After three decades of tedious crisp adverts and 23 years of even more tedious Match of the Day links, it is easy to forget that Gary Lineker was a great striker.
Well, he was. With 48 goals in 80 international matches, including 10 in 12 at the FIFA World Cup finals of 1986 and 1990, Gary Lineker is considered by many England fans as the country’s greatest-ever goalscorer.
A winner of the Adidas Golden Shoe at Mexico 1986 and a FIFA Fair Play Award four years later for his exemplary disciplinary record, which saw him go through his entire 568-game career without receiving a booking, Lineker is now the anchorman for BBC Sport’s coverage of football and golf.
Early Days For Gary Lineker
Lineker began his association with the local club Leicester City immediately after leaving school when he signed as a trainee in 1977.
At first, he was asked to play wide on the right due to his abundant pace, but he excelled when given his chance up front. Lineker fired the Foxes to the semi-finals of the 1982 FA Cup, which was crucial to their successful promotion bid in 1983.
By this time, Gary Lineker was drawing national attention and was given his England debut. While establishing himself with England, Lineker seamlessly transitioned to the First Division, finishing as joint top scorer with 24 goals in 1985.
Outgrowing His Teammates
Performances for Leicester City and England made it clear Gary Lineker was outgrowing his teammates at Filbert Street. It seemed inevitable that he would move on, and when defending league champions Everton came in with an £800,000 offer in 1985, Lineker’s fate was sealed.
Everton was the best team in England, and arguably Europe, at the time. Denied a historical treble by Norman Whiteside’s extra-time goal in the 1984 FA Cup final, Howard Kendall acquired England’s best striker in a bid to dominate. This came despite fans’ protests to stick with current hero Andy Gray.
Lineker’s time with Everton was somewhat paradoxical. Despite his fantastic scoring return (40 goals in 51 games) and narrowly missing out on the league and FA Cup to rivals Liverpool, Everton fans were unhappy at Kendall’s tactics.
A team of skillful ball-players was urged to play more directly to utilize Lineker’s pace, which the striker later denied.
Lineker’s sole year at Goodison was also marred by the fact that Everton and every other English side were banned from European competition following the Heysel disaster in 1985. Evertonians claim to this day that they would have won the competition.
Everton Was Stronger
Gary Lineker himself said: “The European Cup final that year was between FC Barcelona and Steaua Bucharest, and Everton were stronger than both of those teams.”
Despite not winning anything with Everton, Lineker regards his days there as the best time of his career. He often describes an “affinity” with the club and its supporters in interviews.
All problems aside, Lineker’s prolific season with the Toffees stood him in good stead to perform at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico.
From a personal point of view, Mexico 1986 was the pinnacle of Lineker’s career. He scored six goals in five games and was awarded the tournament’s Golden Boot, the only Englishman to earn this honor.
A sensational first-half hat-trick in a decisive game against Poland capped a fine tournament and brought his talents to a wider audience.
Lineker’s heroics at the World Championships was well-timed, as Howard Kendall was already planning his sale. When losing European Cup finalists, FC Barcelona offered Everton £2.8m, Lineker’s hands were forced, so he begrudgingly left the club.
Life at the Nou Camp started well for Gary Lineker with 21 goals in his first season, including a hat-trick in a 3-2 victory against Real Madrid. FC Barcelona performed well in the league during his time, though they only achieved success in cup competitions, clinching the Copa del Ray and Cup Winners’ Cup in 1989.
Originally bought by a friend and fellow Englishman Terry Venables, Lineker found himself ostracised under new coach Johan Cruyff, who again deployed him as a winger.
Desperate to regain his best form for the 1990 World Cup (Italia 90), Lineker left to be reunited with Venables, who had taken over at Tottenham Hotspur.
Lineker hit the ground running at Spurs. Spurs climbed the league and eventually finished in the third position as the goals kept coming. Lineker was the key factor, ending up leading goalscorer in the English football league with 24 goals.
Again, a clinical domestic season had prepared Lineker perfectly for the World Cup as he scored four goals in Italy. His record of 10 goals in 12 games is still up there with the best in the world. Two pressure penalties to see England through against Cameroon had England fans idolizing Gary Lineker.
Lineker’s international career ended acrimoniously in 1992 when manager Graham Taylor substituted him with half an hour remaining in a decisive game against Sweden.
Lineker, at the time only one behind Bobby Charlton’s all-time record of 49 goals, was disgusted at his manager and refused to look at the bench.
Except for the following season, Lineker’s career fizzled out. Despite scoring 28 goals in 35 league games and finishing second only to Ian Wright in the scoring charts, Lineker retired two years later. He spent an injury-plagued two years in Japan with Nagoya Grampus Eight.
Though he was never the most creative or skillful player and certainly not in the habit of playing for the team, Lineker did exactly what was expected of him and scored goal after goal after goal, whoever he turned out for. It is arguable that England’s comparative failure since his retirement is due to never replace him adequately.
In many ways, he is the last old-fashioned striker. Clinical, selfish, pacey – a recent modern-day equivalent would be Mexican striker Javier Hernandez.
Lineker was, above all else, patriotic. His exploits for England raised supporters’ hopes in a way that no subsequent England player could.
World Cup Experiences
Gary Lineker arrived at Mexico in 1986 after scoring an incredible 38 goals in 52 games for Everton in the 1985/86 season. Despite that incredible total, the then 25-year-old ended the domestic season without a trophy, as the Toffees’ city rivals, Liverpool, achieved the league and cup double.
In his opening two games, he drew a blank as the England national team drew with Morocco and lost to Portugal, but he broke his duck in style with a 25-minute treble against Poland in Monterrey.
From there, he bagged a brace against Paraguay in the Round of 16 and then grabbed a consolation in a 2-1 defeat by Argentina in the quarter-finals. Of the three goals scored that day on 22 June 1986 in Azteca, Lineker’s barely gets a mention, being completely overshadowed by Diego Maradona’s incredible double; the ‘Hand of God’ and arguably the finest goal scored at a FIFA World Cup finals.
Overshadowed By Diego
But the Englishman bares no resentment towards his fellow No10, preferring to concentrate on the penalty shoot-out defeat to West Germany in 1990 as his biggest disappointment.
The highlight of my two World Cups has to be against Poland in 1986 and scoring the hat trick,” he told the History Of Soccer. “Not because they were great goals – I don’t think any of mine ever was! I’d had a good season with Everton and scored many goals, but I’d gone five or six games without scoring for England, so I was under a bit of pressure, especially as this is such a big tournament.”
“The Poland game transformed things on a personal note, I went on to score a few more goals and win the Golden Boot, which earned me a move to Barcelona. That was the highlight in terms of a one-off match.”
“The World Championships is special. It’s the highest stage that any player can ever perform on. It puts you in the spotlight, but it’s also the best chance to test yourself against the best players in the world. The Azteca is a fantastic stadium, and the atmosphere is unbelievable. To play there was a great experience. However, the pitch was lousy!”
“They had relayed it just before the tournament, and there were divots all over the surface. Every time you put your foot down, the whole pitch moved. That made the goal that Maradona scored all the more remarkable, the second one, not the one where he punched it in!”
“The only regret I have four years later is I think we were a better side and more equipped to win the trophy. Whereas in 1986 we weren’t one of the best teams, in Italy in 1990 we were as good as anybody. We were desperately unlucky to lose the semi-final against Germany; my only regret is that we didn’t win the penalty shoot-out.”
The Germans Great Mental Strength
Ah, yes, penalties. One of Lineker’s most famous sayings is: ‘Football is a simple game; 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes, and at the end, the Germans win.’
On 4 July 1990 in Turin, England was left with a sinking feeling as Chris Waddle’s penalty ballooned over the bar, and West Germany was through to another final against Argentina. But as the striker readily admits, Bobby Robson’s side was fortunate to reach the last four after almost underestimating Cameroon in the quarter-finals.
“The Germans had great mental strength, resilience, and that little bit of luck that was probably the only difference in the end. You have to say that they’ve produced lots and lots of good players over the years. Cameroon surprised us a lot. I remember a team meeting with Bobby Robson, who told us one of his scouts said we’d been given a bye to the next round.”
“They were brilliant against us, and we were lucky to win that game. Thankfully, they were quite poor defensively, which gave us an opportunity but going forward, they were something special.”
“Failing to win the trophy is the one thing you look back on and think ‘if only,’ because we were so close to becoming the first England team to win outside of our own country. It would have been so special.”
“But on the flip side, if someone said to me at the start of my career that I would have played in one semi-final and one quarter-final and scored that many, then I wouldn’t have believed them! We always want more, don’t we?”
Aside from working in football media, Lineker, now 62, has kept himself extremely busy since retiring. He has appeared in a film and a play, had a flavour of potato crisps named after him, and actively supports several charities.
But the move which seems to surprise most people is the sight of the footballing legend working in BBC’s golf coverage! Yet the keen golfer, who plays off a handicap of five, enjoys every minute of being taken out of his comfort zone.
Gary Lineker Stats, Facts, And Figures
Full Name: Gary Winston Lineker
Birthplace: Leicester, England
- Leicester City 1978–1985
- Everton 1985–1986
- FC Barcelona 1986–1989
- Tottenham Hotspur 1989–1992
- Nagoya Grampus 1992–1994
Total Appearances: 461 matches, 238 goals
- England 1984–1992 (80 appearances, 48 goals)
- 1979–80: Football League Second Division Champions
- 1987–88: Copa del Rey winners
- 1988–89: European Cup Winners’ Cup Champions
- 1990–91: FA Cup Winners
- 1984–85, 1985–86, and 1989–90: English First Division top goalscorer
- 1985–86: PFA Players’ Player of the Year:
- 1985–86 and 1991–92: FWA Footballer of the Year
- 1986: FIFA World Cup Golden Boot
- 1986: FIFA All-Star Team
- 1986: Ballon d’Or Runners-up
What You Might Not Know About Gary Lineker
- Lineker’s father, Barry, ran a fruit and veg stall at Leicester Market. Gary regularly worked the stall during his childhood and as a young player.
- As a child, Lineker suffered racial abuse due to his dark features.
- His youth was spent playing for Aylestone Park Youth, where he later became the club’s president.
- The first game Lineker played for Everton was away at Leicester City. By mistake, he entered the Leicester dressing room at halftime.
- At least twice in an England match, he netted four goals.
- Match of the Day has made him known to the current generation.
- A keen recreational golfer, Lineker has a four-handicap.
- In the late 1990s, Walkers Crisps named their salt and vinegar snacks after Lineker, calling them Salt & Lineker.
- Gary Lineker is 61 years old and will turn 62 of age on November 30th this year.
- Gary Lineker’s younger brother Wayne Lineker owns the famous O Beach Ibiza club in Ibiza. Besides owning his own brand of sports bars called Lineker’s Bar, he has also owned other nightlife venues since starting his empire in 1988.
- Former Barcelona teammate Mark Hughes and Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson tried to sign Lineker together. Tottenham Hotspur signed the striker for £1.1 million in July 1989.
- In 2020, Lineker earned £1.75 million, making him the highest-paid BBC employee. Spears magazine reported in 2021 that the Englishman’s net worth is over £30 million pounds.