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FA Carling Premiership, 30/8/99
Leicester City
Gary Lineker is an idiot
By Matt Rowson

There was always something distinctly unheroic about Gary Lineker. Despite all the goalscoring achievements, despite the equaliser against the Germans in the 1990 World Cup Semi-Final, despite his leaving Everton there was a reservation somewhere, a feeling that this guy wasn't quite right.

In June 1992, the reason for this became clear. Lineker, it transpired, is a complete bastard.

Playing Sweden in the European Championship finals with England trailing and heading out of the tournament, GT substituted his star striker. The recognised account of events is that he thus in a single stroke both sacrificed England's chances of progressing and delivered an horrific snub to the player, ending his international career.

The truth is rather different. Lineker, it is oft forgotten, had been seriously ill leading up to the tournament, and had come about as close to scoring as I had. And I was watching the games on telly in Leeds. Lineker was as effective in the Sweden match as a bowl of Sugar Puffs, whereas his replacement, Alan Smith, actually created far more problems in his twenty minutes, albeit to no avail.

Up to that point, Taylor's record in charge of England had been decent to say the least, and this was the first result to provoke serious attacks from the press. Rob Shepherd in particular is one man I would still seriously consider nutting if I passed him in the street. Lineker could have spared GT some grief by holding his hands up and saying "fair enough, I was playing like an arse". Or at least by admitting that his illness had caught up with him. But he didn't.

His ineffectiveness sealed and his international career over, Lineker can be forgiven his disappointment at the substitution. What was completely unacceptable was his peevish silence during this media furore, and the subsequent snide, sulky sniping at GT and Watford that has characterised his career ever since, most recently on Football Focus at the start of the season.

So as much as the satisfaction at gaining three points that a win on Monday would bring, I would enjoy the thought of the look on Lineker's face.


Leicester City, the Lineker association aside, is a team that any Watford fan would have to be more than a little hypocritical to criticise too vehemently. A tough but sound defence, a furiously dynamic centre midfield, quality service from the flanks...the parallels (to those who watch football matches rather than comment for national newspapers) are fairly evident. Of course, even Martin O'Neill doesn't come close to being fit to lick GT's boots, but you can't have everything.

In goal for the Foxes will Frenchman Pegguy Arphexad, a more than capable deputy for Tim Flowers who was injured early in the match at the Riverside. Flowers' impressive early season form had led to talk of an international recall in the absence of David Seaman.

Full backs are Andy Impey and Rob Savage. Impey, who arrived from Upton Park having been sold on behind Harry Redknapp's back, was originally a midfielder and has a habit of being caught out of position. Savage has recently been quoted as doubting Chelsea's ability to handle a "physical" approach, the latest in a string of possibly injudicious incidents involving the Welsh international. He has been warned that opponents are likely to provoke him in knowledge of his reputation for a short fuse, however he doesn't seem to need any help in making a prat of himself.

Another option on the left side of defence would be Rob Ullathorne, but he has turned down a new contract, and only remains at the club whilst his injured leg recovers.

In the centre, a brutal looking rearguard of Frank Sinclair, Matt Elliott and Gerry Taggart. Sinclair's season started ingloriously with two well-publicised and decisive own goals, one against his old club Chelsea. He is Leicester's most expensive signing. Elliott, sent off for Scotland in the Faroes, is an immensely powerful defender. Taggart is a thug, memorable for the Bruce Banner syndrome that he inspired in Peter Beadle a couple of years back while playing for Barnsley. Another option is Phil Gilchrist, a recent capture from Elliott's old club Oxford, whilst transfer-listed Steve Walsh is injured.

Neil Lennon, Muzzy Izzet and Steve Guppy form a formidable midfield trio. Lennon, a Northern Ireland colleague of Peter Kennedy, is famous for headbutting Alan Shearer's boot a while back. Like Savage, he came to City from Crewe. Izzet scored the decisive goal which saw City into the play-offs in our last game before relegation in 1996. He has turned down a call-up to the Turkish squad when he learned that this would also result in him needing to serve military service. Guppy is one of the best crossers of the ball in the country, and repeatedly tipped by O'Neill for international recognition. Paul Robinson will look forward to making his acquaintance.

Other options in the midfield include the gravitationally challenged Greek Theo Zagorakis, and youngsters Stuart Wilson and Stefan Oakes.

Up front, the veteran Tony Cottee is partnered with Emile Heskey. Heskey, persistently linked with Anfield, is widely tipped to establish himself in the national team despite a modest domestic strike-rate last term. Backup is restricted to Ian Marshall and Graham Fenton, and the forward line is an area which O'Neill is looking to strengthen with Wednesday's Andy Booth and the appropriately named Grimsby man Jack Lester two names mentioned.

Claims that Leicester's early season form had not been justly rewarded were conclusively vindicated at the Riverside on Tuesday evening. This will not be an easy game...but, hey, we're getting used to that. We've proved ourselves capable of competing with a good passing side, even with only half a team fit, and we shouldn't be intimidated by Leicester's more physical challenge.

And, Bigears, whatever the result, you can stick your snide Football Focus comments up your autocue.

And get out of Des' seat.