Thursday, 11 December 2014

Gary Lineker - My hero.

Did you ever know that you’re my hero, you're everything I wished I could be.

As a young boy I desperately wanted to be Gary Lineker. I idolised him.  This fascination with Lineker led to the following:
  1. Wearing a fake wrist support
  2. Getting my parents to buy Quasar boots.  They were terrible.
  3. Learning to be a penalty box finisher
  4. Never back-chatting a referee.

The World Cup in 1986 will always be remembered for Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God” goal, and Maradona’s match-winning performances as he captained Argentina to World Cup glory.  For me a skinny 10year old kid, it was all about Gary Lineker.  I had seen his goal for Everton against Liverpool in the previous season’s FA Cup final, but the World Cup is where Lineker captured my attention.  To take advantage of the worldwide TV audience, games kicked off at mid-day and 4pm in Mexico. In England that meant 6pm and 10pm kick offs.  The 6pm kick off’s were fine, but the 10pm matches were a tough ask to swing past Mum on a schoolnight!  England were dreadful in their opening two games, they lost to Portugal and drew with Morocco.  They had to beat Poland in their last group game to qualify for the knock out stages.  This was Lineker’s moment.  He scored a first half hat-trick as England swept past Poland 3-0.


But wait, what was this he had on his wrist, he must have injured himself in training, as he was wearing a support.  I had to have one, it didn’t matter that my wrist didn’t hurt.  This was part one in my becoming Gary Lineker.  So through the summer playing in the park with my mates, I wore the wrist support.  Looking back I probably looked like a pillock, but I didn’t care I was in love with Gary Lineker.

After the World Cup in which Lineker became the first English player to win the top goalscorer award he was signed by Barcelona for £2.8m from Everton.  In his first season at Barcelona, Lineker scored 21 goals in 41 games, including a hat-trick away to Real Madrid in a historic 3-2 victory.  However that was not Lineker’s best performance at the Bernabeu stadium that season.  England travelled to play Spain in a friendly on 18th February 1987.  It was my Mum’s birthday, she could think of no better way than to spend her 32nd birthday then to watch England play Spain, well that’s at least what my Dad said.  Lineker scored all four England goals in an impressive 4-2 victory, Gary Lineker was becoming god-like in my eyes.


During his time at Barcelona, my own footballing season had begun.  I had always been a budding centre forward, but never really scored many goals.  However I had begun to study how Lineker played.  He came alive in the penalty box.  He was dynamite.  I pestered my parents to buy me a pair of Lineker’s endorsed football boots…Quasar.

They weren’t my dad’s tried and tested Mitre’s. – Dad “You can’t go wrong with Mitre’s, proper football boots.” However if I wanted to become Lineker, I needed his boots.  My dad finally relented.  So with the Quasar boots and the wrist support, I was ready to show the Under 11 Southend Junior League my Gary Lineker influenced talents.  I scored 52 goals that season.  I was unstoppable.  I didn’t get involved in much of the build up play, but when that ball was in the box, I became alive.  Headers, volleys, side footed finishes, tap-ins, I got them all.  My manager at the time, wondered where these goals had come from, I had never scored this many before.  I knew, it was all down to one man…Gary Lineker.

In 1989 it happened, Gary Lineker joined my favourite team.  When playing for Tottenham Hotspur, Lineker scored 67 goals in 105 games.  He finished the 1989-90 season as top league scorer with 24goals, as Spurs finished 3rd.  Imagine that Spurs 3rd!
I can look back and say I was there, when Gary Lineker scored his first goal at White Hart Lane.  It was 30th September 1989 at home to QPR.  I was so excited to see my hero in the flesh.  My dad, a massive Chelsea fan, but not wanting to let his son down, took me to White Hart Lane.  Looking back, I’m sure when QPR scored their goals my dad was standing there with clenched fists!  
Watching Lineker’s movement off the ball in a live game, I could then understand he was not just a penalty box player.  His constant movement off the ball and his running into the channels, meant that he never gave the defence a moments rest.  That is what was remarkable about Lineker.  He put in 100% effort throughout the match, but he still had the instinct and energy to find space in the box, to get that all important goal.
Lineker in that game against QPR was not content with one goal, he scored a hat-trick. Typical Lineker!


Seeing Lineker live, I knew that I had to adapt my game, I couldn’t just be a penalty box player.  I needed to make more impact outside of the area.  Sadly this is where my game tailed off, I didn’t have the ability to do both.  From the ages of 13-16 I could not buy a goal, and ended up playing as a frustrated left back. Looking back my football career peaked at the age of 11.

Gary Lineker went to the 1990 World Cup as England’s spearhead.  He scored four goals, and England through a series of below par performances and narrow victories, were defeated by West Germany in the semi-finals.  Ironically the semi-final defeat was England’s best performance in the tournament.  England on the night were excellent, and that performance would be in my top 3 England performances of all time (others Holland Euro 1996 and Argentina 1998 World Cup).
The day of the semi final, we had taken in a new rescue dog.  It was very nervous and timid dog, it had been beaten by it’s previous owner.  When Gary Lineker equalised against the Germans, and I jumped up and celebrated, the dog bit me on the leg.


England’s exit from the World Cup was painful, but so was my evening.  Does Gary Lineker know he was responsible for one of my many tetnis shots.  Highly unlikely.

After the World Cup, Tottenham were the media darlings the following season.  They had England’s ace marksman Lineker, and the new sensation Paul Gascoigne in their team. These two led Spurs to the FA Cup final in 1991.  They were both excellent in a semi final victory over arch-rivals Arsenal.  While Gascoigne took the glory for his sublime free kick, Lineker’s two goals, especially his 2nd knocked the stuffing out of Arsenal. I still remember Barry Davies classic commentary – “Samways to his left, Lineker uses him by not using him.  Good try. Scores!”


Spurs won the F.A. Cup in 1991 beating Nottingham Forest in the final, despite Gary Lineker missing a penalty.  This would not be the last penalty he would miss at Wembley stadium.

The following season Gary Lineker was exceptional scoring 28 goals in 35 games, however Spurs struggled in the league and ended up in 15th place.  During the season Lineker had accepted the opportunity to play in the fledgling J-League, and he joined Grampus eight after the final game of the 1991-1992 season.  I was now getting a little older, and it was not cool to be in love with footballers at the age of 16.  I was getting into grunge music, and had already decided that I could easily become the next Eddie Vedder.  I couldn’t sing, but I was determined to have the look. However I still loved Lineker, so with my Saturday job wages, I forked out about £60 for a Grampus eight shirt with Lineker’s name on the back. Quite possibly being the only person in Essex with this shirt.  It led to a lot of my mates saying “You go to many games?”.

In his final season at Spurs, Lineker scored one of the best team goals, I have seen Spurs score.  It was at home to Porto in the now defunct Cup Winners Cup, and he finished off a team move which had about 20 passes.  It was a goal, which made you proud to support Spurs.


Gary Lineker should be England’s all time goalscorer, he ended up one short of Bobby Charlton’s 49 goals.  He had an excellent chance to equal the record in a friendly against Brazil before Euro 1992, from the penalty spot.  Lineker tried a panenka penalty, but the Brazilian keeper Carlos stood his ground and gathered the ball easily.  Most fans thought that Lineker would still equal the record in Euro 1992 as his tournament record for England has never been bettered (scoring 10goals in 4 tournaments).  England under Graham Taylor were a disaster, and in Euro 1992 they plumbed the depths.  They had two disappointing goal-less draws against France and Denmark.  It was all down to a must win game against the hosts Sweden.  With England chasing the game and needing a goal, the clueless Taylor hauled Lineker off and replaced him with Alan Smith.  Lineker was visibly upset, not only that his chance to equal/beat Charlton’s record had gone, but he could no longer help England in their hour of need when he had for so long been their saviour. 

Gary Lineker retired from International football with 48 goals from 80 games, and he finally retired from professional football in 1994, after a couple of injury plagued seasons in Japan. 

Gary Lineker’s playing career spanned 16 seasons, and not once did he pick up a yellow or red card.  He was an ideal role model on how to conduct yourself and play the game.

I know footballers can’t be all as clean cut as my hero Gary Lineker,  but they are consciously or sub-consciously inspiring the next generation.  Whilst earning vast sums of money, they should never forget the fact that what they do on a football pitch, will be replicated by kids the next day across the world.

Chris Clark © 2014    @Chrisclark1975

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