Gary Lineker says he will not be “bullied” into censoring himself on Twitter after mocking the “ludicrous” furore sparked by a pun he made about Chloe Kelly’s celebration of the goal that secured European Championship glory for England Women.
Lineker vowed to continue to post “funny” comments on the social media site in defiance of the response to what feminist campaigners branded a “misogynist” remark in relation to Kelly removing her shirt and exposing her sports bra after scoring the winner in Sunday’s Euro 2022 final.
Match of the Day presenter Lineker, who was also accused of “casual sexism”, chose to delete the tweet that included the line, “Kelly is England’s heroine, bra none”, after it sparked hundreds of crude jokes in reply, as well as anger from those who had taken offence.
But speaking about the storm more than 24 hours on, he told Telegraph Sport: “It was ludicrous. But it was just a few people who, I think, weren’t watching the football match. So they’ve automatically thought I was making a sexist comment because women wear bras.”
Insisting he “only deleted it” because those not watching the game “who were taking umbrage” had not appreciated the context, he added: “So, therefore, I thought, ‘There’ll be other people like that, so I’ll take it down’. Because it doesn’t hurt to take anything down.”
He also said he had run the tweet past two friends who were both feminists before posting it and that they responded by stating: “Good joke. Absolutely fine.”
Lineker is renowned for making puns both while fronting the BBC’s football coverage and on Twitter and has no intention of being cowed into self-censorship.
“I’m not easily bullied,” he said. “I think about my tweets all the time. That’s why I thought about that one. Because I thought it was quite funny. It was just a play on words, like I do all the time, in most of my tweets when I’m watching football matches.
“Because, actually, if you’re tweeting about football, if you just go, ‘So and so scored’, it’s quite dull. So I try to think of something amusing. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes, not. Some people might like it. Some people won’t get it at all. Some people think that’s boring.
“But I just try to be different, which is what I do on TV. I try to do similar kinds of things and I’ve always done it. And I just think a few people just took it the wrong way. And I understand that.”
He added: “If I’ve got 8.5 million followers, every tweet I do, someone will have a pop.”
Lineker was speaking at the launch of a report commissioned by Ofcom into Twitter abuse suffered by Premier League footballers.
The report, based on the findings of a study by the Alan Turing Institute, found seven in 10 top-flight players received such abuse during the first half of last season, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire the worst victims.
Lineker said: “Sometimes you look at a hundred tweets – if I’m really bored – and 99 of them will be really positive and you’ll enjoy and then someone will have a pop at you. And it’s probably that one that you remember or it might sink in.
“I don’t have mental-health issues. But I imagine a young footballer who has some kind of mental health problems, he gets easily depressed, he gets worried about things, they probably really need to think about their approach towards social media, because it can be a cesspit, unfortunately.
“This tiny minority – and it is a minority, small minority – are ruining it for the vast majority.”
Lineker said he deliberately avoided looking at most of the mentions of him on Twitter and had never reported abusive messages to the company or the police.
He added: “I’ve had, ‘I want to kill you’, and that kind of thing. But I don’t take that literally as a death threat. Maybe I should and maybe I should report it and maybe that’s something I should perhaps think about in the future. But, by and large, I just get on with it.”