Football’s Quiet Hero

Gary Lineker was football’s quiet hero: a man who had been scoring goals, all his life; one who started scoring goals, at the proverbial drop of a hat, ever since he was eight.

Through his teens, Lineker scored so many of them that he was invited to train with his local side, Leicester City, while still in school. The rest is a cliché; and, imperishable part of football history.

Sure, Lineker had a tremendous desire to scoring goals. But, where did that motivating factor come from? Contends Lineker: “The desire is just something you’re born with. It’s something you’ve got, or you haven’t got. I’ve got it, luckily enough,” This wasn’t all, because the game’s Mr Nice Guy and England’s golden goal scorer also considered goal scoring a nice thing.

“It is better to score and to win, although without luck you’re nothing.”  And, he’s different too. Tolerant, polite and affable: a superstar who “never lost his temper.”

What was Lineker’s forte… for goal scoring?  In his words, “The secret to goal scoring is not just pace, not just being in a good side, that all helps, but a kind of clairvoyance.”

Lineker first played for Leicester City against Oldham, at age 18.  Within a few weeks, he became a regular in the side.  His goal scoring ability caught the fancy of just every football fan in England.

Lineker, in those formative years, often scored goals without much thinking or planning, And, as his reputation soared, he began analysing and taking a fresh look into both his merits and possible drawbacks.

He soon started to look ahead, during a game, plan two or three moves ahead, probe spaces and bend the game to suit his game plan.

A ‘marked’ player, Lineker found that it became harder and harder to score goals. Yet, he scored them, oft and on, with clinical precision. Was he addicted to scoring goals?

“Maybe; scoring certainly is such a buzz that you want to do it again and again and again.”

Before the 1986 World Cup, Lineker scored as many as 40 goals for Everton.  A statistical roll-call, which made him a certainty for the world’s most premier tournament.  And, as England stumbled along, Lineker got into his act, scored half-dozen goals and won the Golden Boot, as the tourney’s leading scorer.

At 25, Lineker had achieved global recognition. His world changed. He got married. Still, his simplicity was stronger than even before. And, he never underestimated how fortunate he was by being Mr Lineker, the human being, not football’s demigod.

So, from aesthetic football to the world of athletic football, Lineker had graduated with rare honour and distinction. As football became faster and faster, Lineker established a sort of balance that was keyed to pure, artistic abilities and combative skills.

Pace for him was important, for sure; but, it wasn’t pace for just pace’s sake. Speed for him was only a relative term, because Lineker achieved his rhythm by a combination of several factors, most importantly a marvellous body swerve and electric burst of acceleration – a burst of an extra 10-12 yards, juxtaposed by a fine technique and cool-as-a-cucumber mental frame.

Pace did not spoil his sense of strategy or elevated the Darwinian concept of survival.  It only made him play harder.  It even made him a better footballer.

Lineker never got tired with football or talking about the game. But, he was a realist.  Would he not have liked to play in the 1994 World Cup? “I’ve given it much thought, and at the end of the day I think that’s little too old for a striker at the top level…. It’d be just XI right, but wouldn’t be great… I’ll come back. But, I don’t intend to manage. I couldn’t think of anything worse, but then other players tell me that’s how they feel and they change their mind. But, I can’t see it. I want to stay fully involved in football. It’d be nice to help shape the way it is run. To put back something back in. And, make it a better game, perhaps.”

Lineker became a national hero, a parent worthy of emulation, along with his equally quiet wife, when their son, George, began to wage a courageous battle against acute myeloid leukaemia.  As doctors said that the little boy’s chances of survival were about 25-30 per cent, the Linekers did not lose hope. They did withdraw themselves from public glare, but they handled their grief with immaculate poise, positive frame of mind.

Lineker carried on, playing football and scoring goals.  Looking back, he once said: “At first I couldn’t talk to anyone. I mean, football, next to George, it’s nothing.”

Lineker was honoured with the Freedom of the City Award, by Leicester, in recognition of his great contribution to the community; through football. For the then 32-year-old striker, it was only a fitting tribute to his first love, which he had always nursed and nurtured with great care and affection.


– Photo, Courtesy:  The Football Experience

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