Former England international footballer and television pundit Gary Lineker has told the Armed Forces that while he may have played for his country - they ‘put their lives on the line for the nation’ as he thanked them for the job they do.
The Match Of The Day (MOTD) presenter joined a live question and answer session, in an online event presented by BFBS in partnership with the Tickets for Troops charity, in which he told BFBS broadcaster Hal Stewart a series of exclusive, eye-opening and surprising revelations that included the time he ‘pooped’ himself on the pitch in front of millions of fans around the world and how he once wanted to play for Arsenal – despite being a former player for London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Gary, who is considered one of England’s greatest strikers and is a cherished national television personality, was asked why he was such a supporter of the British Armed Forces, to which he said: “I think we all appreciate the extraordinary job that you all do.
“I think we’re immeasurably thankful for it and you put your lives on the line for our nation.
“I’m patriotic, I played for my country but that's different from putting your life on the line for your country so, I just think it’s a massive respect.”
VIDEO: Gary pays his respects to the armed forces
The sports personality told how once, during a visit with cricketer Freddie Flintoff to meet British personnel serving with IFOR troops in Bosnia, he discovered just how steadfast the Armed Forces were when there was a bomb scare.
He said: “I went to Split during the Balkans crisis and I went to Afghanistan with Freddie Flintoff.
“We spent an amazing couple of days with the troops. There was one bit, we were in the food hall, and suddenly the sirens went and there was a bomb scare.
“Me and Freddie Flintoff were huddling under the table and some guys were just sat there eating their food.
“We were quite pathetic in comparison. We are hugely grateful. It’s been great for me to have the experience to visit the troops just before they’ve gone into action, amazing what they do.”
The TV sports presenter took part in the session organised by Tickets For Troops and BFBS to ensure that the UK Armed Forces and their families continue to feel entertained and supported during these challenging times.
In one of the more shocking revelations of the evening, Gary told how he once ‘pooped himself’ during a World Cup match, as millions of fans watched the game worldwide – but that the ‘accident on the pitch’ had not been noticed.
He spoke of the excruciating moment after a viewer named Rebecca Warren, who works at a spinal injury ward at the Midland Centre For Spinal Injuries in Shropshire and who is also a nurse in the Army Reserve, had asked the football star what his biggest mistake had been and what he had learned from that.
Gary went on to tell of his most embarrassing moment which he said had probably been during the 1990 FIFA World Cup, Italia ’90, when he had “an accident on the pitch.”
He said: “I’d been ill the night before, I was up all night with a bad stomach … and I didn’t tell Bobby Robson because I did not want to be left out for this game.
“It’s a bit selfish but I thought, I’ll be alright, I’ll play. Because I never wanted to miss a game.
“The first half started, about 20 minutes in I started cramping, I was like oh this is not good, not good. But anyway, I made it until half time, went to the loo at half time, came out and ten minutes in start cramping again.
“I was thinking, ‘I’m in trouble here’.”
VIDEO: Gary talks about his most embarrassing moment
Gary said: “The ball went down their left-hand side and I kind of ran over and made some pathetic attempts to tackle it,” adding, as he made a gesture to suggest he pooped himself: “As I slid down, I relaxed and it just came.”
He added: “I’m sorry, apologies for this. I’m sitting there and I’m thinking. ‘Oh my God, this is a World Cup and I’m sitting here and I’ve s**t myself.
“The shorts were dark blue and as I’m lying on the ground, Gary Stevenson right back, comes over and he looks down and he goes, ‘what’s wrong, are you alright?’ and you can see it when you look at the footage I look up and go, ‘I’ve s**t myself.
“So, I’m shovelling it out of my shorts and doing the doggy thing, like dogs wipe their backsides and then I got up, it kind of relieved the tension … I had to sit on the bench with all the subs and you can see them all shuffling away from me.
"It was horrendous.”
Another member of the online audience, named Nicholas asked if there was an English club that Gary had desperately wished had asked him to play for them.
In another surprising and exclusive revelation of the evening, Gary answered: “When I came back from Barcelona, I quite – I shouldn’t really say this, I’ve not said it before – I quite fancied going to Arsenal but they wouldn’t pay.
“They wanted me but … George Graham was a bit tight. They were a really good side at the time, winning leagues and stuff and I quite fancied coming back to London so I went safe with Terry Venables … but I loved playing for Tottenham.”
VIDEO: Gary reveals a secret
Later in the Q&A session, John, a member of the audience in Cyprus, asked: “In your footballing career do you have any regrets?”
Gary, referring to the moment he missed a Panenka penalty kick in 1992 that would have equalled Bobby Charlton's all time English goal-scoring record, he said: “I regret that.
“People talk about the biggest thing in my career though is losing the penalty shootout to Germany because you’re that close.
“It’s not a regret because it happened and I scored my penalty and it was one of those things but if you’re asking me for a moment that I could change it would be that.
“If we could have won that penalty shootout somehow, I think we would have the World Cup and that gives you football immortality and we were so close.
“We were a good side and we would have been good favourites in the final.
“We’ll never know, obviously but to go that close and lose in a penalty shootout, in the semi-final of the World Cup is just heartbreaking.”
VIDEO: Gary talks about Diego Maradona
Another viewer, who only named himself as Seats, asked who had been the greatest player Gary had ever come up against.
Gary said: “That's easy, Diego Maradona.
“Head and shoulders above anyone else, even though actually, in reality, he was head and shoulders below everyone else … he was unbelievable.
“I never thought I’d see a better player than him in my lifetime but I think Messi probably given the length of his career probably might edge him.
“They’re both very similar. It was a harder time to play in the 80s than it is now.
“Pitches were awful - that's a massive advantage these days.”
Speaking of the time he once played with him for half a match in a Rest of the World game against the English League XI while he was at Barcelona, he told how Maradona had been in the dressing room and had rolled up a pair of socks and began juggling it.
He added: “He went out on the pitch and he did this thing, it probably doesn’t sound ridiculously brilliant but I’ve never known anyone else that could do it.
“He juggled the ball all the way out into the centre circle in the warm-up and then he booted it as high as he could in the sky and the thing came right down to his foot and he did it again.
“I remember going back to training the next day in Barcelona and we all tried it and the best anyone did was three.
“He did 12 and then on the twelfth one, he caught it dead on the spot.
“He was so good, so good.
“Obviously, there's another side to him that we saw with the Hand of God goal but that’s the nature of the beast. He’s got his dark side. It encapsulates his life in many ways, a bit of good, a bit of bad.”
Another viewer, also named Gary, asked the footballer what had been going through his mind, during the Italia ’90 game after his team-mate Paul Gascoigne had been booked when Lineker was seen gesturing to the bench.
England ace Gary said: “It was a mixture really.
“We knew what it meant, we all knew that if we got to the final he wouldn’t be able to play immediately and then it happened really near the bench and I was really close.
“You're so focused on the game, it’s hard to remember exactly everything you were thinking but it was, ‘Ah, no, Gazza - not a yellow card.’
“Then I started worrying for him and I thought is he going to be alright?
“And then I looked at him and I could see his bottom lip going a little bit, a bit of a tear in his eye.
VIDEO: Gary talks about that famous moment with Paul Gascoigne
“Whilst I was worried for him, I was also worried for the team because we were level at that point and we were in extra time.
“So, I just looked over the bench to basically keep an eye on him because I was worried that he was mentally gone.
“But actually, he rallied and played great in extra time anyway, but I had no idea what I did until I saw it after and people started saying wow, iconic moment.
“I didn’t know what I did, I didn’t know it was picked up but it became that big thing but I was gutted for him at the time.”
The former England player went on to give his views on technology such as VAR in football, criticising how it is used in the modern game, and answering a series of other questions from fans and viewers.
VIDEO: Gary gives his thoughts about VAR
He ended the session by reiterating his support for the Armed Forces, praising the amazing job the military have been doing during the coronavirus pandemic in particular, saying that many in public services had received some national appreciation but, he said, the military deserved appreciation for the good work they do and he thanked them for doing such a good job.