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Gary Lineker’s tweets: Diary of a disaster


Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last few days, you’re probably aware of the snowballing story of Gary Lineker’s Twitter account.

What started out as what Lineker presumably thought was a fairly innocuous tweet in support of asylum seekers has rapidly grown into headline news across the UK and even global media, calling into question the role of the BBC, the relevance and efficiency of its impartiality rules, demands for the sacking of Lineker in one corner, and BBC top brass in the other, and what it would be no exaggeration to describe as a full-blown crisis for the BBC.

It’s been a rapidly evolving, and ever-expanding tale, so here we try and break down some of the key developments to date in what looks like a story that won’t be going away any time soon.


It all began last Tuesday, when Home Secretary Suella Braverman outlined her new plans to deal with asylum seekers entering the UK on small boats, including deportations to Rwanda and a new, and possibly illegal, plan to deny anyone entering the UK illegally the right to ever enter the UK or apply for asylum again, regardless of their circumstances. Lineker tweeted describing her plans as “beyond awful” and the language used as “not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s.”

Ministers and sections of the right-wing media were quick to pounce, demanding that long-time woke bête noire Lineker be punished, frequently citing BBC impartiality rules and claiming that Lineker was out of step with the British public.

Large sections of the British public disagreed, and Lineker took to Twitter on Wednesday morning to thank the public for their “love and support.”

So far, so standard-issue Gary Lineker Tweet row, and on Thursday the Match of the Day presenter and former England captain told reporters outside his London home that he did not fear suspension over the matter, and returned to Twitter to express his satisfaction that the “ridiculously out-of-proportion story” seemed to be dying down.

He had spoken too soon, as we would soon learn.

Friday – Lineker to “step back” from MOTD

If you agreed the story was out of proportion on Thursday, hold on to your hats.

Just as things seemed to be blowing over, around 5pm on Friday – traditionally a good time to bury bad news as the nation’s hacks head home for the weekend, though not on this occasion it would transpire – the BBC announced that Lineker would “step back” from presenting his hugely popular Saturday night show until “we’ve got an agreed and clear position on his use of social media.”

The initial wording of the announcement seemed to imply that Lineker had made this decision, but that quickly unravelled in a surreal 5 News broadcast which saw Lineker texting anchor, and another former MOTD host, Dan Walker live on air to confirm that he had very much been told by the BBC that he would be “stepping back.”

Lineker live texts Dan Walker on 5 News

The floodgates were about to open.

Ian Wright was first out of the blocks to announce that he would be stepping down from the show “in solidarity” with Lineker.

As the evening went on he was joined by fellow host Alan Shearer and virtually all of his potential replacements as Micah Richards, Jermaine Jenas, Alex Scott, Mark Chapman and more added their names to the growing boycott of the next day’s show.

Later on Friday evening, commentators joined the walkout in a tweet shared by BBC regulars including Steve Wilson, Conor McNamara, Robyn Rowen and Steven Wyeth.

Meanwhile, a BBC spokesperson announced that Saturday’s MOTD would “focus on match action without studio presentation or punditry”.

Tabloid editors must have been facing some serious soul searching on Friday night as they prepared Saturday’s front pages. Sections of the red-top community have long been baying for Lineker’s blood – he’s the BBC’s highest paid employee, yet regularly takes to Twitter to air his “woke” opinions.

On the other hand, they’ve also spent recent years demanding various degrees of privatisation/defunding/abolition/privatisation of the BBC. What would they do now that public enemy number one had suspended joint public enemy one over his despicable liberal views?

The Daily Mail, in a rare moment of non-sensationalism, opted to simply state the facts of what was happening, an event which is possibly newsworthy in itself.

Saturday's Daily Mail front page
Saturday’s Daily Mail front page

Admittedly, by Sunday its sister paper appeared to have decided which side of the fence it sat on with a comment piece unambiguously titled “Gary Lineker outrageously breached the BBC’s sacred impartiality. We applaud his bosses’ steely resolve”.

Saturday – It never rains…

By Saturday morning the BBC’s sports schedules were in chaos as more presenters announced they would be staying at home. Saturday Morning’s Football Focus and Fighting Talk fell by the wayside, as did Final Score and 5 Live Sport, and the BBC announced that Match of the Day would consist of 20 minutes of commentary-free (and theme tune-free as it turned out) highlights.

The BBC was frantically pulling out pre-recorded podcasts to fill the radio airtime, while on screen, Bargain Hunt replaced Football Focus.

As the day went on, Forest Green Rovers and Bristol City were the first clubs to confirm they would refuse interview requests with the BBC over the weekend, with players and managers beginning to make similar noises – the Professional Footballers Association announced it would support any players who took this stance:

On the plus side, the BBC did manage to broadcast live radio commentary from its key Saturday afternoon games at Elland Road and Selhurst Park – the commentators here were BBC staff members, not freelancers like the bulk of the walkouts, but they were clearly doing their jobs under a degree of duress. Reporting from Elland Road, Ian Dennis told listeners: “Personally I found today very difficult, but I’m a BBC staff member, I’m a radio commentator for BBC Radio 5 Live, and today, like every Saturday afternoon, we provide a service to you, the audience.”  The Times reports that despite disabling replies on a Tweet thanking people for their support, he was later branded a “scab” in several quote tweets.

At least the BBC had the Six Nations to fall back on, although given England’s Saturday afternoon thrashing by France you’d be forgiven for thinking the England players had taken the day off in solidarity with Linker too. On Saturday afternoon, a small demonstration also took place in solidarity with Lineker and his colleagues at MOTD’s Salford studios.

If BBC bosses hoped they could just grit their teeth, see Saturday out, and get back to some sense of normality, they were soon to be disappointed. On Saturday afternoon Jermaine Jenas took to Twitter to announce his decision to stand down from Sunday’s MOTD2:

Sunday’s top-of-the-table WSL clash between Chelsea and Man Utd was also placed in jeopardy when more of the network’s leadinf WSL presenters lined up behind Alex Scott in support of Lineker:


Sunday – more chaos and the debate widens

Sunday was a case of more of the same on screen. MOTD2 followed a similar format to Saturday’s MOTD, but just 15 minutes-worth this time. The WSL ‘coverage’ did go ahead, but with no presenters, intro or analysis and commentary provided by the league’s syndicated world feed, which usually goes to global broadcasters as part of their rights package. Meanwhile, over the course of the weekend, the debate had moved far beyond the confines of whether freelancer Lineker should be free to tweet his opinions on a private social media account, though that debate was still getting plenty of airtiime too: 

In contrast to Lineker’s freelance contract, many noted that the BBC’s director general and chairman, who presumably should ideally be governed by impartiality rules, make no secret of their political allegiances: DG Tim Davies is a former deputy chair of Hammersmith and Fulham Conservative party and stood unsuccessfully as a councillor in 1993 and 1994, while controversial chair is on record as having donated £400,000 to the Conservative Party, and is currently under investigation for his role in fixing then-PM Boris Johnson up with an £800k loan shortly before the PM recommended him for the BBC role.

Others took to social media to wonder why the BBC’s news staff, who actually are supposed to be impartial whether freelance or staff, don’t appear to be held to the same standards when defending the government as Lineker is when he opposes it. Fiona Bruce for example, recently appeared to excuse Boris Johnson’s honours-nominated father Stanley’s history of domestic abuse on Qustion Time on the basis it was a “one-off”:

BBC Politics regular Andrew Neil, meanwhile, is editor of the avowedly Conservative-supporting Spectator, was a key, if brief, figure in setting up the right-wing news channel GB News, and has attracted complaints regarding his lack of impartiality on Twitter in the past. The BBC has responded to these complaints by pointing out that Neil is a freelancer, and his Twitter is a private account:


Supporting Cast

It’s nothing new in the era of culture war for Twitter to be split into rival echo chambers in support and denigration of this week’s topic-du-jour, but Lineker’s supporters have come from some unexpected quarters as well as the predictable Rusbridgers, Campbells and the woke-liberal-tofu-munching brigade.

Lineker’s unlikely backers have include the likes of notorious snowflake Jeremy Clarkson, who tweeted his support of Ian Wright’s decision to stand down from MOTD:

The unlikely tag team of Piers Morgan and The Sun also published a story in the host’s defence:

Even former Tory chancellor George Osborne offered his backing to Lineker, telling Channel 4’s Andrew Neil Show on Sunday: “Personally I think some of the language used on immigration by some Conservatives – not all – is not acceptable.”

As we move into a new week, the calls for sackings continue from both sides of the barricades, headlines nationwide scream of “turmoil” at the BBC, and the government has been invovled in full scale rowback on its earlier demands the BBC takes action over Lineker, sending out the big guns including PM Rishi Sunak himself to insist this is a “matter for the BBC.”

BBC director general Davie has flown back from the US to attempt to sort out what he described, with delightful understatement, as “a bit of a mess.”

He’s not wrong.

Update: The BBC confirmed in a statement on Monday morning (March 13) that Gary Lineker has been reinstated.

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