Gary Lineker returns to Leicester and is hailed as a conquering hero
As the crisis deepens over the BBC’s sports coverage, there was only one match of the day for Gary Lineker on Saturday.
Lineker was at his beloved Leicester City after being told to step down from hosting the flagship football show this weekend, witnessing a fifth successive defeat for his former club.
Stopping for selfies and waving to fans as he took his seat in the King Power Stadium’s directors box, the 62-year-old was given a warm reception in familiar surroundings.
Support for Lineker has been widespread since he was forced off air on Friday night, with presenters, pundits, commentators and players staging their own boycott.
He received even more support in his home city, with some Leicester fans holding up banners with the words “I’m with Gary. Migrants welcome”, a reference to his tweet comparing the Government’s small boats policy to Nazi Germany. Then, in the 59th minute, during a break in play, fans in the Kop end chanted Lineker’s name.
He certainly got the majority of the support in Leicester, although it might be a stretch to take the odds offered by one bookmaker before kick-off that Lineker is now 100/1 to become the next Prime Minister.
All in all, it certainly made sense for Lineker to make a rare return to the east Midlands to watch his old club. He wouldn’t have expected to do so, with the row over Lineker’s controversial tweet and impartiality continuing to rage, with the BBC’s coverage in “meltdown” and bosses understood to be taken aback by the storm it has created.
But, given Lineker usually spends Saturday afternoons in the BBC’s Salford studios preparing for MOTD, this was an opportunity he was not going to miss.
His affinity with Leicester – league title winners in 2016 – runs deep, from working on the family market stall in the city centre as a boy to then making 216 appearances for the club.
Lineker was also part of the consortium who rescued Leicester from financial oblivion in 2002, and has never hidden his affection for his hometown club.
After being chauffeured up the M1 from his home in Barnes, south west London, he entered the King Power via the players’ entrance, waving twice at supporters before entering the stadium.
Ten minutes before kick-off, he took his seat in the directors’ box with son Angus, 25, former BT Sport reporter Andy May and Jack Holmes, the son of Lineker’s long-standing agent Jon.
Sitting near the Premier League’s chief executive Richard Masters and Leicester’s chairman Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, Lineker appeared happy to be briefly out of the eye of the storm.
The only boos were directed at former Leicester defenders Ben Chilwell and Wesley Fofana, who have left the club to join Chelsea.
Leicester equalised late in the first-half through forward Patson Daka and the camera zoomed in on Lineker, smiling and celebrating.
The first chants came just before the hour, with the camera again panning to a grinning Lineker.
It turned out to be an afternoon of frustration, however, as Leicester sunk deeper into relegation trouble after another defeat.
They are now just a point above the bottom three and the club’s manager, Brendan Rodgers, was subjected to chants demanding his dismissal in the final moments.
Lineker once delivered on a promise to wear just his pants in the MOTD studio, after Leicester won the title.
Now his team are locked in a battle to stay in the Premier League and ensure they remain a regular on the programme he has presented since 1999.
In the next few days it will surely be decided if Lineker ever fronts the show again.