Gary Winston Lineker is an English former professional footballer and current sports broadcaster. He is regarded as one of the greatest English strikers. His media career began with the BBC, where he has presented the flagship football programme Match of the Day since the late 1990s, the longest tenure of any MOTD presenter. Lineker is also the BBC's lead presenter for live football matches, including its coverage of international tournaments. He has also previously worked for Al Jazeera Sports, Eredivisie Live, NBC Sports Network, and BT Sport's coverage of the UEFA Champions League.
Lineker began his football career at Leicester City in 1978, and finished as the First Division's joint top goalscorer in 1984–85. He then moved to league champions Everton where he won both the PFA Players' Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year awards in his debut season, before moving to Spanish giants Barcelona. With Barcelona, he won the 1987-1988 Copa del Rey and the 1989 European Cup Winners' Cup. He joined Tottenham Hotspur in 1989, and won his second FWA Footballer of the Year and won the FA Cup, his first and only major trophy in English football. Lineker's final club was Nagoya Grampus Eight; he retired in 1994 after two seasons at the Japanese side.
Lineker made his England debut in 1984, earning 80 caps and scoring 48 goals over an eight-year international career. He is England's joint third-highest scorer, behind Wayne Rooney and Bobby Charlton, level with Harry Kane, and his international goals-to-games ratio remains one of the best for the country. His six goals in the 1986 FIFA World Cup made him the tournament's top scorer, receiving the Golden Boot. Lineker was again integral to England's progress to the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup, scoring another four goals. He still holds England's record for goals in the FIFA World Cup.
Lineker is also the only player to have been the top scorer in England with three clubs: Leicester City, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur. Notably, he never received a yellow or red card during his 16-year career. As a result, he was honoured in 1990 with the FIFA Fair Play Award. In a senior career which spanned 16 years and 567 competitive games, Lineker scored a total of 330 goals, including 282 goals at club level. After his retirement from football he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame. A keen supporter of Leicester City, he led a consortium that invested in his old club, saving it from bankruptcy, and was appointed honorary vice-president.
Lineker was born in Leicester, the son of Margaret P. (Abbs) and Barry Lineker. He was given his middle name in honour of Winston Churchill, with whom he shares a birthday. He has one brother, Wayne, who is two years his junior. Lineker grew up with his family in the city, playing football with Wayne. Their father was a greengrocer, as was their grandfather William and great-grandfather George, in Leicester. Barry Lineker ran Lineker's fruit and veg stall in Leicester Market, and as a child and a young player Gary regularly helped out on the stall.
Lineker first attended Caldecote Road School (Caldecote Juniors), Braunstone in Leicester (east of the Meridian Centre). He then went to the City of Leicester Boys' Grammar School (now City of Leicester College) on Downing Drive in Evington, owing to his preference for football rather than rugby, which was the main sport of most schools near his home. Lineker was equally talented at both football and cricket. From the ages of 11 to 16 he captained the Leicestershire Schools cricket team, and had felt that he had a higher chance of succeeding at it rather than football. He later stated on They Think It's All Over that as a teenager he idolised former England captain David Gower, who was playing for Leicestershire at the time. During his youth he played for Aylestone Park Youth, later becoming the club's president.
Lineker left school with four O Levels. One of his teachers wrote on his report card that he "concentrates too much on football" and that he would "never make a living at that". He then joined the youth academy at Leicester City in 1976.
Lineker began his career at his hometown club Leicester City after leaving school in 1977, turning professional in the 1978–79 season and making his senior debut on New Year's Day 1979 in a 2–0 win at Filbert Street over Oldham Athletic in the Second Division. He earned a Second Division title medal a year later with 19 appearances, but played just nine league games in 1980–81 as Leicester went straight back down.
However, he became a regular player in 1981–82, scoring 19 goals in all competitions that season. Although Leicester missed out on promotion, they reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, and clinched promotion a year later as Lineker scored 26 times in the Second Division. In 1983–84, he enjoyed regular First Division action for the first time and was the division's second-highest scorer with 22 goals, although Leicester failed to finish anywhere near the top of the league. He was the First Division's joint top scorer in 1984–85 with 24 goals, and was enjoying a prolific partnership with Alan Smith. However, by this stage he was attracting the attention of bigger clubs, and a move from Filbert Street was looking certain.
In the 1985 close season, defending league champions Everton signed Lineker for £800,000; he scored 40 goals in 57 games for his new team in the 1985–86 season. Lineker's first game for Everton happened to be away to Leicester City; at half time, he walked into the Leicester dressing room by mistake. He was again the First Division's leading goal scorer, this time with 30 goals (including three hat-tricks), and helped Everton finish second in the league. While at Everton, they reached the FA Cup final for the third consecutive year but lost 3–1 to Liverpool, despite Lineker giving them an early lead when he outpaced Alan Hansen to score. Liverpool had also pipped Everton to the title by just two points. "I was only on Merseyside a short time, nine or 10 months in total really, but it was still a happy time personally, while professionally it was one of the most successful periods of my career", he says. "I still have an affinity towards Everton."
Lineker scored three hat-tricks for Everton; at home to Birmingham City in a 4–1 league win on 31 August 1985, at home to Manchester City in a 4–0 home win on 11 February 1986, and then in the penultimate league game of the season on 3 May 1986, when they kept their title hopes alive with a 6–1 home win over Southampton. On his final league appearance, he scored twice in a 3–1 home win over West Ham United whose own title hopes had just disappeared. However, he and his colleagues were denied title glory as Liverpool also won their final league game of the season at Chelsea. Lineker has consistently stated since retiring from football that this Everton team was the best club side he ever played in.
After winning the Golden Boot at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, Lineker was signed by Barcelona for £2.8 million. Barcelona were being managed by former Queens Park Rangers manager Terry Venables, who had also brought in Manchester United and Wales striker Mark Hughes. Barcelona gave Lineker his first chance of European football, as Leicester had never qualified for Europe while he played for them, and Everton were denied a place in the European Cup for 1985–86 due to the ban on English clubs in European competitions following the Heysel disaster.
Lineker made his Barcelona debut against Racing Santander, scoring twice. His Golden Boot-winning performance at the finals generated much anticipation of success at the Camp Nou, and he did not disappoint, scoring 21 goals in 41 games during his first season, including a hat-trick in a 3–2 win over archrivals Real Madrid. Barcelona went on to win the Copa del Rey in 1988 and the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1989. Lineker played in Barcelona's shock home and away defeats to Dundee United. Barcelona manager Johan Cruyff decided to play Lineker on the right of the midfield and he was eventually no longer an automatic choice in the team.
With 42 goals in 103 La Liga appearances, Lineker became the highest scoring British player in the competition's history, but was later surpassed by Gareth Bale in March 2016.
Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson attempted to sign Lineker to partner his ex-Barcelona teammate Mark Hughes in attack, but Lineker instead signed for Tottenham Hotspur in July 1989 for £1.1 million. Over three seasons, he scored 67 goals in 105 league games and won the FA Cup while playing for the club. He finished as top scorer in the First Division in the 1989–90 season, scoring 24 goals as Spurs finished third.
He finally collected an English trophy when he won the 1991 FA Cup Final with Spurs, who beat Nottingham Forest 2–1. This was despite Lineker having a goal controversially disallowed for offside and also having a penalty saved by goalkeeper Mark Crossley. Lineker had contributed to Tottenham's run to the final. In the semi-final he scored twice in a 3–1 win over North London rivals Arsenal.
He was the top division's second-highest goalscorer in 1991–92 with 28 goals from 35 games, behind Ian Wright, who scored 29 times in 42 games. Despite Lineker's personal performance, Tottenham finished this final pre-Premier League season in 15th place. His last goal in English football came on the last day of the season in a 3–1 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Nagoya Grampus Eight
In November 1991, Lineker accepted an offer of a two-year contract from J1 League club Nagoya Grampus Eight. The transfer fee paid to Tottenham Hotspur was £2 million. He officially joined Nagoya Grampus Eight after playing his final game for Spurs on 2 May 1992, when he scored the consolation goal in a 3–1 defeat by Manchester United on the last day of the season. Shortly before accepting the offer from Nagoya Grampus Eight, Tottenham had rejected an offer from ambitious Second Division club Blackburn Rovers, who had recently been taken over by steel baron Jack Walker.
Having scored 9 goals in 23 appearances over two injury impacted seasons for Nagoya Grampus Eight, he announced his retirement from playing in September 1994. The English national media had previously reported that he would be returning to England to complete his playing career at Middlesbrough or Southampton.