Match of the Day at 50: Gary Lineker proud to be presenter

By Gary LinekerMOTD presenter since 1999
MOTD Presenters: Through the Years

Watch 'Match of the Day at 50' on Friday 22 August at 22:35 BST (22:50 in Northern Ireland) on BBC One, BBC One HD and the BBC Sport website.

For me, Match of the Day is more than just a TV show - it is a national institution.

After 50 years, it is an established part of Saturday night viewing and the theme tune is synonymous with the game of football itself.

It is a programme that has played an amazing part in my whole life too.

I grew up with Match of the Day as a football-mad kid in the 1970s when I would go to games at Leicester City's old Filbert Street ground with my dad and granddad, and then stay up to watch it.

I appeared on it as a player in the 1980s, a pundit in the 1990s and, for the last 15 years, I am incredibly proud to have been the presenter.

You only have to look at the reaction we get every Saturday night to realise how much it means to fans right across the country.

From 'Junior Des' to fronting the show

Gary Lineker on the Match of the Day set in 2000
Lineker the presenter - on the Match of the Day set in 2000

I took over from Des Lynam as presenter of Match of the Day in 1999 but, as early as my mid-20s, I knew which direction I wanted to go in when I retired from playing.

When I was at school I was always writing match reports and thought sports journalism would be the route I would take if I didn't make it as a footballer.

As a player, I remember being at the World Cup finals in 1986 and 1990 and spending a lot of time with journalists, who in those days would stay at England's hotel.

I would watch the newspaper guys write their opening paragraphs and sit with the radio journalists and talk to them about how they did their job.

L-R Gary Lineker (front, with brother Wayne) as a boy, a player for Leicester, a BBC pundit and now Match of the Day presenter
Lineker as a boy (front, with brother Wayne) and a player, pundit and now Match of the Day presenter

My aim was always TV, though, and my ambition was always to be the presenter, rather than the pundit.

At Italia '90, Chris Waddle and Paul Gascoigne used to call me 'Junior Des', so I must have made it pretty obvious where I wanted to end up.

My first time on the show
My first involvement with Match of the Day, when I was 20 and playing for Leicester in 1980, was probably my worst experience.In those days, there was pretty much only one game ever shown compared to now, when we show highlights of every match.
So it was very exciting when I knew that our game against Aston Villa was going to be on.Unfortunately, I missed an easy chance from about five yards. I knocked it over the bar - it was probably the worst of my career.
I remember going home and watching it on Match of the Day with my family and them absolutely me hammering me.Whatever I do as a presenter, when I might mess up the odd line, it is not as bad as missing a goal like that one.

I always thought that, if I could crack it, then there would be a niche for me because, unlike sports like tennis, golf and cricket, in football there were very few presenters who had played the game and nobody who had played at the very top level.

But I was pretty hopeless when I started out, although not quite hopeless enough for the BBC to get rid of me!

Learning from Lynam

I started off doing punditry on Match of the Day in the mid-1990s, and at the same time I was doing some presenting for Radio 5 live - badly, I hasten to add, but I was gaining experience ready for when I was given my chance.

I told the BBC in my early days what I wanted to do and they backed me from the very start, and gave me the opportunity to get where I am now.

Match of the Day at 50
MOTD's presenters (clockwise from bottom right): Lynam, Hill, Coleman, Lineker and Wolstenholme
Match of the Day's previous presenters
Kenneth Wolstenholme: 1964-1969David Coleman: 1968-1973
Jimmy Hill: 1973-1988Des Lynam: 1988-1999

Des was the doyen of sports presenters and a tough act to follow.

But I had worked alongside him as a pundit before I was asked to replace him, so I had learned so much from him.

He was very helpful - I used to ask a lot of questions about the little things that he did, and picked up some of his nuances.

Des Lynam on the MOTD set with Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson in 1997
Des Lynam on the Match of the Day set with Alan Hansen and Mark Lawrenson in 1997

For example, he would introduce the guests and instead of saying 'joining me', he would say 'joining us' to bring the audience in and make them feel a part of the show. I thought that was subtle but a nice touch, and is something I use to this day.

Des also told me to be brave occasionally with closing lines, and not to be afraid to try to be amusing. Again, the little pay-offs I sometimes make at the end of the show are something that came from him.

Putting the pieces together

Planning for the show starts during the week but for obvious reasons it does not come together until Saturdays.

At lunchtime, I arrive at the BBC studios in Salford where Match of the Day is filmed and watch all the matches on a big bank of screens.

Lineker with pundits Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer, and screens showing Premier League grounds around the country, ahead of a show in 2009
Lineker with pundits Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer, and screens showing Premier League grounds around the country, ahead of a show in 2009

I still go to watch football when I can but, on Saturdays, I am restricted because there is too much to do. And I love watching all the games at once, it is part of a real buzz.

One of the pundits will watch the 12:45pm game, and the other will watch the 5.30pm kick-off. Each of them will also watch a game at 3pm so we have got four games being properly monitored.

What they are looking for are things that are not readily obvious to the viewer.

Brand behind the scenes at MOTD

The pundits have ideas earlier in the week about things to talk about, but of course the topics are determined by events on the pitch.

Sometimes the games that the guys are delegated to watch turn out to be duds, while another match we didn't see coming is the great game of the day.

I will be watching all the feeds, along with the programme editor, to see if there are any good stories developing and to stay across all the goals, moments of controversy and possible talking points.

Action more important than analysis

The biggest and best change to Match of the Day since I have been on board is that, since we got the Premier League rights back from ITV in 2004, we have shown extended highlights of all the games.

Match of the Day at 50: A look behind-the-scenes at the iconic show

It was one of the things I really wanted us to do, and we have reaped the rewards. It would be unimaginable now to go back to just showing two matches, and the goals from the others.

But showing at least four or five minutes of every game means there is only a certain amount of time to talk between matches, and we do not have a chance to go into massive depth.

Sometimes it gets frustrating if there is a big story and we cannot carry on the debate but fundamentally our programme is about action - we have got to show the games.

I think it is important we stick to that. It is about striking the balance between the action and analysis, but it is and always will be predominately an action programme.

We cannot waffle on because we cannot just drop a game at the end - that would be unthinkable!

So Match of the Day is a very structured and regimented programme time-wise. It has to be.

Sergio Aguero scores the goal that won the title for Manchester City in 2012
Sergio Aguero scores the goal that wins the title for Manchester City in 2012
Match of the Day's greatest game?
This is really difficult to choose, because there have been so many great matches.
But, as a one-off as the most exciting moment then it has to be the moment when Sergio Aguero won the Premier League title for Manchester City in injury time at the very end of their final game in 2012.
I think we covered it brilliantly - the way we cut between matches and told the story of the day was probably my favourite Match of the Day.The drama was incredible and, even though everyone pretty much knew what had happened before we showed it, it was still an incredible day.

The running order is decided by 8pm when the late game is finished.

These days people argue about it on Twitter, but at least you get a decent slab of every match.

Mind you, almost everybody in the country thinks their team is on last every week!

I think most of those complaints are tongue-in-cheek though. People only moan about their team, funnily enough, and no-one else's.

The future - playing to the same tune

Match of the Day bucks the trend for a sporting highlights show - with the Sunday morning repeat and iPlayer we get more than 7m viewers over the weekend, and audience figures are growing.

The story of the MOTD theme tune

I think it is a great watch: there are more statistics now, and more involvement with our audience through social media by putting out tweets and giving people the chance to vote on different issues.

We have mixed up the pundits more in the last year or two than we had done in previous years, just to freshen things up.

But while changes keep happening, they are subtle changes. There is no massive difference in terms of what the programme is trying to do.

Of course we are looking to improve it all the time, whether that is through using new machines to give better analysis or using different graphics to show stats.

We are not trying to alter our target audience, though.

A real mix of people are watching and, for some of them, it is their little fix of football for the week. That is why the show has to be action-led.

Memories of Match of the Day

We are not aiming at those who want hours of in-depth detailed tactical insight - and we would not want to do that on a Saturday night even if our contract with the Premier League allowed it.

These days you can watch all the live football you want but to get that fix in an hour and a half, of everything that has happened on that day, Match of the Day really does work.

Looking forward, I don't think we can fiddle with the show too much anyway because at the moment it does what it says on the tin - although it is probably not 'match' of the day anymore, it is 'matches'.

But it would be pointless changing the title because I don't think that will go down very well, and I don't think it would be very wise to change the theme tune either.

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