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Footballers on Desert Island Discs: a classic history of bangers, books and luxury items

The eight recordings, book and luxury item with which castaways have been permitted have been a BBC radio staple for eight decades – but what have various members of the football world chosen to take onto a desert island?

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*indicates Castaway’s favourite song

Gary Lineker (October 1990)

Sue Lawley’s plummy timbre provides a delightful introductory sashay through the 1986 World Cup Golden Boot winner’s pet sounds.

Sadly, that doesn’t include much (or anything, in fact) from the Beach Boys. “I’m not the greatest music lover in the world,” he admits, picking Simply Red’s Holding Back the Years first up, “but I like what I like.” Well, Mick Hucknall, clearly.

More self-confessed “car radio rock” follows – Dire Straits, Rod Stewart, Elton John (pre-Princess Diana association) and U2 – accompanied by Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight “which I love to sing along to” and Always Look on the Bright Side of Life by Monty Python “which is a bit of my philosophy as well”.

Notably more nervous than the polished performer we’re used to seeing in front of camera, Links delivers that latter line with the bravado of a Match of the Day link. Hitting his stride, and a theme, Lineker picks Soul Limbo by Booker T. & the MG’s as his castaway’s favourite, otherwise known as the theme tune for Test Match Special. Sure as hand-in-the-air celebration follows a five-yard tap-in, it’s the Wisden Almanack for his book and a bowling machine as the luxury item.

“I’m going to stage my own Test matches,” he says, “and figure I can make a cricket bat, especially if there’s a willow tree on the island. Then I’ve got the bowling machine to play all day and the music to introduce me.”

“But you won’t ever be caught out,” points out schoolmistress Lawley.

“No, but I won’t be given out, either, with no umpires.”

Say what you like about Simply Red – no, seriously, knock yourself out – our Gary really thought this through.

Holding Back The Years – Simply Red*

Soul Limbo (Theme from Test Match Special) – Booker T. & the MG’s

Maggie May – Rod Stewart

Wonderful Tonight – Eric Clapton

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life – Monty Python

Tunnel Of Love – Dire Straits

With Or Without You – U2

Candle In The Wind – Elton John

BookWisden Cricketers' Almanack

Luxury item – Bowling machine

Des Lynam (November 2000)

There’s something very Sunday morning to the upbeat strings and restorative seagull squawks that introduce every edition of Desert Island Discs, like waking up outside an amusement arcade on Brighton Pier surrounded by the previous night’s discarded kebabs. Throw in Des Lynam’s velvet voice – 18 months on from his big-money defection to Andy Townsend’s Tactics Truck on ITV – and feel that hangover lift to the extent that it’s even possible to become a functioning adult again.

“This tune used to resonate around the house as a kid,” coos Des as he tees up jaunty number In Party Mood by the West End Celebrity Orchestra. “I don’t even know what it’s called, actually, but I love it.”

Des, the dirty dog, knows very well it’s the theme tune to erstwhile BBC radio request show Housewives’ Choice, a subtle-as-brick nod to his catnip status to women of a certain age. The narcissism doesn’t end there – he goes on to select it his castaway’s favourite, conveniently remembering its provenance again.

Elsewhere, there’s Rachmaninoff because he liked The Railway Children, fellow crooner Frank Sinatra because he didn’t enjoy Elvis like his mates; Peggy Lee’s Is That All There Is after Lawley enquires, “Death, do you think about it often?”; a Bob Newhart sketch on tobacco (us neither); Puccini’s Nessun Dorma for obvious Italia ‘90 reasons; Razzle Dazzle from musical Chicago for fancying himself as a showman, and Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings as a tribute to partner Rose, a “great old girl”.

Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine is Lynam’s book – “exactly, you’re a hypochondriac” trills Lawley – and a drum kit his luxury item because “if I couldn’t be a song and dance man, I’d have liked to have been a drummer” for no reason other than “I could make as much noise as I want”.

In Party Mood (theme to Housewives’ Choice) – West End Celebrity Orchestra*

Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, 2nd movement – Sergei Rachmaninov

In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning – Frank Sinatra

Is That All There Is? – Peggy Lee

Introducing Tobacco to Civilisation – Bob Newhart

Nessun Dorma – Giacomo Puccini

Razzle Dazzle (from Chicago) – Henry Goodman

Wind Beneath My Wings – Bette Midler

Book Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine

Luxury item – Drumkit

Tony Adams (July 2010)

The former Arsenal and England captain used to spend his pocket money on a steak and kidney pie, saving his change to eventually buy his first record. It’s hard to imagine a 14-year-old Adams shimmying around the streets of Romford to Earth, Wind & Fire’s Let’s Groove, but “it’s a funky tune, man!”

Disarmingly honest about his upbringing – including how his grandfather once pulled a knife on his dad – and the role his mother played in his upbringing and trying to hide his alcoholism, Adams dedicates Sweet Caroline to his old dear and breaks down in tears.

The Boy About Town by the Jam is also autobiographical – “I used to lie my way through school” – for the mod fan, as is jazz-funk Walking into Sunshine by Central Line, which the centre-back got into through Arsenal team-mates David Rocastle and Michael Thomas. Ditto Good Old Arsenal by the 1971 FA Cup-winning squad.

“I didn’t know how to deal with life, so I drank,” he says of the long descent to alcohol, describing prison as “heaven” compared to reality. Focusing on football, he describes how he stayed sober during Euro ‘96, but went on a six-week binge thereafter, before having his last drink on August 16 that year. He chooses Black Coffee In Bed by Squeeze – a sublime break-up lament – not just for the title, but because he hallucinated one morning that the song was playing on his living room stereo.

Chet Baker ballad I’ve Never Been In Love Before proceeds a heartwarming discussion of wife Poppy’s influence on him and the role of fear in his life.

Another Monty Python appearance, his castaway favourite, precedes the book of Alcoholics Anonymous, before his luxury item.

“Football,” he deadpans. “What did you expect?” 

Let's Groove – Earth, Wind & Fire

Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond

Boy About Town – The Jam

Walking into Sunshine – Central Line

Good Old Arsenal – Arsenal 1971 Squad

Black Coffee in Bed – Squeeze

I've Never Been In Love Before – Chet Bake

Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life – Monty Python *

BookThe Big Book (Alcoholics Anonymous)

Luxury item – Football

David Beckham (January 2017)

For Desert Island Discs’ 75th anniversary, softly-spoken Kirsty Young welcomed Lord Becks onto her lonely musical haven. It probably felt like manna from heaven for the world’s most recognisable sarong botherer.

Something of a hoarder – he keeps all his England caps at home, his medals in a bank safe and still has 1,000 pairs of boots in storage – you wonder whether he should instead have appeared on an invasive Channel 4 documentary with Dr Christian.

Jazz queen Ella Fitzgerald is first up (and his castaway’s favourite), played at his grandparents’ house as a kid – a time when he wore velvet knickerbockers and ballet shoes as a page boy at a wedding, ever the dedicated follower of fashion. What A Fool Believes by the Doobie Brothers was a regular in the car going up to Manchester for his days at the Bobby Charlton Soccer School, which eventually earned him a Manchester United trial.

“Certain songs remind me of Manchester, and this is one of them,” says Becks introducing I Am The Resurrection by the Stone Roses, adding he once went to Madchester club The Haçienda. Hard to imagine him mixing with Peter Hook or Mark E Smith, but that’s just us.

Much more believable is Elton John, who came to Beckingham Palace to mark the christening of Beckham’s first two children, playing Something About the Way You Look Tonight. Queue talk of Victoria, “my favourite Spice Girl wearing a black cat suit”, and getting her number in Manchester United players’ lounge.

Another “good friend” up next is razor-voiced Spanish songwriter Alejandro Sanz, who is like a transmogrification between Rod Stewart and McFly, to remind him of Real Madrid. Genuinely heart-broken about leaving United – “I couldn’t watch them play for three years” –  he picks Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones because, well, it’s a banger.

The Girl Is Mine is a tribute to daughter Harper, which is somewhat strange because a) Michael Jackson wrote it while watching cartoons with Paul McCartney and b) it’s dreadful, sentimental nonsense. He ends with Sidney Buchet, a reflection on his retirement in Paris.

Unlikely to bring War and Peace, Beckham did at least think about what to read, plumping for a recipe book on wild cooking from chef Francis Mallmann, “who has cooked for me,” he humblebrags. Reverting to type, Becks’ England caps are his luxury item. Always loved a bit of velvet – notoriously useful in a survival situation – has, our Becks.

Every Time We Say Goodbye – Ella Fitzgerald*

What a Fool Believes – Michael McDonald & The Doobie Brothers

I Am the Resurrection – The Stone Roses

Something About The Way You Look Tonight – Elton John

No Es Lo Mismo – Alejandro Sanz

Wild Horses – The Rolling Stones

The Girl is Mine – Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney

Si tu vois ma mère – Sidney Bechet

BookOn Fire, Francis Mallmann

Luxury item – His England Caps