Alan Hubbard

Guess what dominated the front pages of the British press, both tabloid and broadsheets, as well leading the TV and radio news bulletins these past few days.

No, not the war in the Ukraine, the strikes by nurses, junior doctors, railway workers, civil servants and a whole host of others now paralysing the nation, the escalating economic crisis which is leaving thousands destitute.

It has been the spat between former footballer Gary Lineker and the BBC over what has been deemed political punditry. 

It seemed the media went into meltdown when the clean as a referee's whistle multi-millionaire Match Of the Day presenter tweeted his view that the Conservative Government's proposed new policy to curb illegal immigration was reminiscent of the language used by Nazi Germany in the pre-war thirties.

As my insidethegames colleague David Owen pointed out yesterday, prominent sports figures like Lineker are among the most popular and prolific users of Twitter

In his case the ex-England striker, now 62, has amassed some 8.8 million followers, many of whom, I am told, women who see him as their Macho of the Day.

As a footballer, in a 16-year-career, he scored 286 goals in 542 appearances and was never once booked. Of those goals 48  came with his 80 games for England. He won the Golden Boot in the 1986 FIFA World Cup. 

As a presenter and pundit he is a cut above the rest and his credentials for the job are impeccable.

He comes across as someone with intelligence, wisdom and viewer-friendly manner. 

Gary Lineker has been restored as BBC Match of the Day host ©Getty Images
Gary Lineker has been restored as BBC Match of the Day host ©Getty Images

Likeable and popular, it was no surprise when so many of his colleagues and contemporaries backed him when he was asked to "step down" by Beeb bosses last weekend.

In the media, the twice divorced father of four is both lionised and lambasted in equal measure, largely through political conviction.

Lineker, though a centre forward, has always veered to the left, like so many in sport and the media.

But surely he is entitled to his opinions as a freelance presenter. 

He is not bound by the code of impartiality. In fact, while generally recognised for his contributions on sport, Lineker has been involved in presenting other programmes, such as the satirically- slanted Have I got News for you.

I suspect that if he had criticised the Government on Question Time, no-one would have turned a hair. 

Surely we should be used to sports personalities lending their voices to comment on matters outside the playing field. No longer are they the monosyllabic jocks or jockesses' of yesteryear.

Modern sports personalities are now better educated and better informed than most of their predecessors. 

Unquestionably, they are better paid and less afraid to ruffle feathers in the woke world in which we are forced to live.

Sorry if that sounds like a political statement coming from a humble sportswriter. 

Likeable and popular, it was no surprise when colleagues, contemporaries and fans backed him when he was asked to "step down" by BBC ©Getty Images
Likeable and popular, it was no surprise when colleagues, contemporaries and fans backed him when he was asked to "step down" by BBC ©Getty Images

But I have always believed that sport embraces and reflects the whole spectrum of life.

So does Lineker. I know that from personal experience. 

Back in the 90s, when the former Everton and Tottenham Hotspur star had ended his playing career with Barcelona, I became instrumental in him moving into the media.

I was sports editor of the UK newspaper The Observer at the time and was tipped off by Lineker's agent, Jon Holmes, that Gary was interested in becoming a journalist.

So we met up and agreed that he should write a regular column for us. 

The only stipulation on his part was that he should be allowed to write it  himself, no professional ghostwriter.

He turned out to be a painstaking perfectionist.

He asked what tone he should adopt. I simply told him to play it from the heart, just as he always did on the football field.

The result was an eminently readable, well-crafted column. He never missed a deadline either. We never paid him silly money and he always expressed his gratitude for being given the chance to forge a new career.

Inevitably, he was eventually given the opportunity to tread an even broader media path by the BBC - one which thankfully will be resumed now that the corporation apparently has backed down by reinstating him as Match Of the Day host and agreeing to review the policy on what is tantamount to freedom of speech.

So, as in his playing days, it’s back of the net for Lineker.