GARY Lineker is a national treasure and the British public don’t take kindly to having their national treasures muzzled. You might argue that the BBC has the right to decide who they have as presenter or pundit and what that presenter/pundit is allowed to say. In this case, the BBC didn’t like Lineker being critical of the kind of language used by the Tories. 

There’s an eerie similarity between the sudden ‘Don’t come in at the weekend for Match of the Day’ in the Lineker cas  and the sudden ‘Don’t come in for the 2019 All-Ireland final replay’ that Joe Brolly experienced with RTÉ. Joe too is a national treasure, although unlike the more vanilla Lineker, Joe seemed to enjoy annoying a lot of viewers while at the same time  delighting a lot of other viewers. 

Lineker got suspended because he compared some of the language used by the Tories about refugees with that used in 1930s Germany. This of course enraged the Tory party, and the BBC, showing its usual melting meringue backbone, fell over itself to express regret for any such criticism. Nobody stopped to ask if there were in fact any similarities between the way Germany was talking back in the 1930s and the way the Tories are talking at present. That Lineker should say such a thing was framed as the problem, not whether it was true or not. 

What, then, was Joe Brolly’s crime with RTÉ? It involved a number of factors. 

Hilariously, one of these, according to Joe, was that during the drawn All-Ireland final of 2019 he said to Pat Spillane: “Would you stop pulling my arm?” (No, Virginia, not his leg, his arm.) But there was more than that. The way Joe tells it, he was presented with so many dos and don’ts, he informed them: “You need a newsreader for this”.

He also found that the powers that be in RTÉ were getting obsessed with statistics and wanted Joe to slip more of these statistics into his comments.  When it quickly became clear that Joe didn’t think much of this approach, he was cut from the commentating panel – which he said hurt.

And just as Lineker is awfy nice and Brolly is spiky, there are likewise differences between the response to  Lineker and Brolly being yanked off-screen. Colleagues such as  Ian Wright and Alan Shearer made it clear that if Lineker wasn’t part of part of Match of the Day, neither were they. Footballers refused to be interviewed before or after their match. Vanilla Lineker has drawn support from all quarters and the BBC  has hastily backed down and reinstated him. 

Not so with Joe. When he was dumped at the last minute from covering the All-Ireland replay, there was a great deal of tut-tutting and head shaking – but no rallying to have him reinstated. Unlike Ian Wright, Pat Spillane didn’t stand up and tell RTÉ that if they dumped Joe he wouldn’t be in either. None of the GAA players appearing in the final told RTÉ “Don’t come to us for post-match comment – we’re backing Joe.”

The truth is,  Vanilla Lineker has the British public and fellow professionals, including former players, on his side. The more fiery (and far more talented) Brolly experienced no such solidarity. A lot of people thought Joe’s dumping was a shame and said so, but not a single one put their money where their mouth was and walked out with him. Shaming, really.

Remind me to tell you sometime about how the local BBC dropped me as a political pundit after a unionist pressure group had a word in the BBC’s ear.