Opinion

Sam Delaney: I have first-hand knowledge that Gary Lineker's lovely

A life-changing trip to the Match of the Day set led to Sam Delaney meeting Gary Lineker - and the star couldn't have been nicer

Gary Lineker in The Match of The Day photo on Sam's mum's wall

The Match of The Day photo on Sam's mum's wall. Image: Courtesy of Sam Delaney

When I was 24 and working on a glossy magazine, I decided I wanted to see what went on behind the scenes at my favourite television programme, Match of the Day. So I called up the BBC press office and asked if I could spend a Saturday hanging about the studio with the likes of presenter Gary Lineker. They said I could. It all seems like a dream now. Like some sort of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-type fantasy where the snot-nosed urchin is handed a golden ticket to explore his own personal Xanadu. But it really happened. The magazine I worked for wasn’t even that popular but, I suppose, nobody else ever had the naive chutzpah to just call up and invite themselves in for a poke around the nation’s flagship football show before. Journalism seemed so much easier and more fun back in 1999. 

I rocked up at Television Centre the following Saturday with my little tape recorder and notepad. The press officer ushered me into a ramshackle office filled with TV sets, each of them showing a live feed of a different Premier League match. Sat about the office were Alan Hansen, Trevor Brooking and Gary Lineker plus a couple of producers and Mark Lawrenson, who told me he wasn’t working that day but had decided to hang around anyway. It was a den-like atmosphere with everyone slumped around with their feet up on desks, drinking tea, munching KitKats and talking shit to each other while they watched the game. I was in dreamland. They were all really friendly. I even got to join in the sweepstake. In the hours between the games ending and the show beginning, I spent some alone time with the stars. Hansen was a nice bloke but grumpy in a pantomime sort of way, as if he wanted to play up to his on-air image. Sir Trevor Brooking took me to the fabled BBC canteen for something to eat and managed to order us both some fried eggs even though they weren’t on the menu. The canteen ladies just seemed to melt in his presence and do whatever he asked.  

Lastly, I spoke to Lineker in his dressing room where he was putting the finishing touches to his script. He had just taken over from Des Lynam as the show’s anchor. There was huge pressure on him. But he seemed as calm and unruffled as when I’d seen him step up to slot two penalties away against Cameroon at Italia 90. I had a strong sense that Gary would soon make the role his own. I remember him being friendly, smart, down to earth and funny. He could see I was a pup starting out in journalism who was somewhat overwhelmed by my assignment, and he helped me through it. Before I left, he made sure to get the photographer to take a picture of me larking about with him, Hansen and Brooking on the MOTD set. He could tell I was too shy to ask for it. My mum still has that shot framed on her wall. 

Nowadays I live round the corner from Gary Lineker. I see him regularly in the grocers or the coffee shop, or while we’re walking our dogs on the green. He, of course, is oblivious to me. I’m now 47, a grizzled hack who has since met all sorts of famous people. Yet I am still too starstruck and shy to say hello and tell him that he once helped create one of the most memorable days of my career. Thing is, ever since he scored that hat-trick against Poland in 1986, he’s been my hero and no matter how old and cynical I have become, I still feel like a wide-eyed schoolboy in his presence.  

At this stage, you might be waiting for the pay-off to all this soppy, dewy-eyed reminiscing. Some sort of killer detail or profound insight that unveils a hitherto unconsidered perspective on Lineker’s recent travails. I’m sorry to disappoint, but there’s nothing more to this story than (a) Me showing off about a brilliant and memorable experience I had two and a half decades ago and (b) Me reiterating something you probably already know, that Gary Lineker is an excellent human being. 

These days, the world – particularly Britain – can sometimes seem like a right shitpile of wankers. But it really isn’t. There is kindness, love and decency all around us. Unfortunately, it’s often the minority of wankers who are making the loudest noise. Recently, it’s been life-affirming to see one of the good guys getting all the attention. 

Sort Your Head Out book cover

Read more at samdelaney.substack.com

Sort Your Head Out: Mental Health Without All the Bollocks by Sam Delaney on February 9 (Constable, £18.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member. You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

Support the Big Issue

For over 30 years, the Big Issue has been committed to ending poverty in the UK. In 2024, our work is needed more than ever. Find out how you can support the Big Issue today.
Vendor martin Hawes

Recommended for you

View all
This government failed to end rough sleeping – so now they're trying to police it out of existence
The Criminal Justice Bill criminalises rough sleeping
Tom Kerridge

This government failed to end rough sleeping – so now they're trying to police it out of existence

So little has changed since the Manchester Arena bombing. I worry terrorists have the upper hand
Cath Hill

So little has changed since the Manchester Arena bombing. I worry terrorists have the upper hand

Homelessness has exploded since I slept on the streets. Here's how to end it once and for all
people experiencing homelessness also face stigma
Matthew Torbitt

Homelessness has exploded since I slept on the streets. Here's how to end it once and for all

BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty: This is how we stamp out teenage misogyny and sexism
Naga Munchetty

BBC Breakfast's Naga Munchetty: This is how we stamp out teenage misogyny and sexism

Most Popular

Read All
Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits
Renters: A mortgage lender's window advertising buy-to-let products
1.

Renters pay their landlords' buy-to-let mortgages, so they should get a share of the profits

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal
Pound coins on a piece of paper with disability living allowancve
2.

Exclusive: Disabled people are 'set up to fail' by the DWP in target-driven disability benefits system, whistleblowers reveal

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over
next dwp cost of living payment 2023
3.

Cost of living payment 2024: Where to get help now the scheme is over

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know
4.

Strike dates 2023: From train drivers to NHS doctors, here are the dates to know