POLITICS and football. Arguably, the most combustible of mixes. But throw in a popular TV presenter and add the national broadcaster, then you have to stand well back and watch the sparks fly.

The context has made the Lineker row even more explosive given it involves a highly contentious issue – the Channel small boats – and an equally contentious UK Government policy to try to deal with it – criminalising many asylum-seekers.

If all that were not enough, the row has reignited issues surrounding the BBC from not only the need for strict impartiality and the bubbling contretemps over the appointment of Richard Sharp as its Chairman but also the pros and cons of the licence fee.

Stoking this volatile cocktail have been some parts of our indefatigable right-wing press, that need no excuse to unleash both barrels at what they regard as the leftie BBC.

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Of course over the years, dear old Auntie has been on the receiving end from both Left and Right for what both believe is showing favouritism to the other side.

After Mr Lineker attacked the UK Government for what he regarded as extreme right-wing language over the asylum/migrant issue, the football presenter as well as the corporation came under fire.

And after Tim Davie, the BBC’s Director-General, decided to suspend the former England star, then it was the Left’s turn to cry foul, claiming he had caved in to the Brexit-loving high Conservatives; a charge he emphatically denies.

Today, a carefully-crafted fudge has been produced: an independent review into the BBC’s social media guidelines, accompanied by emollient language from Messrs Lineker and Davie.

The corporation chief stood by his decision to give his star sports presenter a red card, saying it was the “right thing” to do but neither he nor anyone else for that matter expected the ensuing furore that led to Mr Lineker’s colleagues downing tools and staying home, causing the weekend football coverage to be severely truncated.

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But in a clear climb-down, Mr Davie has revoked the red card, saying earlier: “Everyone recognises this has been a difficult period for staff, contributors, presenters and, most importantly, our audiences. I apologise for this. The potential confusion caused by the grey areas of the BBC’s social media guidance that was introduced in 2020 is recognised. I want to get matters resolved and our sport content back on air.”

While Mr Lineker, who receives an annual salary of £1.35m and has more than 10m followers on social media, comes out the winner in his spat with the BBC hierarchy, he will know that the past “surreal few days,” as he described them, have not done his employer any good.

Throughout the day, staff at Broadcasting House have been invited to ask questions of management over the impartiality row in a series of video meetings.

One BBC journalist noted: “The mighty BBC has been humbled by a former footballer. What has Davie achieved by precipitating this crisis?”

Yet impartiality is a cornerstone of the BBC because it goes to the heart of whether or not the corporation and its employees are telling the rest of us the truth; as best as they are able to in sometimes difficult circumstances.

The nub of the problem is that the rules on upholding and maintaining that impartiality have become somewhat blurred and open to wide interpretation. During the current to-do, one example has been given of how Lord Sugar has often forcefully intervened in political matters with impunity. While he might not have the profile of Mr Lineker, the entrepreneur is a still a prominent TV figure.

Then, of course, there is the position of Mr Sharp, still under investigation relating to his role in the facilitation of an £800,000 loan to the former PM Boris Johnson. An ex-Tory donor, some have argued he should resign given his clear support for the Conservatives and questions over his own impartiality.

Expected to defend the BBC to the hilt, the former investment banker - who was Rishi Sunak’s old boss at Goldman Sachs – has been conspicuous by his absence on the airwaves during the current crisis; no doubt he believes he’d been more of a hindrance than a help in the current circumstances but that kind of says it all about his own predicament.

However, he’s not the first true-blue to head the corporation. The late Marmaduke Hussey was said to have secured the chairmanship at least in part because of his connections with the Tory Party and indeed Lord Patten, another ex-Chairman, was actually in John Major’s Cabinet for heaven’s sake.

The appointment of Gavyn Davies as BBC Chairman and Greg Dyke as DG, both Labour supporters and donors, equally caused an uproar from Conservative ranks.

It just shows how perception is so important, particularly when it comes to a key organisation’s independence and impartiality.

Armando Iannucci, the Scottish writer and director, made a valid point when he suggested the row over impartiality at the BBC would continue until the corporation was kept completely separate from government. He added: “Appointments to its board and of its Director-General and determination of its funding need to be visibly separate from Downing St or the public will lose trust in the BBC.”

Mr Lineker, having tweeted many times on topical issues, compared what he called the Government’s own “beyond awful” language about those people crossing the Channel to that used in 1930s Germany, which some, notably Conservative politicians, found offensive.

And, of course, what the Lineker row has done has overshadowed the very thing the TV presenter had been concerned about: what happens to those crossing the Channel.

As for the TV pundit himself, he has been overwhelmed by the support he has received from the football fraternity and his broadcasting colleagues as well as many sports fans. Some politicians can only envy his popularity and the solidarity that has been shown to him.

To every football fan’s relief, north and south of the border, normal service will soon be resumed with Mr Lineker and his colleagues presenting and giving their differing views on the beautiful game.

However, drawing the line on who can say what and when in the future will have to wait for the BBC’s own VAR decision. When it drops, sparks could well fly again.