Gary Lineker, Small Boats


We’re all about to start the handwash concerning this topic, yet, as always, I must be thorough in my scrubbing; I’ve discovered the opinion that persists within, so that I can cleanse myself by sharing it. 

My opinion on most things wears the veil of a question. The question today is: if it wasn’t so easy, would he?

‘He’ is BBC sports broadcaster Gary Lineker, ‘it’ is his calling out of cruelty as cruelty, while also being his tearing up of an impartiality agreement– an unspoken vow he made with his employer, the British Broadcasting Corporation. 

The government over here (I’m British) are attempting to do that thing that some absentee parents do when returning to the fold. They’ve come back from life’s edges, dressed in their most unyielding of suits, wearing all of their knuckle rings, masking their guilt with ridiculous authoritarianism. Meaning, that if you, a refugee, have your fear preyed on by a criminal gang of traffickers, secure a seat on a small boat, survive the hard-to-imagine journey across the English Channel; if you’re desperate enough to dismiss the illegality of it, and, you’re holding your breath for the empathy and resources of the first world, you’ll only be sent back. Not only will you be sent back, but you will be slapped with a lifetime ban of ever returning to Britain under the guise of asylum. If your asylum case is credible and your home country, uninhabitable, then you will be sent to a ‘safe third country’ to which you have no relationship.

If this sounds deplorable to you, then you should hear it at its most unbearably rich– straight from the mouths of the horses– Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and Home Secretary Suella Braverman. The relationship between the topic and its language is a sad, perfect match. It reminds us of propaganda from an irreconcilable time, as somebody who was not originally Gary Lineker pointed out. When Lineker seconded it, the BBC’s impartiality flag went ballistic in the wind, and the Tory hand on the corporation’s shoulder tightened.

Perhaps BBC chairman Richard Sharp and one very specific BBC board member– Robby Gibb sat in a small, windowless room with a picture of Gary Lineker hanging from the centre wall. Perhaps a phone went off, and on the other end was Sharp’s ex-protégé Rishi Sunak requesting the sterilisation of Lineker. I imagine our ex, Boris Johnson was next to call, but only to ask Sharp to help him with another loan, this time in the millions. Then, our other ex, Theresa May could’ve called Robby Gibb to let him know that should he be sent packing, he could always come and work for her, again. When Lord Alan Sugar– this was before the appointment of Richard Sharp– tweeted an artwork of ex-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sitting next to Adolf Hitler, nobody thought it appropriate to suspend him; yet Gary Lineker was told to stop coming into work until this matter was resolved. 

Anyway, it has been resolved. The resolution, in part, was enabled by a satisfying meltdown of Lineker’s show in his absence, and the absence of his co-hosts in solidarity. The other thing was, the online majority were on Gary’s side, both in his decision to speak out against cruelty, and his realisation that this sat better with his spirit than adherence to any corporate agreement. We loved the thrill of an exposé– the righteousness of Tory ties within the BBC being laid bare, we love a thing that cannot be denied. But what we all love especially, is for the right thing to be obvious, and exalted for being so obvious. We love our figureheads– powerful people who will go out on a limb for the majority. 

The truth is, Gary Lineker did what needed to be done, did not know whether his job would be on the chopping block as a result, yet, knew his moral reputation would be protected by the most just of us. Who cares if the people who will so plainly end up on the wrong side of history in all of this despise him? Though, who among us will deny that it was an easy call to make? In pap photos of Lineker, taken as he was hounded throughout all of this, he is smooth-faced, unruffled, unable to regret. But what if, for some prized, agreeable reason, we were of the opposite view concerning the small boats– what if the wrong side was the cherished, popular side? What if Gary Lineker still felt this stir in his belly about this horrible thing we did not consider so horrible? What if there was no coming back from it, on all fronts? 

Perhaps the image I’m conjuring is too stupid to bother imagining. What is worth considering though, is that the wrong side of history is often plain in the present without needing the hindsight. For few, the wrong side is always obvious, even when hindsight will have to, in time, lend itself to much of the world. In the future, there won’t be so many stories like Gary Lineker and the small boats. Some of us will have been courageous, while many will be left to play catch up.

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