Sport on TV: Gary Lineker taps it in after others have done all the hard work


If there is one thing that is more smug than Gary Lineker, it’s the BBC’s Match of the Day 50th anniversary celebrations.

It was unfortunate, perhaps, that one of Auntie Beeb’s favourite nephews, James Alexander Gordon, the doyen of the classified football results, should die in the same week but his commemoration will just have to wait.

Meanwhile, Lineker informs us that he fulfilled two dreams: playing in the World Cup and presenting the flagship highlights programme; that’s nice for you Gary, some of us have to settle for hoping that our club might be up first on Match of the Day and not buried in the graveyard slot after the goal of the month competition – or even on The Football League Show afterwards.

MOTD was born in the graveyard, so to speak, starting life on BBC2. One of the many massive names who contributed to Match of the Day at 50 (BBC1, Friday) was Sir David Attenborough – in his capacity as former controller of BBC2, not examining the garish plumage of the frequently spotted Lineker or telling us what happened to all the fur on the bald Shearer.

David Beckham remembers wanting to watch his goal against Wimbledon on the show that night

The Football Association were scared stiff of television, fearing that it would steal the crowds away from the terraces, but Sir Dave tells us: “BBC2 managed to persuade the FA to allow them to do it on the grounds that no one watched BBC2, which was more or less true.” It was only shown in parts of London and Birmingham, so perhaps Manchester United were not on first every week back then.

It all began with Kenneth Wolstenholme standing in the centre circle at Highbury for Arsenal v Liverpool introducing the first ever show, surely a case of “there’s someone on the pitch, he thinks it’s just starting”.

Incidentally, that first programme is being shown in its entirety this morning, a welcome antidote to the tawdry shenanigans surrounding the game in the last few days. Then again, racism, sexism and homophobia were pretty popular in those days. But at least they didn’t have text messages.

MOTD was soon moved to BBC1 and claiming audiences of 10 million. It was a game-changer, the players became superstars. George Best, one of many voices on this show that come from the other side (death that is, not ITV) said: “If I knew the cameras were there, I’d do things to try and make people laugh. To me it was theatre and always had been, and I wanted to act up in front of people, and they loved it.” Best was not so much turning in his grave as shimmying and dropping the shoulder.

Some other fella called David Beckham recalled lobbing the keeper from the halfway line: “I remember scoring that goal and thinking, ‘I can’t wait to get home and watch that on Match of the Day tonight’. You can’t get a better idea of how the programme has entrenched itself in the cultural landscape than that.

There was a brief segment at the end about the Sunday evening off-shoot MOTD2, with Adrian Chiles revealing how they agonised over the format to make it more relaxed. Anyone would think they were trying to crack quantum physics. They were looking to come up with “a version of Top Gear for football”. They should have Malky Mackay and his mates on the show more often, then they could insult all sorts of different people à la Jeremy Clarkson and Co.

Kate Bush at the BBC (BBC4, Friday) was playing simultaneously and the reclusive songstress’s dazzling stepovers rather put MOTD in the shade. The highlights package included a clip of Bush performing a perfect Usain Bolt bow-and-arrow routine at the end of one of her TV appearances.

Is this where the most famous sportsman on earth came up with his trademark celebration? After all, it was at the end of a rendition of “Running up that Hill”.