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Gary Lineker, international footballer and television presenter

Early Life

Born in 1960 in the East Midlands city of Leicester, the young Gary excelled as a sportsman from a young age, earning the attention of both the local cricket and football sides he supported. Leicester City signed him as an apprentice and he made his debut for the first team in 1979. He took a few seasons to establish his place in the team, sometimes playing on the wing, but by 1983 he had moved to centre forward and was the teams top goal scorer.

Lineker was a classic goal poacher, with pace and deadly accuracy inside the penalty box. His high scoring rate earned a place in the English national team in 1984. The next year Lineker was the top scorer in the English first division, and Everton, who won the league that year paid £800,000 to take Lineker to Merseyside. He celebrated this move by getting married to Michelle, his long-time sweetheart.

Golden Boot

At Everton, Lineker continued to score goals, ending the 1986 season with 40 goals in 57 games, and won the player of the year award from both sports writers and his fellow players. However the team failed to win any silverware and although Lineker scored in the FA Cup final Everton were defeated 2-1 by neighbours Liverpool.

That summer Lineker was part of the England squad to travelled to Mexico for the World Cup. England got off to a disastrous start in their first two group games, but were saved from an ignominious exit by convincingly beating Poland three goals to nil. Lineker scored all three, in a match winning performance that displayed an excellent combination with his striking partner Peter Beardsley. Lineker continued to score but England lost out in the quarter-finals in the notorious 'Hand of God' game against Diego Maradona's Argentina.

The tournament finished with Argentina victorious, but Lineker won the Golden Boot given to the top scorer of the competition. He had also established his reputation worldwide, and the top Spanish side F.C. Barcelona, who were then managed by the Englishman Terry Venables. Lineker became a favourite with the Catalan crowd, and settled into the Mediterranean lifestyle and picked up the Spanish language. He perhaps did his cause no harm by scoring all 4 goals when England beat Spain 4-2 in a friendly in 1987.

But despite winning the Spanish Cup in 1988, Barcelona could not relinquish the la Liga title from Real Madrid. In 1988 Venables had left and was replaced by Johan Cruiff, and Lineker was suffering from a debilitating bout of hepatitis. He recovered, but had lost a yard or so of pace. Despite winning the European Cup Winners' Cup, Lineker was on the way out and in 1989 returned to England to join up again with Venables who was now manager of Tottenham Hotspur.

In his first season at Tottenham he topped the first division scoring list for the third time. In 1990 he had another successful World Cup, scoring 4 times, but England were eliminated in a penalty shootout in their semi-final against West Germany. By now Lineker was captain of the national team and was approaching Bobby Charlton's record of 49 international goals. In 1991 he won a FA Cup winner's medal and in 1992 he won footballer of the year for the second time.

Winding down

Prior to the 1992 European Championship, Lineker had announced he would be retiring from international football after the tournament. With 48 international goals he only needed one more to equal Bobby Charlton's record. In the event England flopped, losing all 3 games, and Lineker had the misfortune of being substituted by Graham Taylor halfway through the second half in the final game. In all he played 80 times for his country.

The J-League was launched in 1992, and eager to attract attention and publicity, many aging international stars were offered lucrative deals. Lineker signed a two year contract with Grampus Eight had moved his family to Japan from 1992 to 1994. He never played much in Japan, suffering a series of injuries until a broken toe forced his retirement. Worse his son George was undergoing treatment for leukemia. On his retirement Lineker received a special fair play award, he had played professional football for 15 years without picking up a single booking.

BBC

After retirement Lineker decided that he pursue work as a broadcaster. He had shown interest in journalism in the past, by refusing to have his newspaper columns ghostwritten, and when Radio 5 Live was launched in 1995, Lineker was handed the task of hosting the Sunday afternoon sport show. His first broadcasts were fairly wooden but he developed in time to be a confident and capable presenter.

He also broadened his media appeal by becoming the face of Walkers crisps, and appears to this day in adverts for the Leicester based company, usually playing on his goody-two shoes 'nice guy' image. He also helped himself onboard the 'new lad' bandwagon of the 90s by appearing as a team captain on They Think It's All Over, a BBC panel show where innuendo and sarcasm are never in short supply.

Lineker also took to presenting on TV, starting with Football Focus on a Saturday lunchtime, and being part of the BBC team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Soon he was deputising whenever BBC sport anchorman Des Lynam was away.

In 1999 Lynam defected to ITV and Lineker was ready to step into his shoes, and Lineker became the main presenter of Match of the Day. Always articulate, the Lineker quips became more self-confident and the BBC football coverage is now much better then ITV's where Lynam's sheen has faded. This first became apparent during 2002 World Cup, and now Lineker has branched out into other sporting events, noticeably the Open, where he is usually to be found trailing after Tiger Woods.

In 2002 when Leicester City were in danger of going bust after the boom and bust of the Sky tv deals, Lineker headed up a consortium to buy the club and pay off its debts. His son George is a Manchester United fan, much to the disappointment of his dad, who still supports Leicester. In the new era of David Beckham and Michael Owen, many younger viewers have no memory of Lineker as a player. His hair is grayer then it was and whitening at the temples but I suspect he will remain on our television screens for a long time to come.

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