Football legend Gary Lineker to welcome refugee to live at his Surrey mansion.
EXCLUSIVE Match of the Day presenter and former England striker Gary Lineker has agreed to take someone in who has sought asylum via the charity Refugees at Home
When it comes to television Gary Lineker is often regarded as the perfect host.
The Match of the Day presenter is now about to entertain guests of a very different kind.
In a few weeks’ time he will welcome a refugee to his Surrey mansion.
Many would be daunted by the idea of taking a stranger into your home but he insists it “will be fine”.
After offering to help through a charity called Refugees at Home, Gary has no idea yet who he will be welcoming or where they have come from.
Before his application is approved he has to have an interview and home visit by the charity which has helped find temporary accommodation for more than 2,250 refugees and asylum seekers.
Asked if he is apprehensive, he replies: “Not at all. I have had so much connection with refugees over the last couple of years.
“I have met scores of young refugees through football schemes and they are genuinely lovely kids and they appreciate any help they can get.
“I’m sure it will be fine. I have been thinking of doing something like that for a while.
“My kids are all grown up so I’ve got plenty of room so if I can help on a temporary basis then I’m more than happy to do so. Why not?
“I’m used to young men in my house, I have four lads in their 20s and believe you me I’m sure they will behave better than my lot do. Bloody messy buggers boys, aren’t they?”
Gary’s commitment to refugees led him to make a video for the International Rescue Committee charity on fish and chips.
It is not as strange as it sounds.
This most typical of British foods was introduced here in the 16th century by Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal fleeing persecution by the Spanish Inquisition.
Gary explains: “Most of the things we think of as quintessentially British are often brought in from different shores. Even St George is Turkish.
“I just think we owe a lot to refugees, and most people are descended from refugees at some point.
“They have given so much to this country and still continue to do so in terms of the jobs they do which we have witnessed during the pandemic in the NHS, carers and key workers.”
Gary is well aware many people think he should just stick to talking about football.
When he started voicing his opinions on Brexit (he was not in favour) he got called a “leftie luvvie”.
And the former Spurs and England striker expects further abuse online for sticking up for refugees.
So why does he do it?
He replies: “It’s about being on the right side yourself. It’s difficult to change people’s minds, primarily because we have become so tribal about whatever the issue is and I think it is perhaps exacerbated by social media.
“I don’t want to preach to people and tell them what to do. All you can really do is concentrate on what you believe is right and go from there.”
Gary claims the abuse he receives on social media does not get to him.
He adds: “You have to remember people don’t know you and I never get that in the street. People are lovely.
“You get a few trolls or people who genuinely detest you, you are always going to get that in the public eye. That doesn’t bother me.
“Yes, I have had more heat than I have ever had in my life but I have also probably had more love from people.”
What does concern him is how public debate has become so toxic.
Gary yearns for the days when you could have a discussion with your mates down the pub and then walk out as the best of friends.
He says: “We have become so tribal, it’s almost more tribal that football is.
“That’s a worry so whenever I’m in a debate I try not to be nasty. I don’t understand why if someone has a different opinion you have to fall out.”
Gary started campaigning for refugees following the loss of Syrian boy Alan Kurdi, who drowned off Greece in 2015.
The recent death in the Channel of a Sudanese man reinforced his determination to raise the plight.
He says: “It was seeing the images of what was happening when they were going in the boats and landing in Greece, seeing families dying, it just struck me as so intolerably sad.
“I just thought we were going anti them with front pages with all this anti-refugee propaganda and I thought, put yourself in their shoes.
“Imagine if it was London that was being bombed and we had to flee somewhere and nobody would accept you and nobody would want us and everyone would hate you.”
Some may suggest Gary’s genuine niceness comes with a degree of naivety.
When asked how he would solve the Channel migrant crisis, he offers no remedy beyond an appeal for people to be more compassionate.
What is his message to Home Secretary Priti Patel?
He pauses, reluctant to get into a political row, but notes her family were immigrants.
Gary said his political conscience has grown with age. He was too busy concentrating on football when young to engage much in anything else.
But he is full of admiration for the current generation of stars willing to speak out such as Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford, 22 – who campaigned for free school meals for poor kids –and 25-year-old Raheem Sterling, the Manchester City star who has spoken out against racism.
Gary adds: “We are in a different world now than in my time. There was no such thing as social media or even mobile phones back then.
“I am not sure how or whether I would have been able to feel things at Marcus Rashford’s age.
“We have got a young generation that seem to be full of empathy and social conscience. That’s great. Their maturity has been extraordinary.
“Hats off to them. When you stand up for things in public, as they have done, with that brings a pressure to your game because you then have to make sure you play well otherwise people will be on your back saying, ‘He doesn’t concentrate on football.’”
One last question, does he eat fish and chips? He replies: “I love fish and chips. Who doesn’t,” he replies.
- Gary is supporting the International Rescue Committee campaign to raise awareness of the contribution made by refugees. It is being launched to coincide with national Fish and Chips day.