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Friday, 25 October, 2002, 15:42 GMT 16:42 UK
Gary Lineker: Fox on the box
Gary Lineker

Former England footballer Gary Lineker is leading a consortium to try to save his beloved Leicester City football club from extinction. In a glittering career that took him as far afield as Spain and Japan, he has never forgotten his roots.
When Gary Lineker left school, his final report read: "He must devote less of his time to sport if he wants to be a success." Perhaps the teacher concerned should have taken the Estelle Morris exit.

For success has followed Gary Lineker wherever he has ventured.

Playing for England in Mexico 1986
A glittering football career
The man who scored 48 goals in 80 appearances for England and helped several clubs add silverware to their trophy cabinets, has now established himself as a TV presenter and game show panel-member, popular with the lads and the housewife alike.

And with a Peter Pan appearance betrayed only by greying temples, Gary Lineker's journey of success seems destined to continue in a fickle business beset by hidden man-traps.

Lineker is one of those footballers that, like his ears, stick out from the norm. There's nothing of the "brains in your feet" variety about our Gary.

When he went to play in Spain, he embraced the culture and language, developing interests away from the football pitch. His decision to end his career in Japan was for more than mere pecuniary advantage.

Yet his modest educational qualifications look better considering he was training with Leicester City at the age of 13 and playing for them full-time by 16.

Family crisis

He was a natural sportsman. Aside from football, he was a half-decent cricketer and has achieved a 100 break at snooker.

Lineker with son George
His son George has recovered from leukaemia
Yet one suspects that even without that advanced hand-eye co-ordination or that deadly turn of speed inside the penalty box, Gary Lineker would have had ambitions beyond the greengrocer's stall in Leicester that has been in the Lineker family for 70 years.

It was in Leicester that Gary married his childhood sweetheart Michelle, a beautician, and the couple now have four sons. There was a family crisis when their first-born George was diagnosed with leukaemia but he has now fully recovered.

Yet George still presents something of a family problem. He supports Manchester United, bless him.

Cub to Fox

But his brothers are Foxes fans and their father has said that it is as much for them that he's putting his hand in his pocket to help Leicester stay afloat.

Gary Lineker spent eight years as a professional at Filbert Street. "The passion I had for the club when I was a kid is still there," he says.

He won the Golden Boot Award for the most World Cup goals scored in 1986 and was snapped up by Everton the following season. There followed successful spells at Barcelona and Tottenham.

Appearing on They Think It's All Over
His game show appearances has given him "an edge".
The end to his career was rather ignominious, when a move to Grampus Eight in the Japanese J-League was blighted by a recurring toe injury.

Today the toe joint is still locked solid and has two screws permanently installed. Thanks to a placid temperament and a "complete inability to tackle", he had survived his whole playing career without as much as a single yellow card.

And a "hatred of being sick" kept him away from the drinking culture so popular with many of his footballing colleagues.

This squeaky clean image was a factor in realising his post-playing contingency plan.

Fox-like cunning

Gary Lineker had always harboured an interest in journalism and, when playing in World Cups, would sit behind the sports hacks in the press box after matches inquiring about their copy. His subsequent newspaper columns were not ghost-written.

Under the careful stewardship of his agent Jon Holmes, Gary Lineker has made a successful transition to the small screen. After a nervous start, he got a lucky break when his mentor, Des Lynam, defected to ITV.

Opening the new Walkers Stadium
A proud moment, opening the Walkers Stadium
And to counter-balance the Goody Two Shoes persona, he secured a permanent slot on the laddish They Think It's All Over team.

And, of course, there are the Walkers crisps commercials in which he mean-spiritedly appears, as the devil, a nun and a punk-rocker.

Walkers is a Leicester-based company, and it was a moment of great pride for Gary Lineker when he recently opened Leicester City's new Walkers Stadium.

Saving the club from bankruptcy may be the easy part. Keeping the fans happy through the tough times that most likely lie ahead for Leicester City, given the level of their debt, could tarnish even the most polished halo.

It's as well, then, for Gary Lineker that he has indicated that he won't sit on the club's board. But then he has made his name on smart moves.

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23 Oct 02 | Leicester City
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