Sporting Hero – Gary Lineker

 

Why do we attach hero status to sportspeople? What qualities do we seek in a sports hero? Do they have to overcome some tragic event in their careers and life before we can accept them as heroes?

These are just some of the questions that many of us sports fans surely ponder about, or discuss with others?

However, as a teenager growing-up in the 1980s I was much more impressionable when it came to sports heroes and I admired two such personalities during this period. One was Daley Thompson – the Commonwealth, European, World and double Olympic decathlete champion.

The other was an English footballer who was never graced with the ability to go on mazy runs down the pitch, or to score spectacular goals from distance. No, this was an old-fashioned close-range player or an ‘in-the-box-striker’. A great goalscorer and not a scorer of great goals as people often said.

It was a tough choice between the two but one had to come out on top and so step forward….Gary Winston Lineker.

He was born on 30th November 1960 in Leicester, England. He began his career at his home town club of Leicester City as a schoolboy before progressing through the ranks and signing as a professional. During his time at Filbert Street (The Foxes’ old ground), he became a prolific goalscorer and was considered one of the most talented young players at the time in England.

He twice won promotion to the old First Division with Leicester in 1980 and again in 1983. He was also the First Division’s joint top goalscorer with Chelsea’s Kerry Dixon in 1984-85. This form earned him his first international call-up when he played for England against Scotland in the old Home Nations Championship at Hampden Park, Glasgow.

After scoring 103 goals in 216 appearances for Leicester, he left Filbert Street in the summer of 1985 and moved to the defending league champions Everton. By the end of the season he was once again the First Division’s leading goalscorer and had also won First Division and FA Cup runners-up medals with Everton.

They had lost both trophies to their city rivals Liverpool, losing the championship by just two points and the cup 3-1 (despite Lineker scoring the first goal in the final).

Due to his great form at Everton where he scored 38 times in 52 matches and a very strong showing at the 1986 World Cup finals, Lineker was transferred to the Spanish giants Barcelona, who were managed by a certain Terry Venables at the time.

He spent three seasons with Barcelona, scoring a total of 53 goals in 138 appearances, including a famous El Clásico hat-trick over arch rivals Real Madrid in his first season and also winning the Copa del Rey (Spanish Cup) in 1988 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1989.

After spurning the offer of joining Alex Ferguson at Manchester United and also AS Monaco, Lineker returned to England when he signed for Tottenham Hotspur in the summer of 1989. The three seasons that he spent at White Hart Lane saw him hit a rich vein of form scoring a total of 80 goals in just 138 matches.

In his first season with Spurs, he was the First Division’s leading goalscorer (for the third time) and in 1991 won an FA Cup winners medal when Spurs beat Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest 2-1.

With his retirement age slowly creeping in Lineker took on a fresh challenge – and a nice lucrative contract – and moved to the J.League in Japan, playing with Nagoya Grampus Eight.

Unfortunately, this turned out to be an injury-plagued spell and he made just 23 appearances over two seasons, scoring 9 times. He retired from professional football in the autumn of 1994.

During his eight-year international career with England – of which he was captain between 1990-92 – Lineker was capped 80 times and scored 48 goals, falling just one short of Sir Bobby Charlton’s all-time England record of 49 goals.

Lineker’s scoring-ratio was better than Charlton’s though as it took Sir Bobby an extra 26 matches to achieve that record. In the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico he scored 6 goals – including an incredible hat-trick against Poland – as England reached the quarter-final stage before going out of the tournament in an infamous match against the eventual winners Argentina.

In top-scoring at Mexico, Lineker won himself the Golden Boot award as the top scorer of the tournament, thus becoming the first and to this day only English player ever to do so. At the World Cup finals in Italy four years later, he added 4 more goals to his World Cup tally as England progressed to the semi-final stage this time, only to lose again to the eventual winners as Germany beat them on a penalty shoot-out.

He was controversially substituted by then England coach Graham Taylor in his last match for England, against the host-nation at the European Championships in Sweden, 1992, ultimately denying Lineker the chance to equal – or even better – Charlton’s record of 49 goals.

In his sixteen-year illustrious career he had also been honoured by his fellow professionals, peers, and associations by being voted the PFA Player’s Player of the Year in 1986 and the FWA Player of the Year in 1986 and 1992.

Lineker was honoured on the world stage in 1990 when he was awarded the FIFA Fair Play Award for his fair sportsmanship. Indeed, during his long career where he played 567 club games and 80 times for England he was never booked or sent-off by a referee.

An exemplary disciplinary record like that is hugely beneficial to any sports team. His contribution to the national game was acknowledged in 1992 when he was awarded the Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).

Lineker made the most of his natural gifts: pace, positional sense and anticipation to become a great finisher and one of the most widely admired football players in the world. His sportsmanship on the field and his amiable character off it made him a great ambassador for the game of football and for sport in general.

These traits helped him make what seemed like an effortless transition from a footballer to a very successful television presenter and broadcaster in the process. In fact, he has become such an icon of British sport on television that you could be forgiven for not remembering that he was a former football player.

A true English sporting legend.

By Shawn Moore

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