinionated and serious” and promised to make the most of being free from BBC rules. “We can do what we want, when we want, how we want, say what we want, swear if we really want.”
Goalhanger’s success is an example of how the power in British media is shifting. One rival podcast company speculated that The Rest Is Politics presenters Rory Stewart and Alastair Campbell could be making more than £100,000 a month each under a revenue-sharing model. Lineker declined to discuss those figures. “I have to have my salary published every bloody year in July, which is not particularly helpful, so I don’t think it’s my place to give away people’s salaries. But they’re doing alright.”
If The Rest Is Football proves to be a similar success then Lineker, Shearer, and Richards could end up making more money from it than they receive for presenting football coverage on the national broadcaster.
Lineker’s growing business interests – and media scrutiny over his salary – has led to questions about whether he intends to continue with Match of the Day, which he has hosted since 1999. “I’ve got a couple of years left on my contract, I’m 62, who knows where football will be then. It’s determined by [television] rights and the way football’s shifting towards streaming with Apple and Amazon coming in.”
He said he would consider any offers from a streaming company. “Of course I’d entertain that. I’d listen. I love Match of the Day, I’ve done it for a long time. If something changes, it changes. It’s hypothetical at the moment.”
Lineker said he was optimistic about some positive change in the British media but had no time for new rightwing news channels GB News and TalkTV. “I’m obviously not a fan. And they don’t seem very good at telly. What I’m always staggered by is the incredible lack of anything that approaches any kind of quality broadcasting. I’m not just talking about it in terms of political bias, I’m talking about the quality of the television that’s rubbish.”
He also intends to stay on Twitter, although he is baffled by some of the decisions made by its new owner. “As for Elon Musk, I think perhaps the most interesting thing for me is that, for someone that’s spent so much money on Twitter, he is actually not very good on Twitter. He’s rubbish. I think that’s quite amusing.”
Lineker also said he had concerns about sportswashing but was reluctant to judge footballers who are taking extraordinary sums of money to play in Saudi Arabia. He noted that he increased his salary by 800% after moving to Japan at the end of his playing career “It’s very easy to judge and pontificate and say ‘I wouldn’t do that’ – but if someone’s slinging £200m at you then that’s lifechanging for your family for ever, and your family beyond that. Unless you’re in that position you don’t know.”