Tuesday 20 December 2016

It’s Lineker For Barcelona

Gary Lineker is, quite frankly, a national treasure extraordinaire. Coupling slick presenting skills with a brilliantly measured dose of wry humour, he's helped to infuse Match of the Day with an affable charm for nearly two decades. And then there's his adverts for Walkers Crisps which knowingly skewered his Mr Nice Guy persona with a nasty crunch.

The foundation of his national treasure status, of course, emanates from his glorious career as a striker with a penchant for lurking in the six-yard box and soaring up the scoring charts wherever he went. And if it wasn't for Bobby Charlton, Wayne Rooney and Graham "let's sub him" Taylor, Lineker would easily be England's leading goalscorer.

And what's even more remarkable about Lineker is that he shimmied neatly away from the pitfall of becoming an English player going abroad and failing to make their mark. In fact, during his spell at Barcelona in the 1980s he was even dubbed The King of Spain. Whilst Lineker wasn't adorned with ermine robes, his first year at Barcelona was akin to a coronation as observed in It's Lineker For Barcelona.

Genre: Sports / Documentary
Channel: BBC1

Transmission: 24/06/1987

Following Lineker's exploits at World Cup '86 - where he won the Golden Boot - the whole of Europe suddenly sat up and paid attention to Lineker's prowess in front of goal. And, with English clubs banned from Europe, the Camp Nou offered Lineker the chance to finally play against Europe's elite.

Signed from Everton for £2.8 million, Lineker's arrival at Barcelona heralded somewhat of a British invasion at the Catalan giant as Mark Hughes was also purchased during the same period. And Terry Venables, of course, had arrived as the manager a few years previously, and brought back the La Liga title for the first time in a decade.

They were exciting times for Barcelona and their British contingent, but, in particular, it was Lineker who was the most mouthwatering prospect as he had the world at his quick thinking feet. It's Lineker For Barcelona focused on his first season at Barcelona and documented Lineker's adaption to the Spanish game and, indeed, the passionate culture surrounding it.

Planning for the Big Game

It's Lineker for Barcelona was a one off 50 minute documentary produced by BBC West which aired in 1987 on BBC1 in a 9.30pm timeslot. The producer behind the documentary was Bernard Hall who had previously produced the cricket documentary And It's Chardstock to Bat in 1985. No repeats of It's Lineker For Barcelona have ever aired.

It's a Funny Old Game

It's Lineker For Barcelona opens with Lineker and Hughes being unveiled at the Camp Nou to 60,000 ecstatic fans (a spectacle which remains unthinkable at an English club) whilst Venables shows off his Spanish linguistics with a rousing speech to set up the forthcoming season. It's a fine start to the proceedings, but this is a documentary which won't just concentrate on Lineker's on field antics.

He may be one of the most famous players in the world, but he's not immune from the mundanity of life as an early section finds him holed up in a Barcelona hotel as his then wife Michelle struggles to pen a seemingly neverending list of thank you letters following their recent wedding. Matters liven up a bit, thankfully, when a youthful Ray Stubbs pays a visit to conduct a quick interview on what appears to be suitcase sized recorder.

And what's striking about these early sections is just how different Lineker the player is compared to the media personality we know and love today. Sure, there's still a likeable, boy next door charm running through his veins, but he's much more softly spoken here and you certainly wouldn't expect him to start speaking out about migration issues here.

However, that great brain is present and ticking beneath the surface as he analyses the differences between English and Spanish leagues whilst he's also astute enough to show gratitude for the increased wages he's now earning over in Spain. And, although Lineker is the focus of the documentary, there's still time to hear from Hughes and Venables.

Hughes cuts a forlorn figure at times and, whilst he's reading about his old club Manchester United's fortunes back home, he sighs heavily as he reveals that he misses his Sunday afternoon pints. Barcelona was, ultimately, a disappointing period for Hughes and he was loaned out to Bayern Munich the following season before returning to Old Trafford where further glories awaited him.

Venables, meanwhile, is on cracking form as El Tel and his fierce determination to succeed is apparent as he looks for chinks in the Spanish armour to exploit. Despite his laddish persona, he's a deeply philosophical gent and dispenses plenty of wisdom and advice to his young British charges about the rigours of La Liga.

There's still time, however, for a quick look at the English game as Lineker returns home to Leicester to take part in Tommy Williams' testimonial game and then, with permission from Venables, returns for a quick training session at Goodison Park where he grouses to manager Howard Kendall that he's unable to watch English games out in Spain.

It's an interesting comment and one which highlights an era where satellite TV and live streaming were nothing but mad, mad pipe dreams. For the viewers watching It's Lineker For Barcelona, it also offered a rare glimpse of La Liga and with its sun-kissed beaches and topless girls strolling around, it certainly feels like another world compared to life on Merseyside.

In fact, one of the best sections of the documentary comes when it visits a pub nearby to Goodison park when Scouse mages of all ages swap their learned football wisdom in amongst worrying that selling Lineker will be a huge disaster (they actually won the league following his departure).

What's really interesting is when the talk in the pub turns to the subject of money and, for a moment, it feels like you're suddenly back in 2016. One supporter complains that "Money's the name of the game" whilst another tells us that the "Clubs aren't considering the supporters". However, whilst this sounds like any pub discussion in the modern age, the next opinion offered by a young Scouser of "They're getting £600 a week!" suddenly reminds you that the football landscape in 1986 was very different.

Lineker's crowning achievement in his first season, of course, is the hat trick he scores against Real Madrid to ensure his name is enshrined in Barcelona's history and hearts forever. The reaction from the fans has that quintessential Catalan passion which borders on the religious and can't be found anywhere else in the world. It's in sharp contrast to the boozy violence which blighted the English league and suggests that, even now, we could benefit from swapping a pre-match Stella for a Rioja.

Final Whistle

It's Lineker For Barcelona is an intriguing documentary which provides a number of insights into the game and acts as an amazing time capsule of the state of football in the mid to late 1980s.

Viewed with hindsight, it's remarkable just how different the game was 30 years ago, most prominently in the ease and manner with which we digest football from all around the world. It also offers a glimpse into that rare phenomenon of a British player making it abroad. Okay, Bale and McManaman also made waves in Spain afterwards, but countless others have fallen to the wayside.

And, finally, it's a fantastic opportunity to see Lineker in his prime when punditry and crisps were far from his mind. The only thing that mattered was the roar of the crowd as he put the ball in the back of the net time and time again.


  1. Whenever anyone describes Gary Lineker as 'smug' I always think, "Yeah, and if I was him I would be too." The man has charm, decency and wit coming out of his ears. I mean, how many other people could call Nick Hancock a "fat tosser" and get applauded by Nick Hancock? And did so-called 'patriot' Nigel Farage ever get 48 goals for England - WITHOUT being booked? I think not.

    Yes, TIME magazine may have declared Donald Trump as the person of 2016, but we all know it was really The Year of Lineker. (Similar to the way Des Lynam owns 1996 forever more.)

    I have to point out though that Mark Hughes will be a tad miffed at being described as part of as an 'English contingent'!

    1. By the way, a couple more suggestions for curious football-themed telly viewing have popped into my head:

      Danny Baker's 'The Game', a 1991 LWT series that treated park football as though it was the First Division, which you can buy complete on DVD

      A World Cup special of Baker's 'Brushing up on...' archive series on BBC4. Kind of a 2014 version of Bob Mills' 'World Cup Heroes & Villains'. The sources of some of the clips are probably worth checking out in their own right as well.

      And also ITV's 'World Cup Heaven & Hell' from 2006 which, although containing a few desperate comics amongst the talking heads (honourably excepting Millsy, Felix Dexter and Henning Wehn), also features some very respected journalists waxing on about their favourite pieces of World Cup trivia.

  2. Great spot (and comment)! Will amend the Welsh offending statement!

  3. stupidactingsmart7 April 2017 at 00:30

    "And, with British clubs banned from Europe..."
    Sorry, but I really must correct you there. English clubs were banned from Europe and indeed within that period, Dundee United of Scotland reached the UEFA cup final, and their supporters won the first ever FIFA fair play award.

    Not only that, but in an eventuality highly relevant to this article, they beat Barcelona (home and away!) in the quarter finals. Both Lineker and Hughes played for the losing side in both matches of the tie.
    Now that that's out of the way... long time lurker, love the site, sorry my first comment was something of a complaint but British/English… it’s one of those things we Scots pick up on (and Welsh too, seemingly).

    1. A very fine spot, I can only claim that I was writing this late at night (I think!) and, thanks to you, it's now amended!

      Thanks for visiting!

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