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How football invaded BBC pitch (and UK parliament)

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Vienna, March 13, 2023

by Edward Steen

Sharp: facing MPs’ questions about his impartiality

As the UK Conservative government lurches from one own-goal to another, its latest self-inflicted mishap concerns Gary Linaker, one of the country’s best-loved football stars, then Match of the Day commentator….until he was booted out by the BBC for criticising the Sunak government’s latest plan on how to stop refugees crossing the Channel in small boats. This had a number of consequences, including severe question marks over the appointment of a generous Tory Party sponsor and friend of Boris Johnson, Richard Sharp, as the newly-appointed BBC chairman.

But today another goal was inflicted on the government as, today, Linaker was reinstated after all. This produced yet another classic Private Eye cover

The background to Linaker’s fury about plans to stop refugees at almost any cost was explained by his son George Linaker in the Irish Daily Mirror:

The BBC was flung into chaos this week when bosses pulled Gary, 62, off air following anti-Tory posts on Twitter – sparking a massive revolt which saw fellow football pundits including Ian Wright and Alan Shearer walk out in solidarity with him.

BBC director general Tim Davie last night praised Gary as “the best in the business” and defined success as “Gary gets back on air.”

In an exclusive interview tonight, Gary’s son George told how the TV favourite – who will spend Saturday night eating a cottage pie cooked by his family – is open to a return, but will never take back his comments on social media.

Shoulder to shoulder: George and Gary Linaker

George, 31,  today revealed: “Dad is a good man, a good human, and I’m proud of him for standing by his word. That’s why he was pulled off the show – because he wouldn’t apologise. But he will always speak up for people who don’t have a voice.

“Will he go back to Match of the Day? I think so – he loves Match of the Day. But he won’t ever back down on his word.”

“He is passionate about helping refugee charities – he took in two refugees who he is still in touch with and trying to help. It means a lot to him to stand up for people whose only hope is to escape a country with only the clothes on their back. That’s why he’s been so firm.

The ex-striker was hauled to task by corporation bosses over a tweet in which he compared language around the Government’s small boats programme to that used in Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

And when he refused to make a “humiliating apology” he was pulled off the air, leaving bosses scrambling for a replacement.

George told how his dad initially put on a brave face to his sons after he was axed from the show – sending them a thumbs-up emoji.

But he later broke down when he learned that Alan and Ian had all refused to step in, going on strike in support of him.

He said: “To take him off the air for having a voice is harsh, and I think he was surprised, and a bit disappointed.

“Free speech is important and he shouldn’t have been punished for that.”

Later, Sir Craig Oliver, a former BBC news executive, said that allowing Lineker to return was a capitulation: “I think what’s happened here is Gary Lineker one – BBC credibility nil.”


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