Gary Lineker has said that football is on a “precipice” financially and has expressed concern over the financial structure within the game.
The former England captain and Match of the Day presenter was speaking during an interview with BBC’s Ros Atkins for the Media Show on Radio 4.
Lineker, 60, covered a range of subjects including gambling advertising, social media and Match of the Day.
Lineker’s concern for smaller clubs
Clubs at all levels of football suffered considerable losses on both broadcast and matchday revenue when the Covid-19 pandemic first hit in March 2020, with large parts of the 2020-21 season played behind closed doors.
A Deloitte Football Money League Survey in January 2021 discovered that the coronavirus pandemic will have cost Europe’s 20 richest clubs more than £1.7bn by the end of last season.
“Football is on a precipice, but then it always seems to have been and still stay alive,” Lineker said.
“Look at Barcelona and how they’ve got themselves into such a poor financial position.
“If it can happen to them, despite the amount of money they receive, how can it be easy for a small club? We’ve seen clubs go to the wall.”
Despite the financial struggles during the pandemic, Premier League clubs spent a total of £1.1bn in the summer transfer window, with a number of big-money moves involving the wealthiest sides.
Deloitte football finance expert Tim Bridge said recently on The Sports Desk podcast that Covid-19 had accelerated football’s power shift towards the big spenders.
Lineker, who played for Leicester, Everton, Barcelona and Spurs between 1979 and 1992, said that football had to “find a way” of filtering money down to lower league clubs.
“The thing about football is, it’s so important to local communities. You hope that people find a way of keeping clubs in existence, but I think football has to find a way of filtering some of that money down.”
Derby County filed notice to appoint administrators last week amid their continued financial problems. The Championship club now face a 12-point deduction from the EFL, with the future of the club and their staff uncertain.
“You like to think that if football can survive this, then it can survive anything, but only time will tell, Lineker said.
“My worry is not for the giants, because I think they’ll always find a way, but for the smaller clubs and the smaller towns it’s always going to be very difficult.”
On social media and online abuse
Lineker has a significant social media presence, with more than eight million followers on Twitter – and with that comes a lot of attention whenever he posts online.
He said: “I don’t ever tweet anything that I don’t really believe in and I very rarely look at the mentions under my tweets or where my name is concerned. I will only really see comments or responses on Twitter from those I follow or are verified users.
“I think the abusive nature of people on these platforms ruins it for everyone else. The vast majority of people in this country are really, really good people and kind. But you get a tiny percentage of abusive people on social media that could upset you if they wanted to.
“Therefore I don’t read them, but by not reading those responses, you also then don’t read things from the nice people and the really good comments, you miss out on that too, which is a shame because you could have a decent conversation about something.
“I avoid that because otherwise you may have 1,000 nice tweets, but the one that’s nasty is the one that you remember so I just think: why bother?
“When I tweet, I have three rules. I don’t tweet when I’ve had a drink, I don’t tweet when I’m angry and when I’m about to put a tweet out, I read it back and if i have even a 1% doubt about sending it, I don’t send it. That’s my rule.”
Asked about whether his social media activity impacts on the way the BBC might be perceived, Lineker says: “I consider myself a freelancer anyway.
“Obviously I work with the BBC and have done for years, I’ve worked with numerous people over the years and I’ve always – I like to think – been considerate about my employers when doing something like that.”
On Match of the Day and audience habits
Lineker has been the regular host of BBC’s Match of the Day since 1999, and believes it continues to hold a significant place in sports broadcasting.
“It [Match of the Day] is quite remarkable,” he said. “It bucks the trend with so many other things in sport and television. Highlights don’t really work in anything else other than sport and football. I think as a programme, it gives the nation something.
“We need to remember that a lot of people still don’t have Sky Sports, BT Sport or Amazon or whatever it may be. It gives them their weekly fix.
“We are attracting a much younger audience now because of catch-up TV and BBC iPlayer in particular.”
In the UK, football matches cannot be televised or streamed live between 14:45 and 17:15 on regular league and cup Saturdays during the season – a ruling designed to protect attendances at 15:00 kick-offs across the country.
That ruling was recently brought into focus when Cristiano Ronaldo’s second debut for Manchester United, against Newcastle, kicked off on a Saturday at 15:00 BST – meaning it was only broadcast live nationally on BBC Radio 5 Live, before highlights were shown on Match of the Day.
The broadcasting restriction is something that Lineker says is “really important” for football.
“It’s one of the great wonders of the Premier League and football in this country – it doesn’t really happen anywhere else,” he said.
“It’s done to protect attendances and to make sure people still go to football matches, because you want full houses at a football game – I think we’ve noticed that more than ever during the pandemic period.
“If you start putting every game on television, crowds would inevitably get sparser, which would also diminish the end product when broadcast.
“We’re also protecting the lower leagues. We have an incredible football pyramid that we like to protect. If everyone is playing at 3pm on a Saturday, but everyone is staying in to watch Ronaldo’s debut for Manchester United, then it’s going to have an effect elsewhere.
“The way it works in this country is a great thing for lower league teams as well.”
‘Eradicate gambling in our sport’
Former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton recently called for a change in gambling advertising in football. Shilton argued that football shirts are a “backdoor way” of exposing young people to the gambling industry.
He joined campaigners earlier this month in handing in a 12,000-strong petition at 10 Downing Street calling for an end to gambling sponsorship in football.
Lineker has shown his support to the campaign.
“I’m not anti-gambling,” Lineker said. “But I’ve had many people in my life who have been affected by gambling and Peter Shilton is someone who I’ve tried to support with his campaign.
“I don’t mind people having a bet here or there, but the constant push in football in terms of sponsorship and television in terms of adverts is difficult because a lot of people have a problem with it.
“I agree with trying to eradicate gambling in our sport. I’d love the game to change its rules; I’ve said it many times.”
- Listen to the full episode on BBC Sounds here; listen live on BBC Radio 4 from 16:30 and 19:30 BST on Wednesday, 22 September.