Gary Lineker was as squeaky clean as they come in his playing days.
Excusing one messy moment on the pitch in a 1990 World Cup game against Ireland, the English’s striker’s reputation was pristine. Never booked in the entirety of his career, Lineker was quite the poster boy.

In more recent years his personality has been given an airing on social media with the BBC Match of the Day host not averse to the sharing of political opinions.

Nothing wrong with that. Except in the eyes of some.

Like most of us, Lineker has been appalled at the scenes that have emerged from the United States in response to the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent chaos that has descending on the country.

And yet as the former footballer dared to offer an opinion on a social media site that is essentially a soap box for individual points of view, someone questioned why “sportsmen think they know politics".

Offering his thoughts on the issue of the day is nothing new to Lineker; Brexit, immigration, human rights and the political landscape have all been discussed by the former England and Barcelona striker via his twitter account. And why not?

Why would a choice of career inoculate against an opinion on that which is in front of us every day?

Socrates, the football captain who wore the distinctive Brazil shirt rather than the philosopher, used the 1986 World Cup to offer various political messages written on a white sock and worn under that scruffy mane of black hair. “Yes to Love. No to Terror” was penned in response to the US bombing of Libya.

In our time, footballers have become much more submissive when it comes to political opinion. James McClean has been the subject of scathing sectarian abuse because of his choice not to wear a poppy on Remembrance weekend but the expressing of any kind of opinion has been seriously diluted in recent generations of players.

Some of that comes down to sponsorship deals and a fear of rocking the boat. Some of it will come down to players been mollycoddled in academy set-ups from primary school age, but it is impossible to ignore the huge influence of UEFA and FIFA who pay lip-service to their social responsibilities and their desire to present football as a particular kind of corporate brand.

How else to explain the encouragement every year of teams to promote the ‘show racism the red card’ campaign but then show a yellow card to Jadon Sancho for revealing a ‘justice for George Floyd’ t-shirt under his Borussia Dortmund strip?

Or the manner in which they repeatedly turn a blind ear to racist abuse of players? Paltry fines to offenders that amount to little more than a slap on the wrist are hardly the actions of a governing body taking the issue seriously. Their hypocrisy is galling.

But rather than wring our hands and tut at their failure to practise what we preach, it has to be challenged.

And while people are disgruntled at those involved in sport who have the audacity to hold and share an opinion on something other than their specialised subject, there are those too this week who have suggested that we shouldn’t look to bring what is going on in America to Britain.

One can only assume they have been in hiding this past while.
Institutionalised racism is not unique to Donald Trump’s America.

Raheem Sterling spoke eloquently last year on the media’s role in stoking racist stereotypes and promoting recurring negative narratives after he was openly abused by a Chelsea fan. The Brexit debates repeatedly brought forth a racist element to the fore and legitimised it.

So when you see the Liverpool players start a trend in football circles by taking a knee together, it is to be applauded.

We need our players to be vocal. You might not always agree with what they say but to look to gag influential sports stars and deny them a voice is absurd.

How we could do with a few more Marcus Rashford’s around. The 22-year-old’s kindness and humanity as he has used his position to do as much good as he can is exemplary. During the current crisis he received a High Sheriff Special Recognition Award for his outstanding contribution to Manchester as he supported the continuation of school meals for underprivileged children.
It flies in the face of the fairly stereotypical representation of footballers.

Allowing them the freedom to show themselves as they really are is a right we all expect to enjoy.


For those of us who tend to think that there is no such thing as a free lunch, the money that James Anderson is set to gift to Scottish football is quite the eye-opener.

The benefactor will plough £2m of his own money into Scottish football in order to provide a vital lifeline and ensure that no clubs go to the wall after the biggest crisis to befall the game.

The immediate suspicion was that the businessman who has invested £9m into Hearts over the last seven years would dangle the money in front of the clubs but with the caveat that league reconstruction plans would need to be approved.

As it stands the rough amount of £50k will be go to each of the 42 clubs. It will be interesting to see if those who can do without what amounts to loose change might offer to put their share back into the pot to be redistributed among the most needy.