Matched of the Day


Philosophy Football's Mark Perryman can't wait to hear what Gary Lineker has to say for himself on Match of the Day's return tonight 


Gary Lineker himself admitted, in a tweet naturally, that as a public figure he had hitherto only attracted such a wave of affection when scoring England goals in a World Cup. His Italia '90 campaign was famously made into a hugely successful stage play An Evening with Gary Lineker that superbly caught what for those of a certain age Gary will always means to us, back then and now, until last week.

It wasn't exactly a surprise that he holds broadly liberal opinions, perhaps not Guardian-reading tho' his first stab at commenting on games started with a column for the Observer sports pages, and maybe tofu isn't on the menu for his halftime Match of the Day snacks but wokerati? (obligatory Philosophy Football product placement, yes we do the T-shirt). Guilty as charged.

The faux outrage at this has been quite something to behold. An ex-footballer, now a football presenter with opinions that stretch beyond interpreting the offside rule, well we never.  There is a whiff of class-snobbery about this, presenting football on the TV for the brawny beyond the pale. Whereas presenting The Apprentice, Karen Brady and Alan Sugar, or set piece interviews with party leaders during a General Election, Andrew Neil, for the brainy and natural, actively encouraged to have opinions coming out of every possible orifice.

But there's a left version of this too ,wrapped instead in faux anti-establishmentism. A sanctimonious brand of socialism, thankfully a minority trend but highly vocal with its shrillness of denunciation. Where was Lineker on what march?  Has he ever campaigned for refugee rights before? Why won't he talk about open borders, freedom of movement, no immigration controls? And his failure to do so means it should be Me! Me! Me! stirring it, not him. 

Oh, and he once tweeted 'Bin Corbyn' so how can he possibly be one of us? Point missed, by a mile. The very effectiveness of his intervention is because he isn't 'one of us'. A popular politics embraces, in fact positively welcomes those, we don 't entirely agree with on A and B because we do agree with on C. Or as I prefer 'my front is Popular'. For the avoidance of doubt 2015-2019 I was in favour of anything but 'binning' Corbyn but to narrow defending asylum and refugee rights to an absolutist Corbynite Left can only condemn ourselves to purity of purpose in the cause of wholesale defeat. 

In my political lifetime there have been two instances when such miserabilism was for once marginalised. Firstly the 1978-79 dynamic growth and success of Rock against Racism (RAR) which allied with the Anti-Nazi League served to defeat the very real threat of the Far Right, in the shape of The National Front. Secondly, the huge march and movement against the Iraq War. Neither would have happened without the dedicated organisational capacity of the Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). For a second avoidance of doubt I am not nor have I ever agreed on very much with the SWP, let alone been a member. Yet in the case of RAR they centred anti-fascism on music, namely punk, quite unlike traditional political organising, then or for the most part since. And to help build the 2 million strong Stop the War march they understood that vigorous support of the then Piers Morgan edited Daily Mirror was somewhat more crucial, than Socialist Worker. Despite historical disagreements, in those two instances their Front was popular too. 

The digital era, of which the reach of, and reaction to, Gary Lineker's tweet is very much a product of, has helped produce a kind of pop-up version of this popular version of politics. Black Lives Matter and #MeToo (over here particularly around the Sarah Everard rape and murder) and most recently the vigils following the transphobic murder of the teenage Brianna Ghey.  All three were instant, huge and for those who took part incredibly emotionally charged in a way a parliamentary politics virtually never is. But those most ready to decry what goes on in Parliament as boringly irrelevant all too often have their own version of the dead hand of politics, the cult of activist privilege, the imperative to give more and more of ourselves for what rapidly becomes ever decreasing outcomes achieved by ever dwindling numbers.

Of course, a single tweet isn't going to change the world. But what Gary's managed to achieve was to shift the scale of was is possible in a way most of either parliamentarianism or activism fails and in a manner that is positively ancient. This 'I am Spartacus' moment captured the movie scene that made it popular so old few of today's generation are familiar with the films of the son of the star who starred in it famous, 79 year-old Michael Douglas, let alone the original 1960 version, his dad Kirk Douglas. I am Gary Lineker, 2023's version, featuring Wrighty and Chappers, with a supporting cast of Alan Shearer, Micah Richards, Alex Scott, Dion Dublin, Jermaine Jenas. I am Gary Lineker? No I'm Gary Lineker and as a glorious consequence not a single commentator, pundit, presenter or reporter available to make not only last Saturday night's MOTD possible nor Football Focus, Final Score and MOTD 2. 

And limited to 280 characters a tweet does have a tendency to truncate any messaged in an unhelpful way, only to be exploited by those who disagree in any case with all remaining parts of it. However bad any Tory government, minister or policy none are remotely comparable with Nazi Germany.  But those who diss any historical antecedents to the present might be careful what they ideologically wish for. A cursory examination of British politics of the 1930s will find umpteen examples of politicians and newspapers most notably the Daily Mail, warning against letting all these Jewish refugees in. The language and arguments near identical, to today's.

No the entire ugly discourse around the right to asylum and the status of refugees hasn't been changed in the course of a week. But when The Prime Minister stands behind his banner 'Stop the Boats' and Labour hastily prints up as its alternative 'Stop the Small Boats' (yes really, I'm not joking) then isn't it time to find the means to say something different?

When as the closing credits roll on Gary's return to hosting Match of the Day tonight there's little doubt he will turn to the camera with his trademark knowing grin.  Even though we like to pretend we are what lies behind it none of us as viewers are privy to. But the 'knowing' we can all share is the theorist Stuart Hall's dictum " It is through culture that processes of social change make themselves most dramatically visible." In this regard football helps us make sense of race and nation, gender and sexuality, the local and the global, regulation vs deregulaion,Europe, in ways and on a scale like nothing else. Some on the Right now claim this contest of ideas, for votes, is a Culture War, a home win in the bag. As we (almost) say in football, they thought it was all over, it isn't now.


Philosophy Football 's I Am Gary Lineker T-shirt is   available from here




Mark Perryman is the co-founder of Philosophy Football and the originator of the pioneering Football, Culture and Community module at Brighton University.