Gary Lineker’s first words as Match of the Day host look perfect now ahead of return
The BBC Sport presenter will return to screens on Saturday to live stream Manchester City’s FA Cup quarter-final match against Burnley at the Etihad Stadium
The actual launch of Gary Lineker’s broadcasting career was, for many, one of the most difficult days in British sporting history.
It was 1997 and the Grand National at Aintree had to be postponed after two encrypted IRA bomb threats evacuated the entire racecourse.
Hosting the famous race on its flagship grandstand sports show, with presenter Des Lynam on location in Liverpool, the BBC has had to tell viewers that he and the entire production team were among the 60,000 viewers who have had to leave Aintree due to the very real worries.
Commentator Jim McGrath spoke of footage of those viewers being led away, but when he too had to come off the air the BBC had no choice but to fill in the time by going back to their London studio and this became Lineker’s time to shine.
After leaving his last club, Nagoya Grampus Eight, and retiring from football in 1994, the former striker – then England’s second-leading goalscorer of all time – had done some expert work for BBC Radio Five Live and had appeared on Football Focus and Match of the Day Now .
He’s also captained the team on the popular sports quiz show They Think It’s All Over, but he’s never made an appearance as important as this.
In extremely difficult circumstances, he took over the baton from Lynam, presented Grandstand with aplomb and showed he was quite a natural at it. The BBC knew immediately what they were up to.
He took over Lynam permanently two years later, with the veteran broadcaster making a lucrative and highly publicized move to ITV when it doubled its money.
The BBC were immediately delighted to name Lineker his successor, and on the opening weekend of the 1999/2000 Premier League season they confirmed him as the new face of their football coverage and “BBC Sport’s highest-paid presenter” on a five-year contract worth £500,000 per Year.
Lineker sat in the Match of the Day host’s chair on Saturday 7 August 1999 – a day when Liverpool had won at Sheffield Wednesday, Arsenal had beaten Leicester at home and won Wimbledon 3-2 at Watford, among the nine top-flight games out there – and immediately got used to his style of presentation.
“Hey, tell you something. Football’s back,” he said, before a self-deprecating look away from the camera as he asked, “Are you okay? Do I have the job?”
Of course, he knew he had it by now, as Lineker embarked on a career as the show’s main host that spanned 24 years, the longest in the program’s history.
Essentially, as he returns to our screens this weekend to present a live broadcast of Manchester City v Burnley in the FA Cup, that 1999 opening still applies, given the watered-down version of Match of the Day and the other sporting offerings of the BBC showed last weekend as pundits, presenters and commentators all stepped down in support of the host.
All will be back along with Lineker this weekend, with the BBC returning to a full, anticipated offering.
And one that Lineker has been at the center of for over a quarter of a century.