Gary Lineker row: Shortened Match of the Day sees biggest audience in five months

Television presenter and former footballer Gary Lineker arrives prior to the Premier League match between Leicester City and Chelsea at the King Power Stadium on March 11, 2023 in Leicester, United Kingdom.
(Image credit: Darren Staples/AFP via Getty Images)

Saturday's truncated edition of Match of the Day generated the shows largest audience in five months.

After MOTD anchor Gary Lineker was suspended by the BBC for allegedly breaching the corporation's impartiality guidelines with a tweet about British government asylum policy, the show's pundits and commentators pulled out in solidarity with their colleague.

As a result, the programme was stripped to the bare bones, running for just 20 minutes and consisting only of brief highlights of the day's Premier League action with no commentary or studio analysis; even the iconic title music was missing.

It was an intriguing watch, to say the least, and the unprecedented format appears to have piqued the public's interest, with Barb – the organisation responsible for measuring UK television audiences – reporting a surge in viewers.

BBC entertainment correspondent Lizo Mzimba tweeted:

"Last night's Match of the Day was watched by 2.58m TV viewers on BBC One. Up nearly half a million on last Saturday's figure of 2.09 million according to Barb overnights.

"It's the show's biggest audience since 5th November 2022 when 2.63m watched."

Saturday's editions of Football Focus and Final Score were taken off air after presenters and reporters pulled out, while Radio 5 Live's sport schedule was also heavily impacted.

The disruption has continued into Sunday, with Match of the Day 2 and live coverage of the Women's Super League game between Chelsea and Manchester United set to be "much-reduced" (opens in new tab).

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Tom Hancock started freelancing for FourFourTwo in April 2019 and has also written for The Analyst and When Saturday Comes, among others. He supports Wycombe Wanderers and has a soft spot for Wealdstone. A self-confessed statto, he has been known to watch football with a spreadsheet (or several) open...