Football legend Gary Lineker on family life in Barnes, how his TV career compares with his sporting one and why he’s still a salt & vinegar man. Words: Richard Aldhous
At the height of his illustrious football career, there would have been a time when the mention of Gary Lineker and Barnes in the same sentence would have brought to mind images of the former England captain’s goal-laden international career with his team mate (and occasional rap star) John.
These days, of course, things have changed. Not only has one of England’s greatest ever footballers long since hung up his boots in order to pick up his microphone and become one of the BBC’s most valuable assets, but for Gary and family, Barnes in South West London now means home.
It has been so for the 54-year-old and wife Danielle for approaching four years, during which time Gary has already moved to Barnes from nearby Surrey, sold up and bought another house — also just round the corner in Barnes.
‘That’s my wife’s doing I’m afraid,’ the easy-going Gary says. ‘She loves to do up houses and then move on somewhere else. But we’re ok where we are for the time being!’
They are more than ok, as it happens. Gary’s glittering years on the football pitch saw him move about regularly — he played for his hometown Leicester City before spells with Everton, Barcelona, Tottenham and Grampus Eight in Japan — but he now values domestic stability. The family, that’s Gary’s sons George, Harry, Tobias, and Angus, and Danielle’s daughter Ella, have all made Barnes their haven and Gary says the situation suits his routine perfectly.
‘The general area of South West London is wonderful, we love it around here. We’ve just kind of settled here and we like it. It’s very, very close to town, which suits us, as I spend a lot of time there for work but also socialising. Danielle and I like to go into town to let our hair down, but we don’t want it all the time. It just works for our lifestyle. London’s a great city so we like being very close but we like the relaxed nature of Barnes. It’s got a country feel but is also close to town, so you really do get the best of both worlds.’
His instant love affair with the area meant there was little chance of him relocating to the north west when BBC Sport, and therefore the Match of the Day programme he presents with such panache, moved its base to Media City in Salford. ‘I don’t think there was any real possibility of me moving up to Salford,’ Gary says. ‘I love the show, it is part of me and I love everything that goes with being part of it. But I’m too settled here. It’s not like it’s that hard to get to — all I have to do is jump on a train!’
Few sports people of any discipline have managed to make such a success of two separate professions as Gary has done with his post-football broadcasting career. Rather than rest on his laurels as one of England’s greatest ever goal scorers — a three times Golden Boot winner, his 48 England goals include 10 World Cup strikes, six of which made him top scorer at Mexico ‘86 — Gary moved into television with consummate ease. So natural is he in front of the camera, he is now almost universally admired, like the great uncle of football.
Never one to let his guard down, Gary refuses to say outright whether he preferred his days scoring winning goals than talking about them — ‘it’s very different’ is how he bats that probe away. When he elaborates, it’s clear that he sees parallels between the two. ‘You don’t get quite the same buzz of the magical moment of winning a big game or the exhilaration of scoring an important goal, you can never replace that,’ he confesses.
‘But after that, you get the camaraderie of a dressing room, albeit a smaller one in many senses, you get the rush of adrenalin that live telly gets, as Match of the Day is always live, so there are obvious similarities. But you’re not under quite as much pressure. Yes, you can fluff your lines, you can say something that you shouldn’t say accidentally, you can make mistakes, but the mistakes generally won’t upset anyone or change anybody’s life. You can just irritate yourself. Whereas when you’re a player if you miss a big chance or miss a penalty in a big competition, then you can affect people’s mood for weeks! So there is less pressure.’
Self-aware enough to realise that he has a job people would kill for, he appreciates his luxurious position. ‘Who wouldn’t love what I do? I’m very fortunate to have a job involved in a sport that has been such a huge part of my life; it’s not a bad job, is it?’
Watch Gary Lineker star in the latest ad from Walkers
Neither, it seems, is getting dunked in wet cement on a building site. Yes, Gary is still laughing at his own expense for Walkers crisps, for which he has been the face since 1995. The latest advert follows in the grand tradition of all the others — past commercials have seen him as a naked body builder and star alongside singer Lionel Ritchie. However, only one remains his all-time favourite.
‘Oh, I’ve done so many, if I had to pick one it would probably still be the Gazza one. When they put the contraption under his eyes to spurt the water out playing on his crying, we couldn’t do it for laughing for about three hours. We had to get a grip in the end! Every time it spurted out, we were supposed to be really serious, but we just pissed ourselves laughing.’
But imagine our surprise when the squeaky clean star confesses to cheating on his beloved (once titled) Salt and Lineker. ‘I generally am a salt and vinegar man! It is actually genuinely my favourite flavour in all aspects. Although sometimes I’m slightly disloyal and I might have another flavour…’