Cooney and Black

Being called Mr Goodytwoshoes has never annoyed me. It’s much better having that than being regarded as an ****hole. But there’s one thing – I haven’t got big ears.

bybryancooney

THIRTEEN years ago, almost to the day, Gary Lineker finished his round at the Dunhill Links championship and joined me in the media tent to talk about his life with the luvvies of BBC. It was my first interview for the Sunday Herald.

THERE are some people in this ever dysfunctional world of ours who would try the patience of a Greavsie, let alone a Saint. Gary Lineker has become familiar with a few of the culprits.

Big-boned, primeval sorts were ever anxious to separate him from his sensibilities while he was staking legitimate claims to be one of the best strikers in football; Lineker stoically refused to autograph the retaliation card and so went through his career without a blot on the old escutcheon.

Over the last few years, TV personalities like Jonathan Ross, whose wit is surely under Gillette sponsorship, have chastised him mercilessly on They Think It’s All Over, Often for the size of his ears, But the smile that splits those ears has acted as a repellent spray.

It would have taken something stronger than aerosol, however, to deflect the intentions of one Vincent Jones in 1995 when he walked into the breakfast room of Jury’s Hotel, Dublin, in a manner not seen since John Wayne retired.

Lineker, enjoying a quiet breakfast up until then, had inferred on television that he’d rather watch Wimbledon on Ceefax than actually see them play.

Jones recalls, in his autobiography, that he borrowed substantially from the bank of retribution. “I shouted: ‘Big Ears, you’re a disgrace! Not so big time now, are you Big Ears? Not so brave as when you’re sitting and talking on telly. Here I am, just me, so say it to me the way you’ve said it to millions.’ He didn’t really say anything in reply.”

Ironically, it was a belligerent prelude to the England match with the Republic of Ireland that was abandoned later in the day due to rampaging away fans.

Whatever, Lineker was unmoved by Jones’s minatory manoeuvres. Nothing, it seems, can faze the man. Insult him, scratch him, even wound him – he may even bleed – but don’t expect the paramedics to be involved. He has the hide of an armadillo. Which is wonderful, really, for BBC, who chose him to replace their old, unflappable, if moveable, object, Des Lynam.

Sports executives at the Beeb are currently dancing around in collective glee now that their ITV contemporaries have suffered the humiliation of Saturday night rescheduling and being replaced by that singing dowager from Denham, Cilla Black.

Linker insists he will not be joining in the choreography. Perish the thought. Lynam is one of his all-time icons, having taught him much of what he knows about sports presentation, particularly the devastating properties of the humorous one-liner.

So, then, here is a man with no discernible faults. Can he be the embryo of the perfect being? He looks at you in a manner reminiscent of the way he looked at that referee who booked Paul Gascoigne in the 1990 World Cup semi-final. “They called me the flawless footballer,” he says. “Goodytwoshoes, even. It never annoyed me, though. It’s much better having that than being regarded as an arsehole.

“In this life we tend to pigeonhole people – you’re either this or that, good or bad. In reality, most of us are in the middle, including me. To be perfectly honest, though, the image is helpful. I don’t get any grief from people. There’s never any aggravation.”

You lob the memory of Vinnie back at him like a rotten egg, but he is not easily discombobulated. His recall conflicts the autobiographical ramblings. “I don’t think Vinnie had a big problem, really. We get on very well. It was only a thing through the media that he got upset with. He was told that I said something I didn’t say.

“It was a mix-up and once I told him exactly what I said, we cleared the air. But it didn’t bother me at the time. It was just a bit of playful banter.”

Linker, on this occasion, does not insist on the trappings of fame. Indeed, after taking almost five hours for his Dunhill Links round, he could be standing in the elitist Kingsbarns clubhouse, his body swaddled in fresh clothing, his hands wrapped around a comforting lager.

Instead, he is sitting in the almost deserted media tent – there are not make-up girls or TV cameras here – talking about life with the luvvies he has grown to love.

He made his debut as a presenter on the highlights programme of the 1996 European Championships. Friendly faces Jimmy Hill and Chris Waddle were the guests. For all that, he found it a terrifying experience. Five years on, the terror is no more. In fact, he almost overwhelms you with his confidence.

“When I started, I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I mean, I didn’t disappear onto a satellite channel with nobody watching. I was pretty wooden at that time, I admit. There were lots of fluffs – but it wasn’t that bad. There was nothing too horrific where I suddenly couldn’t speak at all.

“I just didn’t know how it worked, so it was a case of surviving the first year or two and learning the business. But people close to me have said that the nice thing is that I’ve done it from the start on high-profile television and that they’ve seen progress, gradual improvement.

“I’m not the slightest bit nervous now. No, not at all. I feel fairly comfortable with it, You get the same rush of adrenalin before a show and it matters…but it’s not a nervy thing,”

Should Lineker’s media career become a facsimile of his football career – he played for Leicester, Everton, Barcelona and Tottenham, and big ears didn’t prevent him from wearing 80 of his country’s caps – then his boss at the Beeb will be delighted.

“I used to run around like a headless chicken, like everyone does in English football, until I went to Barcelona,” he recalls. “I used to chase full-backs all the time and do all that nonsense until Spain. When I did it there, they told me to stop that and concentrate on scoring goals. ‘I’ll have a bit of that,’ I thought. Actually, they were right. In the rest of the world, they just drop off and fill a hole. But we’re learning; we don’t do it so much now.

“When the football was all over, I just never considered management for three reasons: a) I never fancied it; b) I don’t think I’d be good at it; c) I think it’s a dreadful occupation – a pretty thankless task. My own job brings its own pressures to a degree, but they’re not the greatest pressures in the world.”

You wonder if there is any discord when he attempts to police “bad cop” Alan Hansen? “He’s very confident in his speech, he’s dominating. Oh, yeah, he has the ability to annoy people, for his manner may be more acerbic than mine, but he’s a wind-up merchant with a good sense of humour. We don’t fall out. I know him too well.

“Like me, there’s never any aggravation for him. I’ve spent a lot of time with him and never seen anyone have a go. Don’t forget, Alan’s a pretty good guy as well. He wasn’t the type who used to kick people and get sent off. He’s decent, behaves properly and I think folk know that as well.”

Outside the media tent, the rain is battering down and the wind is promising to blow, Tam O’ Shanter-style. Inside, the conversation has turned to World Cup matters, and Lineker is peering into his diplomatic bag.

“Scotland’s lot is depressing,” he says. “I don’t want to say it to a Scottish newspaper, but the outlook is genuinely bleak. Down in England, we quite like Scotland. Oh, I know it’s not the same the other way round, but if England are out of a competition, we cheer them on. The current situation is a shame and I hope it changes.

“Right now, England already have a handful of world-class stars and we have good players coming through. So, all being well, we’ll be pretty strong if not next year then three to five years on. When England play, it really matters to me. It gets me up on edge.

“We have a lot to do and it’s going to take time, but remember this: we were pretty hopeless against Greece, but sometimes when you’re hopeless and get away with it, that’s a good sign.”

The signs are that Lineker is about to engage insufferable gear, with one World Cup foot in Japan and the other in South Korea. Time to change gears. I ask him if he ever feels like shedding the cloak of Goodytwoshoes and become someone else, even a bit of a rascal.

“I suppose it would be quite tasty being Tiger Woods for a few weeks in a year,” he responds. “But really I’ve had a fantastic life. I’ve got a great job that doesn’t take up much of my time. I play loads of golf and see plenty of my kids. I’ve got a relatively calm temperament. Nothing gets me down too much, I don’t get carried away when things go well, either, so I’ve been blessed with that.

“On television, the motto is if you get something wrong, then let’s have a laugh about it and take the mickey out of ourselves. So, all in all, I feel very lucky with who I am. One thing, though….I haven’t even got big ears.”

 

 

PICTURES COURTESY OF: Duncan Hull, Kayleigh Hall & Tim Green

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *