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19th Jun 2015

“Some of the sanctimonious hypocrisy is ridiculous” – Gary Lineker talks to JOE about young players and social media

Nooruddean Choudry

Gary Lineker is one of the biggest football personalities on Twitter with nearly four million followers.

In the first instalment of an exclusive four-part interview with JOE, he tells us why he’d encourage footballers to join social media and why criticism of Raheem Sterling is ridiculous…

You’re very active on Twitter and regularly interact with followers and Match of the Day viewers; what are your thoughts on social media?

I think generally it’s pretty positive. Obviously you get a few imbecilic comments at times, but I think generally it’s quite favourable.

I think to engage, even if it’s only occasionally – because obviously you can’t engage with everyone, especially when you’ve got a substantial amount of followers – it gives people a sense of who you are, and brings you a little bit closer to the public that watch you.

The problem is if I post a tweet now and I go to notifications, it’s like [explosion noise]. There’s just not enough hours in the day to respond to everyone.

“If you use it in a sensible way, it can be very positive. Like anything there are negative sides to it, but you’ve got to put those in perspective, and think about who’s making the comments – it’s probably a bunch of 16-year-old kids.”

[If you engage with them] then it becomes like you’re meeting them in the street, because you never get that in the street. You never get anyone having a go at you.

Whereas on Twitter it’s probably quite tempting to have a pop. And as soon as you respond it’s a case of “Oh yeah, well I didn’t really mean it.”

Would you encourage footballers to join Twitter?

I think for footballers – again, if you engage your brain and do it properly – Twitter can be great.

People talk about footballers being so distant, how they live behind their big security gates, etc – I think a lot of them are brought closer to the supporters. So I think it’s a really good vehicle in that sense.

Arsenal v Liverpool - Premier League

With the rise of social media, do you think that scrutiny of footballers has increased? Raheem Sterling seems an obvious example recently…

Unquestionably. In all sorts of different ways.

It’s easy for people to catch footballers doing that perhaps they shouldn’t be doing. Everyone’s got a mobile phone now, so people are more exposed. Not just footballers but other people as well. But there’s always an interest in football and footballers.

These kids are held up as so-called role models. That’s not why they are into football. You’ve got to remember that many of them are only 19/20 years old.

If we all think about what we were like at that age and what we tried to enjoy doing at that age; I think we get a little holier-than-thou and a bit judgemental on young men that are finding their way.

The male brain doesn’t fully mature properly until they’re 25 apparently – some would say 55.

“Raheem Sterling and the silly balloon thing, I mean, come on! He’s 20 years old. It’s not the crime of the century, is it? It’s not even illegal. Some of the sanctimonious hypocrisy is ridiculous.”

For the press it’s just something else to write about – and be hugely judgemental about.

What do you think of this argument that players are being paid X amount so they shouldn’t complain about tiredness or scrutiny…

I don’t think the amount you get paid affects your tiredness. Especially when you’re young. I’ve got four boys, two of them are still teenagers. They get tired, they have their ups and downs. They’ll grow and they’re developing, they’re going through change – that’s normal.

Young players need managing. The money side of it is always an easy target because yes, they earn ridiculous amounts of money these days – sums that you can never justify in comparison to people who do real jobs. But it’s the way of the world.

“If you’re at the very top of your field in the entertainment business, you’ll be paid well – it doesn’t matter whether it’s football or whether you’re an actor or a big music star. I’m not going to sit here and say they should be earning this kind of money, but it’s the way it is and good luck to them.”

With that obviously comes problems, especially at a young age. It brings hangers-on, unscrupulous people, too much too soon. You’ve got to keep motivated – some will handle it and some won’t. Who do you trust and you do you not? Who is your real mate? It’s not easy – it’s like anything, not all wonderful.

Also, if they’re not sensible with what they earn, there’s a massive fall at the end of their careers. There’s a lot of life left after football. A lot.

Do you find that sometimes you’ll say something quite innocuous on Twitter and then that becomes a story in itself? For example, when you swore and it resulted in stories about the BBC supposedly cracking down on you…

The press have done that a couple of times. I don’t know why because I’ve never had any problems in that regard. They [the BBC] love the fact that I’m on Twitter, and it’s a great medium through which to promote our shows.

I’ve never had anything but positive comments from the Beeb about Twitter. Those stories were nonsense and a complete fabrication.

When you rubbished the stories, some papers refused to back down…

They basically tried to call me a liar.

But if there’s a story about you that’s wrong, [Twitter] gives you a great opportunity to go “bang” straight away and just put your side of it across and tell the truth.

People will then believe what they want to believe, but it’s a good opportunity to put the record straight, which I’ve been able to do on two or three things.

If you’ve got a serious following, you can probably get your side out there to more people than those who actually see the story in the first place.

Do you ever censor yourself?

My rule is if there’s anything slightly contentious, I’ll read it a couple of times and then make a decision. If I’m slightly in doubt, I won’t do it.

Occasionally you want to have a go at something and then you think: “Actually, I probably don’t need to.” But other times you do it.

Come this way for part two of our exclusive chat with Gary, where he discusses racial prejudice in football, the Rooney Rule and immigration…