ShortList talks Gazza, troll-blocking and World Cup hopes with the Match of the Day titan.
What is the biggest difference in football now compared with the days you played?
If there’s one thing I look on enviously, apart from the huge sums of money [laughs], it’s the playing surfaces. Pitches are like bowling greens nowadays. Four weeks into the season they’d start to get bobbly and covered in mud when I played. It was horrible and made controlling the ball difficult.
How big an effect could the weather have on England at the forthcoming World Cup?
It could be massive. I played in Monterrey at the 1986 Mexico World Cup. One game was 45C. Our shirts were stuck to us before we even walked on to the pitch. The heat tired you out mentally, too. You felt like you were going to die
at the end of the games. What made it worse was that half the seats were empty.
How should England approach the World Cup tactically?
We cannot play our way – the traditional English direct way of playing in straight lines – or we’ll get killed. We have technical players – Ross Barkley, Jack Wilshere, Adam Lallana – who can keep the ball. Beyond Wayne Rooney, we don’t have a player in his absolute prime going to the World Cup. This means we need a confident, passing team.
Is anyone at Match Of The Day jealous of Gary Neville’s giant digital tablet?
No. Our show isn’t aimed at football anoraks and Fifa 14 people who think they know everything. It’s more general, which is what makes us the most watched football show by a distance. Neville’s doing a fantastic job at Sky, don’t get me wrong, but we’re limited to an hour and half for 10 games, so we can’t spend eight minutes analysing a corner kick.
If there were ever an Anchorman-style gang fight between the punditry teams, who would come out on top?
[Laughs] Roy Keane might take a bit of beating on that front. Not sure too many of us would be looking to brawl with ITV if he’s around. Although Alan Shearer might hold his own in that regard. And we know those two have history.
What would be your weapon of choice in battle?
I know this one, I’ve just seen Anchorman 2. I’ll go with a gun from the future. Top that.
There have been some horrific shirts on Match Of The Day over the years. Who’s the biggest repeat offender?
Lawro’s shirts are quite spectacular at times, and Shearer doesn’t do too well on that front, either. Fortunately, he’s toned his down a bit.
Match-fixing is big news. Did you ever have any dimly-lit knowledge of the practice?
No, but I’m not surprised it’s going on now. Betting has become too prolific; you can bet on everything from a throw-in to a yellow card. It’s important they ban anyone found guilty for life. The integrity of the game is at stake; once the public can’t trust the players, the game is finished.
Homosexuality in football is in the news after Thomas Hitzlsperger came out last week. Did you ever play with anyone you thought might be gay?
There were rumours about certain players. But I didn’t think there would be any issue with a player coming out back then, and I don’t think there would be in the current era. All players do is look around the dressing room and say to themselves, “Great player. Good player. Not a good player.” You’ll get the odd homophobe, as you do in all walks of life, but footballers think mostly in football terms.
Do you think a current top-level Premier League footballer will come out in the next decade?
Going by the law of averages, it’s only a matter of time. Then again, I also understand that it can be difficult in regards to the crowds, which can be quite venomous.
Speaking of abuse, you have almost two million followers on Twitter – what’s the best put-down you’ve given a troll?
There have been a few. When it’s banter, I don’t mind. If the conversation spills over then I block them. To have the block button is a beautiful thing as it allows you to get rid of complete idiots. A bit of fun and a bit of justice – isn’t that what Twitter is for?
You had a Twitter spat with Joey Barton. Have you made peace?
Joey Barton is Joey Barton. What he said was nonsensical, so I’ve ignored him since. I’ve blocked him.
Having appeared in Walkers ads since 1995, what’s been the highlight?
The mid-Nineties one in which Gazza was fitted with a contraption underneath his eyes to make him spurt fake tears. It took two hours to deliver our lines properly because we kept cracking up.
Did you ever out-prank Gazza during your playing days?
I was pretty damn dull, to be honest, but Gazza really was the king of japes. He’d regularly chop up people’s clothes and put dreadful things in people’s washbags. He was terrible for that.
Lineker is launching Walkers’ new Do Us A Flavour campaign. To be in with a chance of winning £1m, visit walkers.co.uk