Gary Lineker: BBC knows it made a mistake by taking me off air

Gary Lineker
Gary Lineker was suspended from Match of the Day in March last year after posting a critical tweet about the Government's migrant policy - Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Gary Lineker has said the BBC knows it made a mistake by taking him off air last year.

The decision by Tim Davie, the director-general, to suspend Lineker from Match of the Day for posting a critical tweet about the Government’s migrant policy caused a crisis for the broadcaster.

Lineker’s BBC Sport colleagues downed tools, and Mr Davie was forced to apologise to licence fee-payers for a day of programme disruption. Lineker returned to the screen the following week.

The presenter has previously called the incident “unfortunate” and joked that it was “a lover’s tiff”.

But in an interview with Noble Rot magazine, conducted over a long lunch, he was more forthcoming.

Asked what he was doing when the controversy blew up, he said: “You’ve waited til I’m drunk before throwing that one in. I was eating at [Marylebone restaurant] KOL when I found out they’d taken me off the show.

“But they made a mistake. They know that. I think they recognised that. It was one of those things, but we’re fine now.” Lineker said “common sense prevailed” and he resumed his place on the BBC.

Gary Lineker
Gary Lineker: If you care a bit, have empathy, people want to insult you and see that as 'woke' - Alex Pantling/Getty Images Europe

Asked by Kate Spicer, the interviewer, about living in a country “that’s become Right-wing and divided”, Lineker replied: “I’m not sure this country is particularly Right-wing. I think we’re a very liberal, caring, conscientious country.

“A social conscience is now deemed as ‘woke’ when actually it’s basically about caring. If you care a bit, have empathy, people want to insult you and see that as ‘woke’.”

Lineker said that he received a standing ovation from shoppers in the Barnes branch of M&S during his suspension. “Pretty much everyone apart from the hard-Right supported me. It was stupid,” he said.

The former England striker added that he was “not tribal at all”, saying: “I’ve voted for everyone. Green, Liberal, Labour – and Conservative.”

Lineker’s tweet in March last year drew parallels between Suella Braverman’s policy on illegal migrants and the language of Nazi Germany.

After reinstating him, Mr Davie launched a review of social media guidelines, which Lineker later claimed he was “partly involved in drawing up”.

Lineker, who earned £1.35 million last year, discussed his wine collection elsewhere in the interview, saying: “I’ve got a little collection – [Chateau] Latour, Haut-Brion, Cheval Blanc. I don’t buy wine to invest, I just buy it young so it’s affordable.”