MOTD felt so “flat”… Could Gary Lineker be back on Saturday?

Gary Lineker, Alan Shearer, and Ian Wright

An abridged highlights show replaced Lineker, left, and pundits Alan Shearer, second right, and Ian Wright (Image: BBC)

Gary Lineker walked his dog and insisted he “can’t say anything” – amid a growing crisis at the BBC over his outspoken comments on social media.

The suspended Match Of The Day host faced reporters hours after the flagship football show went without him, their pundits, commentary and even their iconic theme tune.

However, the 20-minute version drew 2.58 million viewers – half a million more than the previous Saturday. Former England striker Lineker, 62, has not tweeted or commented since Thursday as talks with BBC bosses continue.

He initially defended his tweet calling the government’s new law on illegal migration “immeasurably cruel”, using “language not dissimilar to that of Germany in the 1930s”.

Critics say Lineker – his highest-paid star at £1.35million despite working freelance – has undermined the publicly-funded company’s crucial commitment to impartiality. Supporters claim that his comments were correct and did not break any rules because he was not involved in political or news reporting.

Viewership was the best since November, when 2.63 million tuned in on the eve of the Winter World Cup, according to preliminary BARB ratings.

Gary Lineker

Lineker and his dog Filbert yesterday (Picture: Getty)

BBC insiders said the figures only represent an average across the program – typically around 90 minutes long. So compared to the first 20 minutes of the MOTD last week, viewership only increased from 2.5 million to 2.6 million, internal BBC statistics show.

Many admitted they tuned in out of curiosity. Others said they would boycott the show in solidarity.

LBC broadcaster Sangita Myska tweeted, “Anyone who never watches MOTD, tune in to see what it’s like when everyone who should be watching MOTD doesn’t.”

Tory MP Scott Benton was among those who praised the format. He called it “the best episode in years,” adding, “Got all the goals in there. No “expert” analysis. And finished faster than usual so I could finish the last orders at the pub. What’s not to like?’

BBC screenshot

The program was broadcast without presenters (Picture: BBC)

But actress Jo Caulfield called the show weird and “completely flat”, adding: “Definitely a BBC own goal.” And TV presenter Piers Morgan’s review simply said, “It’s s***.”

The Royal National Institute of Blind People called the lack of comment unacceptable and suggested it had breached its commitment to the Equality Act. “The BBC should maintain basic accessibility standards so that everyone can enjoy its results,” it said.

Yesterday’s Match of the Day 2 and other sports shows were hit by a strike by Lineker’s colleagues in support.

BBC chief executive Tim Davie has apologized but insisted the company had not bowed to political pressure and he would not resign.

Swansea City v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium

Swansea City fans hold up a sign in support of Match of the Day presenter Lineker (Image: PA)

Last night – as Mr Davie returned from the US – there were reports talks were “moving fast” and Lineker could return for coverage of Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-finals. Former director general Mark Thompson said he believed Lineker’s tweet was a “technical breach” of BBC guidelines.

A quick poll by YouGov found that 53 per cent believed the BBC was wrong to suspend Lineker, with 27 per cent approving the move.

Critics accused it of inconsistency, with other BBC stars not being chided for political activity, such as Lord Sugar, the business gurus of The Apprentice, who urged people to vote Conservative, and Baroness Karren Brady – a fellow Tory member in the House of Lords .

MORE: Gary Lineker confident BBC dispute will be resolved ‘to his satisfaction’ within the next 24 hours

MORE : Match Of The Day draws half a million more viewers after Gary Lineker row with BBC

MORE : The sight loss charity slams the BBC for a lack of commentary on the truncated Match of the Day after Gary Lineker was absent from the show

MORE: Tory MP says MOTD without commentators or experts is ‘best in years’

It is also under pressure over claims BBC board leader Richard Sharp helped former Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson find a guarantor for an £800,000 loan before he was appointed to the role by the government .

The BBC has previously stood by Lineker, including when he tweeted his support for a second referendum in 2018 as Brexit “went very wrong indeed”.

Yesterday his son George tweeted: “Proud of the old man after a busy few days.” And a neighbor left chocolates and a card on his doorstep to thank him for his stance on refugees.

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Justin Scacco

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