Match of the Day host Gary Lineker has spoken of his admiration for Marcus Rashford and other young players for speaking out about the causes that matter to them, saying ‘I’m really proud of some of our young footballers for the way they’ve spoken out about certain causes. You’ve got what Marcus Rashford has done for example, in terms of feeding our poorest children. What a wonderful example he’s set.’

In the latest episode of ‘Between The Lines’ podcast, Lineker spoke with host Melissa Reddy in a wide-ranging interview, discussing his relief at not being a player during the current social media age, criticism of his salary, his support for refugee charities and how he found his edge as a football presenter.

Early in the interview, Lineker spoke of the crop of Premier League players who have been using their platform for good through 2020, and his admiration for the positive activism they have been demonstrating, despite their young age.

Melissa Reddy: “We’ve seen a switch now where players feel more emboldened to stand up for what they believe in, whether that be political, religious, or whatever the case. But players are conditioned to speak in clichés, to say as little as possible, to stay clear from anything that could be considered controversial. Do you think it’s quite enlightening and significant that football is now more open to diverse voices?”

Gary Lineker: “I think it’s great, and I’m really proud of some of our young footballers for the way they’ve spoken out about certain causes. Whether it’s been racism, where, you know, a lot of players have got together and helped things. Raheem Sterling, in particular, Wes Morgan, Troy Deeney, and others. And then you’ve got what Marcus Rashford has done for example, in terms of feeding our poorest children. What a wonderful example he’s set.

“You’ve got to remember as well that these are very young men, footballers are young men. I’ve got four young men as sons, and by and large, they’re very daft most of the time, and maturity comes late. We expect a lot of our young footballers. I’ve got four kids all in their twenties now, and they can live their lives and have fun and go out. For footballers, it’s different. Now, obviously, they’re very well compensated, we all know that they earn vast sums of money, which almost makes them an easy target. We saw it at the beginning of the pandemic didn’t we, where the government had a pop and said ‘the footballers have got to do something’, and they already were getting together to do something. They’ve been brilliant throughout this crisis, and I think some of them have been really impressive, especially when you consider their ages. Yes a few of them have made mistakes during lockdown and done things they shouldn’t have done. Obviously a couple of young kids with England a couple of weeks ago made a silly mistake, but they’ll learn from it, and they’re so much in the spotlight, it’s not easy, especially when you’re growing up – we do expect a lot of them.”

Lineker later said that he wouldn’t have enjoyed being a player in this social media age, because of the negativity that comes with it, going on to explain that he rarely ever criticises footballers, even if they’re going through a bad patch of form, as he knows just how good you have to be to play in the Premier League.

Lineker: “The truth is, of course, all the players that certainly play in top flight football anywhere, in any league, certainly in Europe, you would say are really good players, and people fail to understand that. I always talk to them when people start slagging off footballers that are playing, even if they’re playing for Liverpool, or City, or Leicester, or Man United, or whoever is your team in the top flight – they say ‘he’s useless’ and ‘he’s useless’. I just point them back to the fact that most people played at school – if they take themselves back to school, there was always the kid at school that they said ‘we always thought he was the best player we’d ever seen and he was going to make it, and then it didn’t quite happen for him and he plays non-league football, but honestly he was really brilliant’. They don’t actually really comprehend how good you have to be to play at the top in football, particularly these days, the competition is extraordinary. That’s why I’m pretty supportive and rarely critical of footballers’ performances. I’ve been there, I know how difficult it is, I know how good they are. They are so good. You can tweet something really, really complimentary about a really brilliant player, and underneath it, still get people that have no idea whatsoever how good these people are having a pop at them. So I’m quite supportive of footballers.

“I wouldn’t have particularly enjoyed, I don’t think, being involved with social media if I was a player now because of that negativity that’s around it.

Later in the interview, Lineker was asked about how he deals with the criticism he has received for his BBC salary.

Reddy: “You’re very mature and set in your career but you also have your salary thrown at you quite a bit, despite your status and longevity. Is it still difficult for you to handle that aspect, the fact that people keep referencing how much you earn, or use it as a stick to beat you with?”

Lineker: “No, I fully understand. It’s hard for me to justify a salary for what I do, but football is a global business, I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in it on both sides, it’s very competitive, particularly in the TV world as well. There are not many footballers that have gone on to presenting. I’ve got a niche in that, and obviously I know that I’ve had offers where I could have gone elsewhere for more, but I don’t want to try and plead holier than thou, and stuff. So I get it, it’s understandable, it’s a bit of ammunition to fire at me on occasions. I totally recognise how fortunate I am, but I’m not going to sit here talking to you now and say that I deserve getting more than one of the nurses that’s been on the front line. No I don’t, no, I know that. I’m just very lucky to be in the business I am.

“I had a bit of criticism in Parliament from Jacob Rees Mogg about it the other day – I mean, this guy has got his companies based off-shore, he’s worth hundreds of millions. The hypocrisy is quite baffling, but you kind of get accustomed to that. It’s a difficult one, but I try and do my bit with it as well and help a few people and help a few causes along the way. But I’m not going to sit here and argue and try and justify my salary, I can’t, I’m just lucky.

Towards the end of the interview, Lineker discussed his 20 years as host of the BBC’s Match of the Day, and how he quickly realised as he transitioned from his playing to broadcasting career that his playing days could give him an edge over his competition.

Lineker: “It’s a great show to be a part of, I’ve been doing Match of the Day now for over twenty years as the host. I always thought that’s why I wanted to go into presenting. After I finished my playing career, I did punditry for a while, but I just thought if I could crack presenting, it would just give me an edge above all the other presenters, because I’d be the only one that had played at the very top level in football, or any kind of proper level in football. Whereas all the others were just general sports presenters. When I was playing in my late twenties, I used to look at sports like cricket, golf and tennis – Sue Barker and David Gower etc – they were ex-players that had gone into the presenting side of it, not just the pundit. I just thought no-one’s really done that in football. Jimmy Hill did a bit of presenting, but he was primarily a pundit. Bob Wilson did it, but, he’s a goalkeeper, so that doesn’t really count! But no one had done it in my way, so I just thought if I could crack that, it would give me some kind of longevity in that position, and that’s how it’s kind of turned out.”

You can listen to the full interview with Gary Lineker in the fourth episode of ‘Between The Lines with Melissa Reddy’ now, plus previous episodes with Mauricio Pochettino, Alex Scott and Daniel Sturridge – all available here.

With episodes released every two weeks, Between The Lines is a podcast that talks to the biggest names to discuss the subjects most interesting to fans, including the behind the scenes insight that underpins everything across the top of the game.

From Premier League managers attempting to coach their team while dealing with personal tragedy, to the thorny subject of online abuse and trolls, and from world-class footballers pursuing other interests away from the game, or attempting to bounce back from career-threatening injury, listeners will learn something new in every episode – via honesty and unrivalled insight from the very best players, managers and other protagonists from the game we love.