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What are we going to do about Gary Lineker’s underpants?

Barring an extremely unlikely set of results Leicester City Football Club will win this season’s English Premier League. This is extraordinary. Leicester have never won the Premier League even in the days when it was called the League Championship. Last season they only just avoided relegation and at the beginning of this one they were given odds of 5000 to 1 to win the title.

The club is not under the ownership of some Middle East potentate with an air force and in the figure of Claudio Ranieri – likeable as he may be – does not possess a genius manager.

A couple of seasons ago I had the unprivilege of watching Leicester play Watford when both teams were in the Championship ie the next league down. It gives me no pleasure to say that they gave us a right shellacking and I was surprised when initially they struggled in the Premiership. At Christmas 2014 they were bottom of the league.

Football fans use the expression “Championship player” implying that while a player might do well in the Championship he is not good enough for the next league up. It is cruel and it is true. The gulf between the two leagues is enormous.

So, I was surprised when I dug out the programme from that day to find that 6 or 7 of that Leicester team regularly start for them now. The equivalent number for Watford is 2. Yes, Leicester have won with a bunch of Championship players.

If Leicester’s success cannot be explained by either the owners, managers or players what can it be explained by? Sherlock Holmes said that: “…when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth…” This leads us to the inevitable conclusion that Leicester’s triumph is all down to finding that dead king in one of their car parks.

But to weightier matters. For those who’ve never heard of him, Gary Lineker is a legend. As a player, he scored a huge number of goals for club and country. If you want to see a middle-aged Englishman lose his composure just ask him what is meant by the expression “When Lineker scored.” Many of his goals came while he was playing for Leicester City, his home town. Since then he has made successful careers for himself both as a TV presenter, currently fronting the BBC’s main football highlights programme Match of the Day, and as a crisp salesman.

Earlier on in the season at a time when Leicester were doing well but no one expected them to actually win anything, Lineker promised that should they do so he would present Match of the Day in his underpants. Most people in similar circumstances would promise to streak down a public thoroughfare or clean the steps of St Paul’s with a toothbrush. But Lineker had to come up with something that was not only a bit naff but involved his employer as well.

Leicester’s march to the title has been not unlike the end of The Wicker Man. You think: “It can’t happen, it can’t happen, it can’t happen. Oh. It has.” And now that the structure is engulfed in flame, Lineker and the BBC – unless the latter decide to be ultra-pedantic – are going to have to make good on his promise. While I yield to no one in wishing Mr Lineker – or, the anti-Watford as I think of him – ill, I find the idea of the man sitting in a presenter’s chair wearing nothing but a pair of Marks and Spencer’s Y-fronts stomach-churning enough without anyone making it real. So, oh commentariat, can you come up with a way that Mr Lineker can stand by his word without outraging all that is decent, moral or civilised? If you can you will have the thanks of a grateful nation.

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52 comments to What are we going to do about Gary Lineker’s underpants?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    “While I yield to no one in wishing Mr Lineker – or, the anti-Watford as I think of him – ill”

    I think you’ve said the opposite of what you intended. As written, that would mean that you were top wisher of ill to Mr Lineker (whoever he is) in the world.

  • Although an activist judge could easily interpret “In his underpants” to mean “as worn under his trousers”, the phrase would seem to be pretty unarguable to any constitutionalist as meaning “with no trousers off”. Could he be allowed to wear a sash across his torso saying “Reinstate Clarkson” or some similar slogan that to the BBC PCers would be ‘obscene’ while sparing us ordinary mortals the (fairly) full monty?

    Alternatively, maybe his upper portion could be decorated with many quotes of people saying they’ll leave (whichever country) if (whichever politician) gets elected, along with a hat carrying the slogan “I don’t just score (an own goal,) I follow through on my promise” or some such idea.

    Or he could just do exactly what he said. There’s nothing improper – or even watershed-ish – about a man appearing on the BBC respectably clothed in sufficiently opaque and trunk-like underpants. It’s just a rather unusual programme on which to have such a thing. The BBC can put its standard “may contain content upsetting to some viewers” tag that they use on so many things they show. After all, losing is very upsetting to a team’s supporters so maybe Match of the Day should always have this tag.

    Meanwhile, let us all be warned about the danger of thinking we know as fact what we merely believe likely from probabilities (which may in fact arise from prejudices). Maybe “know what you don’t know” should be the slogan with which he conceals whatever he can. 🙂

  • “And I’d better anticipate Natalie in point out that I meant “with his trousers off” or “with no trousers on” or “with his trousers off”. Can Mr Lineker’s iil-aspected stars be affecting all who comment on it. 🙂

    Patrick, if you correct (with acknowledgement) the point Natalie raised, please feel free also to correct my typo.

  • Greytop

    I wish Leicester all the best: it will be good to see someone other than the usual money-bagged teams win the title. reminds me of when I stared watching footy and just about every team had its regulars who simply played for their local team because what was the point of moving clubs when they all paid (more or less) the same? Thus England full-back Jimmy Armfield was happy at Blackpool, and at the same Burnley’s home-grown lot were capable of getting a shot at the title.

    However, I can recall from many years ago when my own team was routinely beaten by Leicester — even when they were no great shakes, which says even more about the team that had my affections. But… while I might still smart at some of those distant results despite the passage of time, I do want Leicester to have their moment of glory.

  • Alisa

    Niall, I’d pay to see any of that – and this is from someone who normally would require to be paid for watching the BBC 😀

  • Patrick Crozier

    “I think you’ve said the opposite of what you intended. As written, that would mean that you were top wisher of ill to Mr Lineker (whoever he is) in the world.”

    But, Natalie, I am the top wisher of ill to Mr Lineker. Bad blood between him and Leicester on the one side and Watford and Graham Taylor on the other goes back a long way.

  • Rational Plan

    Mr Linekar is a former sportsman who is still trim, so it won’t be unsightly as for any unfortunate bulges, well maybe a desk in front of him will keep it a little more decent.

  • Did he actually say he’d present the show in his Y-fronts? He could do it in boxers. And a (British) vest.

  • Patrick Crozier

    This is what he tweeted:

    YES! If Leicester win the @premierleague I’ll do the first MOTD of next season in just my undies.

    So, a string vest is a distinct possibility. Oh, and socks I suppose.

    Can you still get string vests?

  • lucklucky

    If it is cold in England he could say that is undies are his pajamas…

  • the other rob

    …in just my undies.

    Damn! I was going to suggest that he wear his Y-Fronts on the outside, superhero style, but that “just” puts the kibosh on it.

  • Michael Jennings

    Just by existing, Association Football (no I can’t call it just “football” in ignorance of all sporting history – the game needs to get itself a proper name with fewer than six syllables) is an outrage to all that is decent, moral or civilised.

    (Now, where are my asbestos underpants?).

  • Robert

    the game needs to get itself a proper name with fewer than six syllables

    Soccer?

  • Patrick Crozier

    He could, I suppose, wear one very, very big pair of underpants. And no one said how many undies he was going to wear. A hundred pairs of pants will cover quite a lot.

  • James Strong

    If Leicester win the title with 7 ‘Championship’ players thenit is likely that they do have a genius manager.
    A manager who has built a team to play as a team and motivated them to play at their best, for themselves, for each other, for the team, for the club and for the manager.

    What they haven’t got is a celebrity manager.
    But if I had had the resources available to Maureen or Peppa or the red-nose with the hairdryer I could be a good manager.

    Adulation of the ‘star’ manager is another sickness in celebrity-obsessed Britain.

  • Mr Ed

    I am currently within howitzer range of Leicester and I made a rare foray there this morning. The sense of excitement regarding the football was palpable, a pensioner decked out in team kit on his mobility scooter was engaging all with his views, large toy foxes in a department store, bunting etc. All very much nicer than the slight air of menace in the working week when the zeks fill the streets whilst the workers of the world are busy.

    Quite why a team manager should make a difference to the capabilities of a team is not clear to me. Surely a team of professionals could work out for themselves how to play best, and a captain could simply pick the team, the owner pick the captain? If this were tried for a season, some money might be saved, and the press would have a lot less to prattle on about.

    And isn’t it strange that so many people may have different moods based on the outcome of 22 men kicking a ball around some grass for 90-odd minutes every few days for a few months, even when they have not even seen the action?

  • mike

    “Surely a team of professionals could work out for themselves how to play best…”

    Well not if they all disagree about that. Hence the manager. Though from what I’ve read, that is pretty close to what Ranieri actually did at the beginning of the season: nothing, just let them get on with it.

  • Laird

    Why not just have him sit behind a desk? It’s happened before.

  • Surely a team of professionals could work out for themselves how to play best,

    You’d think that would be even more true for an individual sport, and yet it was a huge deal when Roger Federer went around without a real coach.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Surely there is nothing indecent about showing up on the BBC in what one would wear at the beach or swimming pool, and i fail to see any significant difference between underpants and what men wear at the beach — except that underpants can become embarrassing when wet, and can easily get dragged down from the waist by the water; but that is unlikely to be a problem at the BBC.

    A slightly more serious question: can anybody enlighten me as to how a football club can move from Championship to Premier?
    I ask this question mostly to advertise my ignorance about football, whether association or not.

    And isn’t it strange that so many people may have different moods based on the outcome of 22 men kicking a ball around some grass for 90-odd minutes every few days for a few months, even when they have not even seen the action?

    Indeed, Umberto Eco wrote a short essay for the Italian weekly, L’Espresso, in which he mentioned that he had his first doubts about the existence of God while watching 22 grown men chasing a ball for 90 minutes.

  • charliel

    I’m not pouring bleach in MY eyes; I’m going to just not watch (which is easy for me to say as I would not have watched in any case)….

    And now I know why I normally look to the samizdatistes for enlightenment. You have saved me from a terrible mistake yet again.

  • Mr Ed

    Snorri,

    The English Football League consists of football teams in England and Wales (but not Berwick Rangers) and has 4 Divisions (more than the Pope). In the good old days of perms, they were Divisions 1 to 4. The virtually independent and lucrative Premier League (formerly Division 1) is the zenith and it has 20 teams in the League, each playing twice a season to determine position in the Table. The top 4 placed teams get entered into next year’s UEFA Champions League (more dosh, no ‘). The 4th team has to pre-qualify so migt lose out on €! The 5th team gets into what used to be the UEFA Cup but it now has some silly name and is worth a bucket of cold p*ss, but you have to pretend to be happy to be in Stavanger or Moldova on a cold November Thursday playing a team whose name you cannot pronounce.

    The bottom 3 teams in the Premier League get relegated to the next level, called (naturally) the Championship, a league of iirc 24 teams but they get almost no money and have to go to some Crap Towns...

    Upon getting relegated, a team loses a shedload of future earnings from the Premier League TV rights (but they get ‘Parachute payments’ to compensate for the financial shock), the fans may drift away as the football is perceived as less glamorous, and they have to sack or sell or replace the best players who are too expensive on the reduced income and who want the mega-bucks salaries of the Premier League. The 3 relegated teams are replaced by the top 2 teams from the Championship and the winner of a play-off from the teams that finished 3rd to 7th in the Championship at normal season end. They used to have relegation play-offs for 3rd and 4th bottom etc. in some leagues but the violence that ensued was regarded as unacceptable.

    This process is repeated with the two lower leagues of four, called ‘League 1’ and ‘League 2’, presumably to make the really crap towns feel better, whereas we still might say ‘Fourth Division’ to signify ‘not great quality’ where ‘League 2‘ simply does not work. Iirc only a truly crap team gets expelled from the Football League if bottom of League 2, as a discretion applies as to being kicked out of the League.

    I’m told that inthe USA some sports leagues don’t have relegation, so that the ‘franchises’ can keep their paws in the money honey pot. At present, a number of Premier League teams with foreign owners may be attracted to this idea, so as to secure income streams, but there is a sufficient minority of teams in the Permier League not so minded who are able to block such a rule change in the Premier League. Expect legislation from a UK government if this changes.

  • Mr Ed

    mike

    Hence ‘professionals’ (as if) and the Captain being in charge. From what I have heard ‘on the street’ in Leicester, Signor Ranieri has managed to get his players to work as a team and takes the team out for pizza etc. and they work well together.

  • Laird

    Mr Ed, that’s a good explanation of the league structure for those of us unfamiliar with it; thanks. In some respects it sounds like the minor league system in American baseball, except that we don’t have “relegation”; a team which is “Triple A”, “Double A”, etc., remains such forever. (Once in a while one of the truly lowest divisions changes ownership and its major league team affiliation, but that’s rare and doesn’t usually affect the team’s level in the hierarchy anyway.) And these teams all have “player development” contracts with their major league affiliates, which means that individual players are moved up and down through the system pretty much as the discretion of the “parent” team.

  • Mr Ed

    Relegation is quite Randian, Darwinian, it gives an edge to the season and a meaning to games that the immortality of a closed franchise league lacks.

    And when a team gets relegated, the TV traditionally focuses on an 10-year old boy crying in the crowd (next to his blubbing Dad). But, as the mother of the last Moor to rule Granada reportedly said to him at Suspiro del Moro, where he turned round for a last look at Granada as he trudged off through the mountains towards the coast and on to the Maghreb: ‘Do not cry like a woman, for that which you did not defend like a man!’.

  • Alan Peakall

    The relegation struggle did once see its randian edge blunted: try googling Bristol City v Coventry in 1977 if the anecdote (recounted by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene) is unfamiliar.

  • Mr Ed

    Alan,

    Is that why ‘Bristol City’ is rhyming slang?

    But then again, Harvey’s Bristol Cream is not for topical application.

  • Chester Draws

    Quite why a team manager should make a difference to the capabilities of a team is not clear to me.

    I’m not sure it is clear to anyone, but the evidence suggests that even the best players need strong and clear management. You might argue that it shouldn’t matter, but all the evidence suggests that good managers make teams play better football.

    Part of it is just managing the egos so that they can work together. James Strong above dislikes the rise of the “celebrity manager” but how else are you to manage a team full of young men who each think they are the bee’s knees? To manage a team full of such knobs, you need a person who they don’t look down on.

    I also suggest that these managers know a thing or two about football. That you or I don’t understand what they do is possibly an indication of how difficult the job is, rather than how easy. The Kruger-Dunning Effect operates quite strongly here I believe.

  • the other rob

    Mr Ed – As you did such a good job there, how about explaining why God apparently hates Newcastle United?

  • Lee Moore

    That’s easy.

    EVERYONE hates Newcastle United.

  • Everybody hates Manchester United more, don’t they?

  • Alan: that reminds me of the Germany/Austria game from the 1982 World Cup.

    There was a group in the 2002 World Cup where one game ended a few minutes later than the other because of extra stoppage time, and when the two teams in that game realized they’d qualify with the result, they basically didn’t play for the last five minutes.

  • This process is repeated with the two lower leagues of four, called ‘League 1’ and ‘League 2’, presumably to make the really crap towns feel better, whereas we still might say ‘Fourth Division’ to signify ‘not great quality’ where ‘League 2‘ simply does not work.

    In which case the two top tiers ought to be League Zero and League Negative One.

  • And when a team gets relegated, the TV traditionally focuses on an 10-year old boy crying in the crowd (next to his blubbing Dad).

    As a Germany fan, I can’t help but love this from the most recent World Cup. 🙂

    (And for anybody who thinks soccer is low-scoring and boring, watch the first leg of the recent Atlético Madrid/Bayern München CL semifinal.)

  • Fred the Fourth

    Mr Ed:
    In the US, Nation Basketball Association, the most worst teams get the best picks of the incoming college kids. This is intended, of course, to help them recover and improve, but it has the short-term effect of some pretty hilarious game play starting about mid-season, when the bottom half of the team rankings starts to solidify, and a few teams in the bottom half start to struggle for last place.
    Regarding the need for management: NBA teams with superstar players often suffer from the dominance of the star over the ostensible coach. (Cf. LeBron James at Cleveland, or Kobe Bryant at Los Angeles). Teams with strong coaching make the most of their stars as teamates, cf. last year’s (league winning) and this year’s Golden State Warriors (Oakland, CA).

  • Fred the Fourth

    Ack. “National”, not “Nation”, Basketball Assoc.

  • Mr Ed

    Chester D,

    Perhaps you simply have not read my suggestion properly, it is a ‘business process re-engineering’ exercise, or ‘redundancy’ in normal language. Quite simple, the team captain picks and runs the team, like the captain of a vessel. No matter how much poor Steve McLaren kniws about football, it does not seem to have availed him of much recently.

    the other rob,

    The Love of God is boundless, it’s just that he has a good sense of humour, hence the giraffe and the duck-billed platypus, and Mr Ashley buying the Toon without doing due diligence and finding a hole in the accounts to the tune of £100,000,000. (Declaration of interest, family connections to a North East city with a history of ship-building but red and white stripes).

    Fred IV

    To be fair, that is something Sir Alec Ferguson appears to have stamped flat at Manchester United during his tenure, the team (i.e. his view) always prevailed, and it may be that it has to be that way. Sport with an incentive to lose is laughable.

  • Paul Marks

    My old friend John Day (of the University of Leicester Politics Department) was a fan of this Association Football team.

    If they win – I will raise a glass in his memory.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Mr Ed: thank you for the explanation. I agree that, in the abstract, competition to avoid relegation is good. OTOH the system was presumably designed when there was no color TV, and possibly no TV at all, so that fans went to watch matches at the nearest stadium, no matter what division/league the local team was in. Now it’s more winner-take-all. Much like symphony orchestras, coming to think of it; except that orchestras can have guest conductors, while sports teams cannot have guest managers.

  • Mr. Ed:

    Although there is a draft in the NBA in which the worst teams pick earlier, there’s also a lottery among the teams that don’t make the playoffs to determine which teams get the first three picks, something that was instituted precisely to prevent teams from tanking to try to get the first pick. (The lottery is weighted so that the team with the worst record does have the best chance of getting the first pick, but I think the probability is only around 40%. I don’t follow the NBA that much.)

    The NFL doesn’t have such a lottery, but until the most recent collective bargaining agreement teams with top picks were facing the financial difficulty of paying those top picks — just by being selected first you could get a signing bonus in the eight-figure range before ever playing a game in the NFL. (The NFL also has a salary cap on total team compensation, although none on individual player compensation the way the NBA does.) The last #1 pick in the old system, Sam Bradford, earned something like $50 million in his first NFL contract despite only having played in 2/3 of his teams’ games over the course of his career.

    That’s changed, but interestingly in this year’s NFL draft the top two picks were still traded away.

  • mike

    “Declaration of interest, family connections to a North East city with a history of ship-building but red and white stripes…”

    You too? Small world.

  • mike

    People only hate Newcastle if they haven’t been and met the people there – “yiz just divin’ understand, man!” And so Nick M will surely be along at some point to describe the glories of Grey Street and Newcastle’s contribution to the Industrial Revolution and modern civilization…

  • the other rob

    “Declaration of interest, family connections to a North East city with a history of ship-building but red and white stripes…”

    You too? Small world.

    Paging NickM: Mackems everywhere, son, Mackems everywhere!

  • Michael Jennings

    The Australian cricket team did not have a manager until 1985. There was a chairman of selectors and a panel of selectors and there was a (playing) captain. The selectors chose the team, and after that the captain was in charge.

    A manager (Bob Simpson) was appointed in 1985, and was quite an authoritarian manager. This suited the captain at the time (Allan Border) who preferred to concentrate more on playing matters, but it did not suit his successor (Mark Taylor). In that instance, the manager and the captain did not get on and so the manager was sacked, setting a precedent about who was in charge. (Australia sacked the manager and retained the captain again in 2013, again making it clear who was expendable). Geoff Marsh, the second manager of the Australian cricket team resigned a year or two later because he was not being paid enough money to support his family (while managing a sporting team that has hundreds of hours of prime time television crowds and often fill large stadia with spectators), which says something else about how managers are regarded in Australian sport. (Later in Taylor’s career, there was a bit of a crisis when his form as a player dropped off to the point where he would have been dropped if had had not also been a captain, and an outstanding one who led a winning team. Everything ended happily when he regained his form as a player just before being dropped, but this is I suppose an argument against combining both roles).

    Ever since the first manager was appointed in 1985, there has been seemingly unending discussion as to whether the job title should be “manager” or “coach”, and whether the manager should have a role in the selection of the team, and a selection role has been given and taken away several times.

    Australian professional football teams Iby which I generally mean rugby league and Australian rules) have always had managers, except that the word “coach” is generally used rather than manager, and their profiles are much lower than in European football. Australians probably underdo the importance of the manager, but I did initially find just how large their profiles are over here to be a bit odd.

  • Jacob

    Can’t Lineker hire some substitute to do the stunt for him ? maybe Maria Sharapova ?

  • jsallison

    Footie? Eh. OTOH congrats to the Windies for their recent t20 world cup finals win, though I prefer the ODI format.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Do not adjust your reality: this really is happening. … The wave has finally broken on a Premier League title some are already calling the most unlikely sporting victory of all time.

    – the Guardian, this morning.

  • Mr Ed

    I don’t see the Foxes’ victory as any more improbable than Blackburn’s. On Saturday night a ‘conga’ of fans were going round Leicester’s fine Town Hall square into the early hours in anticipation of this, so much nicer than the scowling thugs that some football supporters are.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Now that Leicester has won, I have several random thoughts here:

    Leicester will not do nearly as well next season because other teams cannot be as poor as they have been, such as Man City, United and Chelsea. It is easy to forget that Chelsea, champions a season before, had a shocker for much of this one, with their preening Portugese manager given the sack. ManU, despite all the money spent, has been disappointing, only improving later on with the arrival of youngsters such as Rashford; Spurs look very good and I fancy them to continue next year, but they need reinforcing.

    Referees were relatively indulgent to Leicester at times – not necessarily deliberately – but the team did benefit a bit from a sort of “underdog sympathy” from the men in black. I don’t see that happening again. Leicester was also lucky with injuries and had a thin squad. This happened to my team, Ipswich, in the 1980s (back when that side was one of the best in Europe, but had no money).

    The style of play adopted by Leicester will be picked to pieces by others hoping to copy it. It only works if you are able to bully opponents effectively and have a lightning-fast striker.

    People will endlessly talk of Leicester being – rightly – a breath of fresh air but eventually, that will stop.

    Lots of foreigners will go to Leicester.

    Leicester’s cricket team will be watched a bit more, maybe.

  • Jacob

    Am Israeli sports “expert”, on TV, called the Leicester win “the biggest sport sensation in history”. Maybe.
    But I think, the biggest sensation was Bob Beamon’s 8.90 meter long jump at the 1968 Mexico city Olympiad.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Beamon

  • Mr Ed

    Jacob,

    My ha’penneth worth would be:

    Bobby Fischer in Reykjavik beating Boris Spassky, but whilst the outcome wasn’t really surprising, the journey that Bobby Fischer took was. Shame he turned out not to be a contented soul, to put it mildly.