Why the BBC needs Gary Lineker

MATCH OF THE DAY was reduced to a 20 minute production without any commentary, punditry or studio chit-chat. It actually worked tremendously well, forcing the viewer to listen to the crowd, watch the action more closely and feel as though you’d just opened a window onto the game from an adjoining house or apartment. There was something quite refreshing about it and the BBC could steal a march by introducing an option where you can receive MOTD without any of the trimmings.

That’s not to say they are excused for their behaviour over Gary Lineker, who dared to suggest the UK government were out of order with their latest half-baked attempt to win votes over the global migrant problem. This subject matter has, for the past few years, been one of the great taproom debates, littered with inaccuracies, political editing and pure, shameful racism. Most rational people may share Lineker’s personal view over the Trumpian slogan “stop the boats”. The BBC may be acting like insurance companies who look for small print reasons NOT to do something, but Lineker was excercising his right to speak freely as a UK citizen. If his comparison with Nazi Germany hit a raw nerve, then the reaction has only fuelled issues over freedom of speech. The BBC is no different to many organisations, who have used an individual’s social media output as a reason to serve a dismissal notice.

The BBC are the losers because their treatment of the former England striker has once more brought the issue of the broadcaster into the public eye once more. As for Lineker’s ability, he is an excellent frontman for a TV show that has struggled to maintain its position in the footballing diet. Furthermore, he is one of the few former professionals that are genuinely worth listening to: intelligent, considered, humorous and honest. In a sport that is laden with cliché and jargon, he offers an alternative.

The quality of punditry in UK football is, generally, very mediocre. To many of the old pros are too close to the game in various ways, calling everyone by their first names, unwilling to criticise, too quick to use one of a long list of clichés to respond to every question. They must have so many splinters on their backsides owing to their penchant for sitting on that big five-bar fence. And, even more irritating, is their unshamed bias towards their old clubs. How many Jamie Carraghers can you from the employment agency for pundits that seems to deal solely on providing former Liverpool and Manchester United players? The viewers shouldn’t have to listen to squeals of excitement when the goals of their old clubs find the back of the net. There needs to be impartiality…oh, there’s that word again. 

Lineker knows the game and is articulate enough to present it professionally and with authentic viewpoints. While the BBC may say they have given him profile, Lineker has effectively saved Match of the Day in an age of increased competition and options. Lineker has given the BBC profile.

We don’t need obedient robots, afraid to express objectivity, if football presenters and pundits are there to enhance the offering, so many fall short of that goal. Gary Lineker will have no shortage of offers if he decides to leave the BBC, who are clearly in crisis and have lost credibility. What happened after this shabby affair has not only made them a laughing stock, however, it is another blow to the ailing reputation of a country where it is easy to assume nothing really works anymore.

Farewell Albert Sewell, the man who invented the classic programme

HOW sad to hear of the passing of Albert Sewell, Chelsea fan, programme guru, statistician and, above all, a genuine football fan.

Albert Sewell, in the late 1940s, initiated a magazine-style programme at Chelsea, the first club to change the way football communicated with its fans. Sewell’s trail-blazing publication was soon copied by all and sundry and Chelsea had an incredible record for selling a programme to almost everyone in the crowd, in an age when gates were booming.

Throughout the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, Chelsea’s programme was among the very best, and it was the friendly, accessible style of Sewell that set the benchmark. Chelsea fans will remember the intro to many a season’s programme, “The Talk of Stamford Bridge”, a tag that was replicated by many clubs.

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He wrote an excellent book, Chelsea Champions, to mark the club’s 50th anniversary, which coincided with a first league title. He then repeated the trick in the early 1970s with the Chelsea Football Book.

Always magnanimous in victory or defeat, Sewell created a marvellous link between Chelsea and the fans. He truly cared and in 1974 when he urged the club to move forward once more after a grim couple of seasons, he was nudged aside by the board. Sewell, forever the optimist and standard-bearer, had seen what was happening at the club and was replaced. As a result, the Chelsea programme, for so long a market leader, declined, until in 1976-77 they brought him back. Chelsea readers rejoiced and his return to the editor’s desk was marked with a much-needed promotion. When things were bad, fans could, at least, console themselves with a first-class publication.

He later worked for Match of the Day and was often mentioned as the man behind the scenes who could come up with any fact or figure the TV programme desired.

Albert Sewell was a big influence on some people, myself included. As a young lad, his programme editorials were a catalyst and instilled in me a wish to become a writer. In some ways, Sewell was my first inspiration and my own career as a business and football scribe owes its source to reading those Chelsea programmes from the 1960s and 1970s. When I celebrated 25 years at Deutsche Bank as a business writer (and part-time football writer), I was asked who my writing influences were. I named Christopher Isherwood, Evelyn Waugh, JB Priestley, Patrick Leigh Fermor and…Albert Sewell. A few heads were scratched, but then I explained.

I truly owe Albert something. Thank you and RIP, Mr. Sewell.

Top picture, even players read Sewell’s programme notes. Roy Bentley and Ken Armstrong of Chelsea’s 1955 title-winners. Photo: PA